Friday, July 22, 2011

An Interesting Last Week

To say the least, it has been an interesting final week.  I came down with malaria again, as many of you know.  However, after speaking with doctors in Tanzania, the US, and from the CDC, I do not believe I contracted it for a second time.  I believe that I had malaria three weeks ago and A) it was undertreated and came back or B) it was treated but is recurrent malaria and came back really quick instead of waiting for a while before coming after me again.  Either way, I have blasted it again with drugs and liquids and I am much better now.  I will stop by a travel clinic (this clinic was recommended by more than one friend – see “clinic” in use below) when I get to Dar es Salaam tomorrow just to be sure.

Yes, I will be leaving Morogoro tomorrow.  I have been here exactly 50 days now, just over 7 weeks.  It will be a little sad to go, but I am, however, ready for the next new part of this adventure.  Before I get to what comes next, I had better tell a few stories from this past week.

On Monday, I got really sick and Tuesday morning had my blood test here at the campus to check for malaria.  However, since the timing was so quick between the two, I thought I had better go into town on Wednesday to a clinic and get a second opinion.  However, I was in for a "learning experience" rather than learning anything additional about my own health. 

I arrived at the clinic at 1:23pm on Wednesday.  I walked in and met the receptionist, who spoke English quite well.  I paid 500 shillings for registration as a new patient and 2500 shillings to see the doctor for a consultation (3000 shillings is about $2US).  I went and sat down in one of two lines to see the doctor in room four with my "medical chart" in hand.  Firstly, the medical chart was actually a small exercise notebook for school kids.  Secondly, there were two lines to see the doctor, but neither meant anything different than the other, at least nothing I figured out while waiting.  After about 45 minutes, I went in to see the doctor.  We chatted in mixed Swahili and English about my condition and health during the past few weeks.  He decided I would need two labs done, a blood test and a stool sample. 

First I had to pay for the labs, so I headed back to the front desk to deposit 5000 more shillings and then headed to the lab room around the corner.  The blood test was like the one at the school here; stick the finger with a needle, bleed onto a slide, and that's that.  However, when that was over, the lab assistant hands me a toothpick and an empty film canister and says "we just need a little, bathroom upstairs."  I would have liked to have seen my own face...or perhaps not.  Anyway, I went upstairs to find the bathrooms.  I found them without trouble, but realized quickly that following my own advice at all times had saved me again (see "Daily Advice" page).  Tip of the day (edited): Always travel with toilet paper, even to the hospital.  There is something unnerving about being treated in a facility whose doctors don't use toilet paper, but like I said, this is as much a learning experience and a new perspective on Tanzanian life as it is FREAKING OUT AS A TYPICAL AMERICAN WOULD! 

So anyway, I managed to make due with my toothpick and film canister (all I can hope is that nothing was recycled).  I headed back downstairs, returned my deposit to the lab assistant, and sat down at the back of the line again.  This time I chose the other line, thinking that it might have something to do with who would see the doctor first.  I was wrong, as this line was longer and only that characteristic distinguished it from the other.  Luckily, there was a soccer match on the TV in the next room over that I could watch, at least until I moved up two seats in the line.

After 30 more minutes, a woman brought me a sheet with my lab results written on them to give to the doctor.  About this time, two white guys came in and went to the receptionist's desk.  Two minutes later, they came around the corner with the receptionist herself leading.  They stopped outside the doctor's office door and waited.  After the present patient came out, they both were ushered in, coming out five minutes later.  I found out that a small bribe had saved them 2 hours waiting in line.  I wondered why they had not asked me for such a bribe, and at the time I certainly would have paid it.  Again, constantly learning about the Tanzanian system.

It took about another hour before I saw the doctor again.  He told me both my labs had come back negative, and that I should just drink lots of water.  Wow, really, after three hours, I paid $5.50 to be told that when I am sick, I should drink fluids.  Not exactly the second opinion I was hoping for, but I learned a lot about the Tanzanian health care system, which is part of what I came here for.  It is not exactly the method of choice for learning such things, but beggars can't be choosers.  I left the clinic at 4:42 and headed back to the school.  It took me three and a half hours to realize that I don't want to spend another second in a Tanzanian health clinic.

Thursday was spent around here, catching up and getting ready to leave on Saturday.  Today, Friday, was my last day here, so I had to pay my bill.  However, with the power out again, wire transfer wouldn't work and since I am leaving early tomorrow, the bill had to be paid in cash.  I headed into the city this afternoon sure of my task, but unsure of how to accomplish it.  It turns out that only 300,000 shillings can be withdrawn from an ATM at one time, and only 1,000,000 shillings from a single ATM per day.  This creates a dilemma for anyone in need of 3,000,000 shillings on short notice.  However, 3 different ATMs, 10 withdrawals, 1 international phone call to my bank, and 45 minutes later, I had a loaf of dough that filled both side my pockets (which luckily do velcro shut on this pair of pants).  I had to walk about 100 yards from the last ATM to catch a cab back to the school.  All I could think was "remember Joe, act normal and pretend you are not carrying 8 times the minimum wage yearly salary in your pockets, and no one will hurt you."  No one looked at me any different than any other silly-looking mzungu, so I came through without any unwanted attention.  I took an 8000-shilling cab (the same price as my hospital visit) back to the language school, rather than risk it on a packed daladala.  It seemed like a worthy investment.

I made it back and got my bill paid without any hassle.  So that's it, now I am set to leave Saturday morning.  I will take a bus to Dar es Salaam, check into my hotel, stop by the clinic, then have a restful evening.  Sunday, I plan to take an early ferry over to Zanzibar and spend a few days in Stone Town before heading over to the east coast of the island.  So long as my health holds, I will be diving for three days over there, but we shall see.  If not, I will still get to sit on the beach and drink beer and dance under the stars and swim and get a tan before I head onward to meet my EcoTraining program in Nairobi.  I tell you, it’s a tough life, but somebody's got to live it.

On a more serious note, thank you all so much again for your prayers.  I have felt their power and have recovered quickly (hopefully I will remain so).  It means a great deal to have so many people looking out for me and praying over me back home.  I do not know the reason for my malaria, nor its existence in the world at all, nor the extent of all reasons that God has lead me on this trip, but as with all things, I figure He has it figured out better than I ever will. 

Blessings to all of you.

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