“There’s gon’ be some stuff you see that’s gonna make it hard to smile in the future. But through whatever you see, through all the rain and pain, you gotta keep your sense of humor, you gotta be able to smile through all this bullshit.” Tupac. Those are words that came to my mind after answering the knock on my door, but my caretaker was having a hard time keeping his usual sense of humor. It has been a long time since I saw a man in tears due to pain. Especially an African boy who has been made to believe that men should not cry. Our caretaker was not having a good morning. When I answered the door, I found him curled up and he could barely speak. His wife, who could pass for his daughter, seemed lost and scared to death. I inquired as to what was going on and he barely whispered that his stomach was killing him and that he was vomiting and the vomit was burning his throat and chest like hell fire. My nursing instinct kicked in, and as usual, the first thing was to ensure he didn’t fall and hurt himself, so I sat him down as I tried to gather more info on what was happening.
From his indicia, I thought that he was suffering from gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is when the stomach contents back up into the esophagus and it can cause burning chest pain. It is usually caused by a weak lower esophageal sphincter, which usually acts as a door that allows food to pass into the stomach and prevent food and stomach acid from flowing back to the throat. Other things, such as lifestyle and dietary choices, can also contribute to GERD. Treatment varies from changing lifestyles and diet, like reducing portions at meal times (I don’t see this happening with my Luhya caretaker), and taking an antacid can also help neutralize the acid in the esophagus and stop heartburn. So I sent the wife for some Actal Tums so we could deaden his heartburn that was giving him hell, but more so she could stop seeing her hubby at his weakest point. Men are not supposed to show decrepitude.
After taking the Actal, he continued vomiting and I could tell he was getting scared as time went on. He asked if I could drop him off at the hospital. I suggested we head to Aga Khan, which is close to us, but he insisted that we go to a public hospital because he cannot afford to pay for private hospitals from his pocket, as he did not have insurance. So I asked him where the closest public healthcare was and he responded there was one which wasn’t far from us and so we headed there. On arrival, we headed straight to outpatient, but the door was shut. We sat outside on the bench waiting for whoever was inside to come out. Minutes later, the door opened and a lady cleaning the floor emerged. I inquired from her as to what was happening and she informed me that the person who issues cards so you can consult with the doctor was not in and she won’t be back until 2pm. I protested, asking what kind of a joke was this, how can a public health center close? What were the patients supposed to do? Live through misery because someone decided they had better things to do than perform their duties?
At this point, I was over my head, irritated and pissed off at the same time. I headed to a customer care tent which was next to the entrance so I could give them a piece of my mind. On arrival, I found a lady who was too busy on her phone to even look up and another guy who was filling out a puzzle in the newspaper like you would think he was getting paid for it. After inquiring as to why there was no one to attend to patients, the guy with the newspaper wearing eyeglasses (you would think his eye doctor intended to make him see into the future) looked up and said, “It’s the law.” I asked him what law was that which says you can abandon patients to go for lunch? He looked up again and said, “It is the law.” Pissed out of my mind, I thought of cursing at them, but then I figured it wouldn’t make a difference with this retard. So I left and went back to outpatient and told my caretaker, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” As we were leaving, the lady sitting at the customer care came running toward the car and stopped us, telling the caretaker to come out and he can see the doctor without the card. If it was me, I would have declined to go back, but the state my caretaker was in gave him very few options, so he alighted from the car and followed the lady to see the doctor.
A few minutes later, my caretaker came out of the doctor office looking more frustrated and defeated than he went in. Without saying a word he handed me a book, which the doctor had scribbled in it. As I tried to make sense of the scribbling, I asked, “What happened inside the doctor’s office?” What he said broke my heart.
“The doctor didn’t say anything, he just wrote on the book and told me to go do some lab work.”
“Did he not tell you what was wrong with you?”
“No. When I went in, I told him how I was feeling, he wrote this paper and told me to go do the lab work.”
“Didn’t he even take your vitals?” He asked me what vitals are. “Checking your blood pressure, temp, etc.”
“No he didn’t.”
At this point, I had no fucks left to give and contemplating storming that doctor office and giving him a piece of my mind, but then I thought it wouldn’t make a difference. We left and headed back home, feeling defeated and screwed by a system that we are taxed heavily to keep afloat.
So as I was driving home, Andy Grammar’s “Keep Your Head Up” song kept playing in my head. The lyric goes like this:
The glow that the sun gives, Right around sunset, Helps me realize, This is just a journey, Drop your worries, You are gonna turn out fine, Oh, you will turn out fine, fine, oh, you will turn up fine, But you gotta keep your head up, oh And you can let your hair down, you gotta keep your head high.
I can’t wait for the day that sunshine will glow on our public health care system and give it that glow of caring and efficiency that we can all be proud of. But that sunshine will have to be us, me, you, and the rest of the world to not keep our head down but to strive and push for better services. It’s us against them, because today it was my caretaker, tomorrow it might be me. We have to refuse to settle for less and continue to push those who have been given the mandate to fulfill it.