Caregiver Becomes Patient

Well, it was bound to happen, Africa has broken my mzungu (Swahili for “foreigner”) immune system and I have held out as long as I could but had to seek some medical treatment for my gastrointestinal and now upper respiratory infections. Being the person that always thinks zebras instead of horses, I convinced myself that I had had malaria, dengue fever, African sleeping sickness, or some other parasitic infection, none of those just food/water borne illness coupled with a nasty ear infection. Here is my patient experience in Uganda:

I am still feeling very unwell and have confined myself to my room at the Mulago Hospital Guesthouse and do not feel well enough to venture out to the pharmacy to seek some relief for my symptoms. I thought I had a very well-stocked personal pharmacy that I transported from home, but it seems that I have every potential medical issue covered apart from upper respiratory issue and wish I would have brought Nyquil, more than 4 tablets of Pseudoephedrine, and some Afrin nasal spray, along with some Puffs with lotion tissues. A single trip to CVS or Walgreens would have been perfect, but pharmacies here are very different here and every thing is behind the counter even though most things do not require a prescription.

I went to a pharmacy and was sold some generic Zyrtec from Jordan and some “nasal spray” for quite a large amount of Ugandan Shillings, neither of which worked to make my symptoms any better and I was unable to communicate exactly what I needed in a fashion that the pharmacy staff was able to understand. I made contact with Dr. Wipfli, one of my professors at USC and frequent Ugandan traveler, to see if she has someone in country that perhaps could help me out in getting some assistance and she put me in touch with a Makerere University student, Kennedy, who has been amazing. He was kind enough to hire a private hire taxi to transport me to the pharmacy, ATM and then to the City Blue Hotel which is located in Nakasero, approximately 15 minutes from where I was currently staying at the guest house near Mulago Hospital.

Urban City Blue Hotel

I decided to check into the hotel in an attempt to recover and have access to food at the adjacent restaurant.

A short time after I checked into the hotel, my left ear began feeling much worse and my fever was higher than before. I decided that I needed to seek medical treatment at Nakesero Hospital, which was only 400m from the hotel. This is a private hospital, which is fairly modern by most Ugandan hospital standards. Patients are required to pay before for each service that is rendered.

The entire check-in process took approximately 15 minutes and I was seen by the one physician on duty within about a half hour. She was very thorough and assured me that I did not have malaria given I have not had much of an appetite and have had a fever for the past several days.

Nakesero Private Hospital

I was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection and left ear infection and provided with five days worth of antibiotics along with a much-needed decongestant. My entire visit and prescription medications, which were filled on-site at the pharmacy totaled approximately $30 USD. They do take insurance, but not in the traditional way that they do in America and I will have to submit a claim once I get back to the States.

I have found some food at the hotel and started the antibiotics with the hopes I will feel a bit better in the morning. The hotel is very nice and the food is delicious, what little I have managed to eat thus far. I am thankful to have this air-conditioned space to get some uninterrupted sleep, as the guesthouse is very noisy with construction of a new hospital going on directly next to my room that starts around 07:00 every morning until 19:00 every evening. There are no monkeys rattling at my windows or noisy birds who, like clockwork wake-up at 06:00 to start foraging for food in the many trees that surround the guesthouse.

I have never been so thankful for AC, a very hot shower, mzungu food, and WiFi that will not cut me off half way through writing a post on this blog. I will return to the guesthouse tomorrow and will hopefully be on the mend from here on out. I look forward to getting back to the hospital since being the patient is no fun.

Laura Anne Salm is a candidate in the Master of Public Health online program  in the global health leadership track at the Keck School of Medicine USC. She is spending the month doing a clerkship at Mulago Hospital, which is affiliated with Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.


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