Wednesday, November 27, 2013

in case you were wondering: sickness

I haven’t written in a while mostly because I’ve been either too busy or too sick to put time into my beloved bush baby blog. For whatever reason, I seem to have been stuck on this recurring sickness cycle for the last two months. Sick for two weeks, healthy for one, sick for two weeks, healthy for one. Finally, one of my sick periods coincided with a trip to Lusaka and Jeremy agreed to I should get some blood work done to try and figure out what was going on with me.

Well, I can officially tell you that I do not have the following ailments:

Tick bite fever
Morning sickness

Actually, I’m only assuming that I do not have tick bit fever, mostly because I’m feeling fine now, even though the lab never delivered the results for that test. I still am not sure what has caused the various bouts of illness, but I’ve basically been told to go forward and hope for the best, which I will certainly do. I was thinking though that this might be a good opportunity to share a bit about how we deal with sickness, just in case anyone was wondering. Here are some of the main features of our available health care facilities and what we do in terms of sickness management.
(note: these are details of the upcountry facilities; there are better facilities in Lusaka, if you can get there. also, photo credit to Denise, a super stealth photographer in an otherwise not-to-be-photographed place.)

* There is no such thing as an emergency here. If you are dying, the Doctor will still be in at 9 o’clock.

* The hospital may shut down completely for things like cocroach fumigation.

* Medical professionals are referred to as doctors even if they are not actually doctors. They “doctor” diagnosing you may an MD, or a nurse, or, in worst case scenarios, the janitor.

* Many medical professionals would rather be wrong than admit they do not know.

* It is culturally frowned upon to ask too many questions or question the doctor’s authority.

* Diagnostic services are severely limited to the extent that the lab can tell you your iron count, HIV status or Malaria parasite levels. And that’s it.

* But it doesn’t matter that the labs can’t tell you more, because if you have a headache, a fever, body aches, nausea or vomiting, you obviously have malaria. Even if you just tested negative for malaria.

* It is most common for doctors to diagnose only things for which they have medicine… which is another reason why you obviously have malaria.

* There are no appointments. All doctors visits are established through a first come, first serve, stand in line for hours sort of basis.

* If the doctor decides you need to be admitted for observation (Jeremy, bless his heart, has been admitted three times) you have to source your own mosquito net, wash your own blankets if you puke on them, and bring your own clean drinking water because whatever comes out of the taps in the hospital is likely to make you sicker.

* Most of the time, we just try not to get sick, self diagnose when we feel crummy, and try to “hold off till Lusaka” when something just isn’t right.

I know that a fair number of Americans are frustrated with the health care system in the US right now. I’ve been reading the facebook rants. I'm sorry if you are paying out the nose for doctors visits. I’ll try and say this as gently as possible and with an abundance of sympathy…

Consider just how much you choose to complain, because it could be a whole lot worse.”

(Aren’t you glad you asked about what its like to be sick in Zambia?!?!?!)

Please know that I’m not trying to start a game of comparisons. Missionaries and Peace Corps volunteers and expats LOVE to play the "my life is harder than your life" game. It's obnoxious (at best) and toxic (at worst), and we would all do well to stay far, far away from that mentality.

Furthermore, the fact of the matter is that Jeremy and I know all too well that we have it way better than many other people in this country, who have it way better than many other people in this region who have it way better than many other people in this world. The fact that I can google my symptoms and purchase fuel to drive myself to Lusaka or even buy a ticket to fly home to America puts me in a soberingly privileged category and I don’t take that lightly. I don’t throw around words like schistosomiasis to sound all hard-core or to elicit sympathy. I’m just sharing for sharing sake – answering questions that we certainly do get asked, because after all, the title of this post is in case you were wondering… And now you know!

I’d actually like to do a whole series of ‘in case you were wondering’ posts to answer readers' questions about what life is like in our little corner of the world called Fimpulu. If you have a question, something you might have been wondering, leave a comment or send me an e-mail or fb message and I’ll dedicate a post to answering it!

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