I was eating lunch. Nothing fancy, just rice and scrambled eggs. The fact that I was doing so with a fork was proof enough to those who know me that development is real! #DevolutionMashinani! Jazz instrumental covers of popular songs filled the room. I almost hummed out of pure satisfaction. It doesn’t take much to please me. Simple guy, simple needs. Out of the hidden crevices in my mind came memories of the week. Memories of dinners and birthday parties in fancy places. Memories of me honing my skills at using a fork and knife (hah!), marking my entry into ‘cool kid’ territory. However, what stuck to me like the ever present bacteria around us were the two days I spent in Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), not as a medical student but as an accompanying person/relative.
I’ve been learning the ins and outs of medicine full time at KNH for close to 2 years now. I’m yet to know all the shortcuts in this labyrinthine monstrosity, and you’d be well advised not to ask for directions from yours truly! However, I’ve never experienced KNH from the patients’ perspective. Donning a white lab coat and a Students’ ID in my back pocket have effectively insulated me from the deadly queues and the frustrations that stalk, harangue and harass all those who dare to present themselves to the largest public hospital in the country.
Well, there is a first time for everything. I didn’t have my lab coat or my ID with me when we visited the hospital for my Aunt’s endoscopy and colonoscopy. We were ordinary Kenyans, seeking medical assistance. No one at home would let me forget my role. Since I was the one most acquainted with the inner workings of KNH, I was expected to ensure that everything went smoothly. Little did they know how ignorant I was and how little influence I had. Nevertheless, I took the plunge and waded deep into the bowels of Kenyatta, hoping that we’d all emerge unscathed.
The first mistake I made was in not eating a heavy breakfast. We got in at 8 in the morning and only got seen at 3pm in the afternoon. The second mistake was not carrying a book to read, or a smartphone with a powerful battery. I ended up looking at a yellow door shielding a consultation room and a corridor filled with sick and miserable people for 7 consecutive hours. Leaving for lunch would have been a costly mistake, seeing that your name could be called at any time. We eventually got our day in the sun with the doctor, but there were some who got their appointments rescheduled, after spending the whole day waiting anxiously. Some of the stories I heard are not for the fainthearted.
The staff were as busy as bees, fighting in the trenches with grim faces. I did not pass judgment on them, for I knew, perhaps more than the fellow patients seated next to us, how much work they had to do. Some were polite and others were curt. It did not matter. I couldn’t predict my own behavior if I were to do what they do every day for several years.
As I queued in extremely long queues, as I waited for online systems to come back up and allow me to pay for our procedures, I thought of the ways in which the entire system of KNH could be improved. It was an interesting way to pass the time. Much better than focusing on the different scents and smells that were battling for recognition in my nostrils.
I wished for a bird’s eye view of the entire hospital, but alas, that perk was only available to the CEO and the men and women around her. However, my brief interactions with patients, nurses and doctors have given me little crumbs that I can use to come up with a replica of the big picture.
I joined Med School as a Ben Carson disciple. To be totally honest, I wasn’t really sure of what I wanted to be, though Neurosurgeon sounded good. The prospect of learning more about the human body and actually saving lives every day sealed the deal. However, after several years fighting the attrition that is inherent in this warped system of learning and practicing medicine, I have gravitated towards health economics and policy planning. I want to see the big picture of healthcare in the country and across the globe. I feel curious and excited at the prospect of thinking of ways to better outcomes and cut down on costs. My brief excursion deep in the bowels of KNH showed me that there is a lot of room for innovation, and the demand is yuuuuge!