I’m changing a name because this is an intimate story about “Susie”. First thing I know yesterday morning, having spent several hours gratefully responding to my lovely readers who actually wrote to me (thank you), I find Susie in the kitchen with Mary (Mji). Both speak very quietly, particularly Susie, whose English is pretty limited. Eventually I get out of them that Susie isn’t feeling well. “What seems to be the problem?” She puts her hands on her abdomen, telling me of pain, and then admits she has blood in her urine. Not pink urine, frank blood in her urine. She’d gone to the district hospital (DH) Monday, where a Dr. Ben had examined her, given her “medicine” plus a prescription for something else (she didn’t know what), but she didn’t get it, of course b/c she had no money. Did she tell him? No. He had told her to come to his Longenot office the next day (yesterday) for some injections. I was suspicious and decided to cancel my time at SFG to take her, about 10 miles away on a road I was willing to drive. I must admit, I’d had to speak rather harshly to myself, to get my priorities straight, as that was also the last day I’d be able to help students during their free time (50 minutes) between lunch and afternoon classes. “MARGO, frank blood in the urine is not minor!” Off we went. The doctor had told her to get to Longenot (presumably by matatu, for which she had no fare), call him and he would take her to his office. Again my suspicions are roused. We get there. He talks to her on the phone, but she doesn’t get it. I talk to him, but he can’t understand me. We ask a passerby. “See that green building over there? (pointing) that’s a clinic.” Getting “over there” is not easy. The highway has about a 6 to 8-inch edge, except in a few places, where it’s possible to drive down a “ramp” without endangering an axel. I must also navigate crossing the road, lined on both sides by huge semi’s. ARGH!!
We make it “over there” to the green building, only to be told that Dr. Ben’s clinic is “down there” by a green car, then turn left and go about 100 yards down the road. Except I couldn’t see how to get “down there” without going on the road, dodging the semi’s, and hoping to find a ramp in the right place and not blocked by the parked semis. I go too far, must make a u-turn, come back, say to hell with it, and navigate the edge (axel holds). In the meantime, the green car has moved away. RATS! But, in fact, there is a road (sort of), with a sharp right turn about 50 feet from the highway and then a left, and VOILAanother medical clinic. I resume breathing. It is, indeed, Dr. Ben’s office.
Inside a small room is a desk, with a woman seated behind it and a small boy, maybe 2 sitting on top, contentedly scarfing down French fries (here known as chips), which he is very sweetly sharing with another boy, maybe 3, standing at the desk edge, greasy hands outstretched. Another woman sits on a bench, child strapped to her back, chatting with the behind the desk lady, who, as I later learned is the receptionist, mother of the boy and wife of Dr. Ben. The second woman turns out to be mother of the greasy handed chips eater.
In a room behind is another desk with a young man who must be some kind of assistant. Dr. Ben is nowhere in sight, but he’ll arrive “soon”. “Soon” is like “not far”, meaning the wait will be long, or the distance is not near. It’s 2 pm, and he tells us ½ hour, next guess is Dr. Ben will arrive at 3. Dr. Ben arrives at 3:30. Ready to eat nails and spit them in Dr. Ben’s face, I quickly decide that I like him and he seems to be relatively competent. He explains that Susie needs IV injections of an antibiotic, which isn’t available at the hospital, which is why he wanted her to come to his office. I cringe when he pokes for a vein (ungloved!), requiring several pokes before he’s successful. Susie is anguished with pain (I see it in her face), but makes no sound. “Susie, it’s OK to say ‘ouch’”. She doesn’t. “It OK even to cry” I do see evidence of a tear. He slowly injects the fluid, withdraws the needle, wipes the spot with alcohol on cotton and prepares to leave it (and the other pokes) uncovered. “Do you have any plasters?” (band-aids). Evidently not, but he calls the assistant to put the cotton on the injection site and hold with some tape. Even my remote memories of medical procedures tell me this is not good and later, I gently (yes, I was) tell him that I was very uncomfortable with his ungloved work. “Oh, I’m used to it.” OH #@!#!@%!$%. I give up.
Now he proceeds to give her 3 different sets of antibiotics, 2 to be taken 2 X and one 3 X per day. I ask whether he has instructed her to drink lotsof water. No, he hasn’t, but now he tells her she must drink at least 3 liters of water a day. (Me) “Susie, do you have clean water to drink at your aunt’s?” “No, we drink tap water”. ARGH!!! I determine I will have her stay at Mji, at least for the duration of her treatment so she can have good water, but also so she can get her next 4 injections at the DH from Dr. Ben who will take his supply in his pocket.
One of my initial thoughts had been that Dr. Ben wanted Susie to come to his office where he could charge her for all the meds. He had explained that none of the antibiotics she needed was available in the DH, but he has stocked them in his office. Longenot being on the truck route from Nairobi, he could get them easily. My suspicions dropped dramatically when he said the whole works, 5 injections, 3 rounds of antibiotics, office visit—all totaled ksh 1600 ($16), which I paid without a blink.
As we drove back to NVA, I elaborated on his assertion that because she had allowed the UTI to be untreated for so long, there was a possibility the bacteria could cause blockage of her fallopian tubes, thus rendering her infertile. I had asked Hillary earlier whether ETW covered medical expenses for Mji kids as long as they were in school, so still supported by ETW. He hesitated, but conceded it should. I need to look into this more. I asked Susie whether she knew that. “No.” Something to explore and discuss at the Mji reunion.
I tell her she should stay at Mji for the 2 weeks of treatment, to which she readily agrees. She needs to return to her aunt to get her clothes. I assume shell come back that night, but now it’s the next day, 3:30 pm and I’ve not seen her. I don’t know whether she’s gone for her injection, whether she had begun taking the oral meds (with non-bottled water!) or whether she is even coming back, although I believe she will. I hope they all have really strong immune systems!!!!!
Mary Fitzgerald is leaving us today, going to spend 5 days in NBO with Sister Carren, her good friend and an MD. Presumably they will be doing hospital visits. Because plans to volunteer in the DH, as she did last year, have not worked out this year, going with Sr. Carren will fill that desire.
Tuesday being her last night, Mary offers to treat us all for dinner at the Buffalo Mall, including Fr. Ngaruiya, who offers to drive. While we hang around, waiting for dinner time and Fr. N to return from a mass, Mary has a visitor, another Mary, who is the palliative care provider at the DH. Part of her job is to develop support groups for cancer patients and caregivers. Not content with just traditional groups, she has arranged for them to learn various crafts, by which they earn money to help pay for the care. Mary C is full of energy and love for her work, is quite engaging and at one point brings out a small rug, made by one of the support group members as a gift for Mary F. It’s cute (I’m wishing I had one for beside my bed). Then she tells me they’ve made many and will make more (pulling out pix from her phone to show me patterns). We agree she will bring samples next week and I will buy some to bring for our craft events. I’m hoping our donors will love these cute rugs made to support cancer patients and their care givers in NVA. In fact, if that happens I will arrange for more to be shipped, since my suitcase capacity is limited. Mary C. and I exchange contact info and I leave the 2 Mary’s to continue their conversation.
Mary F. wants to eat at Java House at Buffalo, despite my reports of mediocre food and SLOW service. Feeling tired and a bit grumpy, I am a bit ungracious in my concession. The food was delicious and service prompt. Mea culpa.
Now it’s Wednesday. Sr. Carren has offered to drive from NBO to pick Mary, but must go to a hospital first. Mary guesses she’ll arrive about 10:30 am. It’s now 3:40 pm, with no word from Sr. Carren. Mary has been hanging around, waiting, wishing she’d gone over to the DH to say goodbye. Oh well. This is Kenya.
Update: Mary has reviewed Sr. Carren’s note saying she would come Thursdayon her way to St. Mary’s hospital (beyond NVA from NBO). OK, that answers one question. Next Joyce shows up to report Dr. Ben forgot to carry her injection antibiotic, so she had gone to Longenot where she got it. She is to remind him tomorrow. Not sure why he doesn’t just put it in his car.