So, I had a pretty good alibi for not working on my book last week. After a dramatic attack of pain to the chest that left me writhing on the bathroom floor in fetal position and wracking my brain as to what tropical disease would kill me at thirty – was it malaria, pneumonia, typhoid, a heart attack?! – my partner, Atayo, rushed me to the Kigonzi Clinic where I was admitted as a patient for…wait for it…severe acid reflux.
“Caused by eating too much of pineapple, mangoes, passion fruit and drinking too much Nile beer, Fanta soda and strong coffee,” explained Dr. Anguyo.
Gulp. All of the above staple to my diet in Uganda. Pineapples and strong coffee, particularly. But though I wasn’t dying of malaria or typhoid, don’t be fooled: acid reflux took its toll. My stomach on was on fire, rejecting any trace of liquid or food for five days and four nights. During that time, I lived off 15 bags of that delicious plasma stuff that, when it hit my veins, made everything feel, comparatively, magical. “Stabilize” was the doc’s word.
Thus, I had the honor of becoming the first-ever (so I’m assuming) ‘Writer in Residence’ at the Kigonzi Clinic, a small public-private health clinic run by Dr. Anguyo and the Kigezi Healthcare Foundation in Kabale.
Although I didn’t do any actual writing during my time at the clinic – between multiple IV drips and B12 injections and successive spewing into plastic washing basins, I didn’t feel so inclined or inspired, as you can imagine, to profess myself through prose – but I did; however, take note of some interesting cultural practices as a resident patient.
No less than an hour of arriving and the nurses hooking me up to IV #1, I was receiving my first visitors who came with food baskets in hand. Word had traveled fast. My friends, colleagues and neighbours came to visit, bringing with them bags of milk, juice, steamed potatoes, four bunches of bananas, and (ironically) 2 litre bottles of orange soda.
“This is our culture,” said my friend Patricia. “A friend falls sick and you must go bring them food and give them company.”
There were no visiting hours at the Kigonzi Clinic. Visiting hours were 24-hours a day. Even if I had been well enough to write, there wouldn’t have been time because over the course of five days, I welcomed into my tiny room a steady flow of visitors. They occupied stools, leaned against the wall and perched on the foot of my bed. And when I poked my head out the door, I could see the other patient rooms were full of loved ones, as well.
The nurses didn’t seem to mind the four, five, or six other people in the room. On the contrary, they greeted my company warmly, made jokes and laughed jovially as they asked me to roll on my side, pull down my pants and – “slowly, Trina, slowly,” – prepare for another injection.
So as a writer in residence, I learned that misery does love company. And that company is the best remedy for lifting one’s spirits, providing humor and passing what could’ve felt like many arduous hours lying in a hospital bed.
The second key thing that stuck out to me was the sheer resourcefulness of the nurses. I was floored by their ability to remain calm, even happy, during stressful circumstances. In last week’s blog post, I cited my frustrations as a writer over the frequent power outages in Kabale. I now retract everything I wrote. There must be nothing worse than having to provide medical care to your patient, during the middle of the night, and there’s no electricity.
But power, no power. It didn’t faze the nurses. They entered calmly, injection trays in hand, headlamps secured around the backs of their heads. They’d simply light a candle or two, and proceed without complaint. Despite the shadows, they never once missed the vein.
But this is getting at another book entirely. Maybe it’ll be my second.
For now, I’m happy to say that thanks to an abundance of community TLC and extraordinary nursing care – I’m on the road to recovery.