29 September 2007

...and a dollar short

I am trying to contain my excitement at the idea that there might be an available self-contained room tomorrow. It has been over a month since I’ve been able to go to the toilet without venturing into the outdoors. I never realized, before this trip, how immensely valuable that is. I currently deliberately dehydrate myself after 4 p.m. so that I won’t have to pee in the middle of the night. (Although, for the worriers, don’t worry. I drink a ton between morning and 4 p.m. I am not dehydrated in general, just from about 8 p.m. until morning. Heh.)

Must keep hopes from soaring too high. Low expectations. Low.

Today I went on a doctor quest, because I was hoping to deal with this stomach problem while in Africa, since it was Liberia that bestowed it upon me. I’m guessing that doctors here are far more knowledgeable about tropical medicine than doctors in the US, is all. I’ve been feeling sort of off, so I thought this might be a good time, because you never know when they are going to require, how shall I say this, physical proof of the problem for testing purposes.

So, questing. A coworker came along, to show me the way, I thought, but it turned out that he didn’t know, either. We asked a random bodaboda (motorbike taxi) driver, and then, after a long wait for boda driver number one to find a friend to drive boda number two, we set off. We slowed in front of a clinic, but then continued on. We stopped in front of a pharmacy, but I vetoed it. “I said, ‘doctor,’ not chemist. I want a real doctor.”

At clinic number two, the man behind the counter claimed that they had a doctor. He led me to a little rickety bench outside a door covered with a lacey cloth. I waited. The previous patient left the “doctor’s office” (this was written on the wall outside the door in chalk) and I entered. Greetings ensued. Long pause.

Me: So… I’m wondering what kind of doctor you are. Where did you go to school?
Person behind desk: What do you mean, where did I go to school?
Me: I mean, which medical school did you attend? In which country? (Thinking to myself that Khartoum would be fine. Or Ethiopia. Or South Africa. At this point, I would have taken Uganda, honestly.)
PBD: I’m sure you can see that I’m older than you.
Me: Um, yes, I can.
PBD: So how can you ask me about my education?
Me: Well, because I’m a customer, and I have a health problem, and I would like to know what kind of doctor I am visiting. Are you a doctor?
PBD: I went to school.
Me: Are you an M.D.? What kind of doctor are you? In which country did you attend medical school?
PBD: Here.
Me: Here? Here in [Elsewhere]? I have not seen a medical school here.
PBD: How long have you been here?
Me: Um. Two weeks.
PBD: So you do not know the town.
Me: Right, not very well. But where did you go to medical school, exactly?

Suffice it to say, he was not a doctor. He was some sort of medical assistant and had attended an on-the-job training, which I knew from the entire setting. If you had an actual medical degree here in Elsewhere, you would not be sitting in a dingy room in the back of a pharmacy offering the most basic of tests for a dollar a piece. You would be the weapon of last resort for the hospital (albeit still making $60 a month, probably).

The alleged doctor and I stared at each other for a while. Then I said, “Thank you, but I am looking for something different. I don’t think you can help me.”

I left. And then I sat on the bench outside trying not to cry while the doctor and the pharmacy guy yelled at my coworker because I was rude enough to ask if my non-doctor was actually a doctor. Okay, I sat on the bench crying, but behind my sunglasses, which are large, so it was not obvious to the entire town. I was hot and tired and sick and I had just been yelled at for daring to ask for qualifications from someone who probably knows less medicine than I do.

I gave up. (Actually, I gave up after I stopped crying and after stopping at the hospital, glancing at the wait, and realizing that wasn’t happening, either.)

I’m going to feel sick to my stomach for the rest of my life, apparently. But never fear. I have more self-treatment ideas up my sleeves. Next up: worms, and then bacteria. (Or vice versa.) Death to the intestinal intruders.

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