Americans have extremely negative attitudes towards health care in sub-Saharan Africa. It is filled with exotic diseases and HIV/AIDS. Much of this is perpetrated by non-profit organizations that are raising funds from gullible Americans to support their projects in Africa. If you question this assertion, consider the incident during the 2013 to 2016 ebola epidemic in West Africa: a Kansas teacher was fired because she visited Kenya during this time even though Kenya is thousands of miles from West Africa and unlike the United States has never had a case of ebola. I have advised hundreds of Americans about visiting East Africa. Some have concerns about health issues, but others are absolutely paranoid. For example, I remember one college student who wanted to join one of our workcamps, but was forbidden to come to Africa by her parents who considered this “too dangerous.”
Fortunately East Africans don’t have this negative perception on the health systems in Africa. They note, with pride, that the world’s first successful open heart surgery was done in South Africa. Kenya has world class hospitals. For example, when a few years ago Gladys had life-threatening blood clots in her lungs, she went to Karen Hospital in Nairobi. Its webpage states “The Karen Hospital is a 102 bed multispecialty Hospital in Kenya… We offer patient focused, world class medical treatment and accord the highest standards of medical care to all our patients indiscriminately.” It specializes in cardiovascular diseases and Gladys received superb care and has recovered completely. It caters to many international patients with serious heart conditions.
This Report from Kenya is to contradict the established American negative view of health care in Africa using the concrete example of what happened to me in the last month.
One Thursday as I came home from my afternoon walk, I felt very tired. I found that I had a slight temperature of 100.5 degrees. I went to bed and although somewhat tired felt fine the next day. The following week the same thing happened but this time I also shivered and then sweated. These are signs of malaria so we went to the local pharmacy and got anti-malarial medicine. Again although somewhat tired, I felt fine and went about my usual activities. Nonetheless the following Thursday I again had a temperature, more shivering, and sweating. I went to the local clinic in nearby Kipkarren River and the doctor concluded that I had an infection in my digestive tract. He prescribed appropriate antibiotics. Again I soon felt fine.
On Sunday December 8, I felt well enough to drive to Nairobi. We were taking our three grandchildren, Faith, Brian, and Rembo, to visit their father, Douglas, and to meet their two month-old half-brother, Seman. An additional reason for the trip was that there is a Maragoli custom for the grandmother to cut the frizzy hair of her newborn grandchild. Gladys when available has done this for some other of her grandchildren. She can’t hold the baby and cut the hair by herself so we took her sister, Janet, the great aunt of the child to hold the baby while Gladys did the cutting. For some reason the mother is not allowed to hold the baby. While Kenyans love major celebrations this is a quite private one between the baby, grandmother, and great aunt. I didn’t even know when they did it until I saw that the baby’s hair had been cut.
All went well until Thursday when I again had a fever, a lot of shivering and then sweating. We decided to go to the nearest private hospital, Metropolitan Hospital. It was started in 1994 by eight Kenyans, mostly doctors, and financed by a British expatriate who has slowly sold off his shares in the hospital to Kenyans so that the hospital is Kenyan owned. It is not an elite hospital like the Karen Hospital described above. It is in BuruBuru which is a middle class area of Nairobi and is a general hospital, specializing in maternity, probably because there is in high demand.
In the hospital outpatient division, I was given a battery of tests and the results indicated that I had a bacterial infection. I tested negative for malaria. I was again given antibiotics and sent home. The drive to the hospital took about fifteen minutes from our house, but the drive home, when I was feeling really terrible, took two hours due to one of the frequent Nairobi traffic jams.
By Saturday I was feeling worse with more shivering and sweating episodes every 8, 10, or 12 hours so I returned to the hospital. They conducted another set of tests and found that my white blood cell count had increased from 12,000 to 25,000. This latter amount is extremely high meaning that my body was fighting a serious injection. The doctor immediately admitted me to the hospital for treatment via much stronger antibiotic drips. I again tested negative for malaria.
I need to make some observations about the hospital and its care. One of the best attributes of Kenyans is their warmth and friendliness. All the staff was very warm and encouraging to me. This was particularly helpful during the first two days when I was feeling awful. It was a nice psychological boost. Staff from the doctors, to nurses, to other staff always greeted my warmly, “Good morning, Mr. David. How are you feeling?” Sometimes staff would just come by to greet me. Perhaps this was due to the fact that I was the only non-Black Kenyan I saw in the hospital including all staff, other patients, and visitors. On the other hand, I think they would have been just as warm to Gladys if she had been the patient.
The second observation is that I don’t think any staff member including the doctors and nurses were over 40 years old. I asked one nurse how old he was and he replied, “Twenty-five.” I will write another Report from Kenya on the implications from the young age of the staff.
I received intravenous injections constantly. I was tested a third time for malaria, but this time it was to determine if the malaria was “hiding” in the liver rather than the bloodstream. Again the results were negative. Nonetheless I was given antimalarial injections. The doctor explained to me that this was because I had originally taken antimalarial drugs and this might lead to a “false negative” so to be safe I was given antimalarial injections. In other words I do not know if I had malaria or not, but I am certain that I don’t have it at this time.
Another interesting issue was that I have had high blood pressure since 2004 which is under control with the medicine I am taking. While in the hospital my blood pressure was abnormally low reaching 80 over 55. Therefore I was given injections to increase my blood pressure and my normal blood pressure medicine was stopped.
On Wednesday morning, all my vital signs, blood pressure, blood sugar, and temperature were normal and I was discharged with only one extra set of antibiotics to take for the next five days. I rested in our house in Nairobi for two days and, since I did not feel strong enough to drive home for nine or so hours, our son, Douglas, drove us back to Lumakanda. It then took me two more days of essentially bed rest to feel normal. I am still tired and take two or three naps per day, but otherwise am feeling fine.
I am pleased to report that I will NOT have to launch a GoFundMe campaign to keep me from bankruptcy. Including everything (for example, 14 cents for the plastic nametag they put on my wrist) the total cost of the four days in Metropolitan Hospital was $721.86.
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