I have never felt more vulnerable living in Ghana. While I have taken my 8 years in this country in stride, as a trooper and dancing to the beat of no drum with glee; fear and vulnerability has finally caught up with me. It turns out it’s not the lack of water, electricity, gas, good roads and internet that has me wanting to pack up and bid farewell. It’s the idea that my health and ultimately access to good service is at the hands of a Ghanaian unprofessional. And I fear that now.
I gave birth to three children in Ghana due to naiveté. I assumed that the good health care professionals existed and that I had to find them. I realized they were not in the majority, but I did not realize how pervasive the apathy and mediocrity had become in this country.
My son cut his toe on a broken tile in the bathroom a few weeks ago. He purposely stuck his toe into the broken tile as any experimental and outgoing 7 year old would. The cut was so bad that we ran to the hospital immediately. When we got there, I was met with more questions than answers. At least three different nurses wanted to know what happened. Not one of them volunteered to tell the other that I had already told this story and that I would prefer to know what can be done to save my son’s toe. To be honest, my biggest fear was that my son would lose his toe and that would automatically disqualify him as an Asantehene in the future. Although we are not Asantes, the mere fact that my son would be disqualified and denied due to a disfigurement sent me into panic mode.
As I sat with my son in the emergency room, fearing what the Asantehema would say to him if we were Asantes and part of the royal family, the doctor finally came in asking me for the 4th time what happened. I did not mind this time. She was pleasant and then I reasoned that maybe they wanted to make sure that I did not cut his toe. They would have probably called child protective services, if Ghana had one. But in the meantime, asking me questions, hoping to catch me in a lie, is all they had.
Then it hit me. No matter how careful we were, eating the right foods and vegetables prepared at home, some accidents we cannot protect ourselves from. Even those people who dig bore holes in their homes, have generators or solar power, a time might come when you will need a professional and most like that person would be classified as unprofessional.
Here we were at an expensive private (which means small, not quality) hospital and there was no surgeon on duty. We had to wait close to 2 hours for one or we could drive 3 hours to Ghana’s most infamous hospital, Korle Bu hospital around 8pm. I decided to wait at Nyaho for the surgeon to arrive. What if this was more than toe?
Luckily my future Asantehene reject was not scared. He asked questions that would have made me proud if we were not in an emergency room because of his stupid prank. How many times did I tell this boy the bathroom is not a play room? He cannot experiment or touch anything beyond the soap and sponge? I left that shower minutes before this boy decided to stick his toe on a broken tile. If not for child protective services I would have shown him how Haitian parents deal with this stuff. But instead, he made me laugh. He is so funny, even with a broken toe that could potentially be his downfall if he ever wanted to become an Asantehene.
The surgeon finally arrived and he was also polite. He wanted to know what happened and I told him. My son would need stitches, at least 2. We just wanted his toe to heal and we wanted to get out of there. My son would be sent to the ward for his operation immediately. And it would take 15 minutes.
Those were the longest 15 minutes of my life. I had planned out how I would set the hospital, nurses, doctors and administrative staff ablaze if anything had gone wrong with my son’s simple operation. We have all heard the stories. Nurse forgot to do this, doctor used the wrong this and the hospital did not have this and so the patient this. Not I. I was ready for that and knew how it would all go down. My name would go down in history as the chick who made Ghanaian unprofessionals sit up. Not everyone would set them ablaze but the fear that just one more me was out there would work enough to keep some spines straight.
As I waited I had three administrative staff follow me to make sure that I paid the 600GHC for the operation. They were worried that I was no longer using insurance and wanted to make sure that I paid for fear that I might run out on them. I delivered two children at Nyaho. The administrative staff treated me as though I came in purposely to run out and not pay. My future Asantehene was born there. Luckily how I was treated was the last thing from my mind. I just wanted my son to be fine and no mistakes to happen.
Luckily no mistakes happened. The doctor said we could go home. He said nothing more. My son asked if he could swim. The doctor said not for another 5 days. I couldn’t’ think of any questions because my mind was jumbled with excitement and fear. I was so glad to see him safe and just wanted to get us out of there. Two nurses accompanied us to make sure the bill was settled and we were sent home with a pain killer and antibiotics.
A week later his toe started to bleed. Out of panic I ran back to the hospital. One male nurse wondered why I had not been coming for cleaning every 3 days. I was not told that. The doctor did not tell you? No! Not the doctor nor the nurse or the two administrative staff who shadowed me until I paid the bill. No one mentioned cleaning and no one mentioned removing stitches. I figured it was the kind that melted in. “Oh, then they should have told you because now his toe might be infected.” I cannot type what my response was to this, but you can imagine what a future mother to an Asantehene would say to this. So I leave it at that.
Once I was calmed down by three administrative staff, two nurses and one doctor, and given apology after apology, they explained that I had to return every 2 days for cleaning. I live about an hour away, but where else would I go? And although any thinking human being could do the cleaning, I was too nervous to do it with stitches in his toe. (I soon learned and began the cleaning the wound at home with aloe vera.)
The head nurse asked me to step out of the emergency room so she could mop at our second cleaning. Again, there is no need for me to state the specifics of my response. Needless to say that I did not leave my son and I told that nurse where she could put her mop.
At the third cleaning, the nurse on duty asked me why I came in so late. They don’t do cleanings that late. I did not know. No one told me. How would I know? So I stopped returning to Nyaho.
This is what happened to me at one of Ghana’s “best” hospitals. Best is defined as expensive and exclusive. Can you imagine the treatment of the average Ghanaian at the government hospitals? How many children die in their mother’s arms waiting in the lobby for a doctor too tired and apathetic to attend to his patients? How many bribes are given to nurses to please “do something.”
How many doctors fail to tell their patients what they should do after surgery? How many patients fear asking questions? How many like myself forget to ask the pertinent questions? Who makes sure they have all the information they need?
I learned that unless you come with questions, you do not get answers. And even though you may have the question, the answer is not automatic or even correct. One nurse was bent on removing the stitches. Two others said there was no need that they would melt.
The other lesson I learned is that no one is doing their job above mediocre in Ghana. No one is because there are no repercussions. No supervisors. No fear of what could happen. Everyone is getting by on prayer and some luck.