We used to wait

Out patients department

Eventually I convince myself that the bout of dizziness will not pass so then the question is, what now?

I’ve already taken the day off work in the hope of shaking this nagging bug, and I’m convinced it can’t be malaria, I’ve only just recovered from that. No one is that unlucky.

I prefer not to jump on the back of motorbikes if I can avoid it, but I can’t face the half hour walk so I brave the ocada, arrive at Magbenteh hospital feeling substantially more nauseous than when I set out.

The outpatients department is not where I left it last.

Is this an effect of my sickness? I am delirious. I am probably delirious. I would rather Georgie was with me, it’s helpful to have someone to test your confusion at times like this. She is in Bonthe, travelling between health centres on a boat. I wish I was on a boat. I have the sea legs for it.

To my right is a large low building. A new building. I know what is inside it. I took all the pictures of it a few weeks ago. They had a big opening. A big opening for…..I genuinely wrestle with this, but the clue is written above the door: new outpatient department. I go to the reception, just inside the main door. It says “Reception” above the window. I am certain of this. I say I would like to see a doctor. They point me to a room, Consulting Room 4. I go there for the doctor? I am impressed with the speed of service. Room 4? Yes. I knock. There is no answer. I open the door and interrupt another patient’s consultation, blurt an apology, explain I was sent to this room for a doctor. The doctor is unfazed, explains that I need to go to the Reception. In a prescient moment I recognise I am about to become caught in a loop. I try to explain I have been there already. A doctor? He asks. For you? He points me to Consulting Room 5. This door? I check. Yes he says, nods encouragingly. I knock on the door to Consulting Room 5 and walk in on another consultation. The doctor there says I need to go to the Registry and then they will send me to a nurse, and then I can see a doctor.

Ok, I say. Where is the Registry?

The doctor points vaguely back down the hall in a direction which is not reception. Request for clarification is met with more emphatic but no more specific pointing. The building is a wide corridor, painted creamy yellow with identical unpainted metal doors leading off its length, room numbers stencilled in black, military-style. It is a building uncannily well designed for confusion. Focussing on walking properly I weave nonchalantly in search of the Registry. I find another window that is clearly marked “Cashier”. I stand swaying slightly and watch it discreetly from the corners of my eyes, blinking like a concentrating drunkard to see what happens there.

Everything seems very difficult. Slightly fuzzy. I very seriously contemplate going home. Just leaving. Maybe try again tomorrow. Listen, I tell myself, you came, you gave it your best shot, give it another go one day when you’re feeling better. It’ll be easier then. Maybe phone someone. Who can I phone to come and help me with this. No. I blink hard, swallow. I have to do this. I came here for a reason. Ok. I join the queue for the cashier, with little hope or clue of why I’m queuing. This dizziness is persistent. Nausea is gaining some traction. I bet throwing up would get me to see a doctor. Maybe not. Anyway, I am being melodramatic and am probably fine. Georgie thinks I am going crazy anyway, she is suspicious of our anti malarials, has spent too much time thinking about mental health.

The queue for the cashier is long and will never get shorter as long as people keep shoving themselves into it. I edge forward, copy what everyone else is doing and stuff my pink registration card hopefully into the hand of the man-shape behind the window but instead of doing something meaningful with it, like he does with everyone else, he places it on the desk and tells me my file can’t be found. I am confused and not sure if I am being brushed off. He tells me he needs to find my file. A lot of other people seem to be getting stamps and being sent on their way. You will find my file? I ask, and then I can see a doctor? Oh, most definitely, he reassures me, wait small.

Waves me to a bench and stamps the next pink card thrust at him. I sit and try not to glare, at him, at anyone. Time passes and nothing seems to happen to my card. The room spins like I am drunk, and I jiggle nervously. I have been here an hour. I can’t help imagining bacteria dividing and multiplying exponentially while I wait. Text Georgie to pass the time. She’s still on a boat. I lean on the window sill, suck at the non existent breeze. The sunlight hurts. At some point enough time has passed that the man comes out of his office to tell me they can’t find my file because they have just moved offices but he will make me a new one to save time. I suspect money will be involved, so I try a squint in response. My paranoia is unfounded- he is friendly and helpful, fills out the paperwork, wafts me to another room.

I knock on another nondescript door. Inside a nurse with the world’s worst bedside manner takes my vitals. She berates me for sitting in the chair wrong, but doesn’t tell me how it’s wrong. I feel flustered, not sure why I am upsetting her. With much huffing and pointing she makes me stand up, rearranges the chair for me, still chiding, and sits me back down in such a way that she can take my blood pressure without moving from her own seat. I can’t see my bag from this angle. More paranoia.

Blood pressure spot on, temperature textbook. Even before, with malaria, I was a solid 36 degrees.

The nurse releases me and I sit bewildered, nervous in the hall again. Looking at my feet. Shall I get a book out? I probably won’t be waiting that long. I will probably be waiting the exact length of time it takes me to decide to get my book out. I get my book out. The doctor calls me. It is the same South American doctor I saw last time. A different doctor to the two I walked in on earlier. I am relieved, liked him, felt a rapport. He gets to business quickly. Fills out the form I need to get tested. Tells me to take it to the lab, waves approximately in a direction that is neither reception nor cashier. This all seems like a cruel game. In the corridor the cast of Scooby Doo should be chasing a masked villain in through one door and back out of another. I take this to the lab? I ask. No, to the cashier first, then the lab. To get stamped, he says. Always they say to get a stamp. They never mention you pay to get the stamp.

I know where the cashier is. The cashier is called John. I give the form to John and he tells me how much money to give him. Then he stamps the form. So that’s what was happening. John is on my side.

From the cashier then I find the lab, it doesn’t say ‘lab’ above their door which is how I know. Give them the form. Ok, they say, go back and wait and we will call on you. I wait outside? Yes, we will call you. I return to the hallway. Scour the stencilled doors for number 101. More time passes.

A different man takes my blood with less brutality than the last time. I tell him I work at Unimak which goes down well. I know the test takes half an hour to process so I can definitely read my book now, but I must remember to listen for my name because they mangle it here in ways I don’t understand.

Dizziness is ebbing. Still feel a bit sick. I zone out completely. Think about boats. A while later the lab technician walks past and as I look up he says “yours is already gone” and waves me towards the doctor’s office, consultation room 7. I go to the office and walk in on another consultation. It is impossible to know when to just walk in and when to wait. No one waits. But no one seems to mind when I just walk in, either.

The other patient comes out and I am waved in. You have typhoid, the doctor says.

This is great news for my eye-spy book of tropical diseases, a real boost.


I am told to take my prescription to the pharmacy.

The pharmacy is a wave in a direction which is not the lab or the cashier. I wander the length of the hall looking for the appropriate sheet metal aperture of hades, draw a blank. Turn at the end, back up the hallway, studiously avoid the curious looks of the serried ranks of fellow denizens rostered on benches, then suddenly feel like the guy in the Da Vinci code because in a flash I realise this whole time the pharmacy was right in front of me – only it was wearing a mask that said “Reception.”

Sense of relief almost unbounded. End within sight. Give the man in the pharmacy my form. I almost smile. Almost.


You need to take this form to the registrar first, he says.


To get a stamp.



6 thoughts on “We used to wait

    • ianlgrundy says:

      Who would have thought that poor signposting would give me more problems than the quality of the healthcare………! Antibiotics have worked a treat, thanks! > > >


  1. Jane Charlton says:

    Oh, you really aren’t having much luck health wise. But so pleased you went to hospital and stuck it out to get treatment. j


  2. pipcocampbell says:

    This blog irritated me, Ian. The problem is that you wrote it as well as you have written all the others, a 1984esque vision of a health institution– – and on rereading, I enjoyed it very much – – but, first time through, I really needed to know what was happening with you, and your throwaway line “typhoid” did not reassure. My online enquiries show the disease to be totally disastrous, however my African contacts assure me that everyone has it, what has taken you so long? I’m sure the readers (that is me) would like a little more understanding of your health situation. It was certainly good enough to return home, presumably, and write another brilliant blog. For goodness sake, get well. Philip.


    • ianlgrundy says:

      Dear Philip, You can rest assured that my health is much improved! Whilst the experience of navigating the hospital was less than pleasant I am now feeling much better. Quite common to get the typhoid with malaria, I understand, so not really unexpected. Sorry if I’ve caused any alarm but really nothing to worry about – as you say, if I can write then it can’t be too serious. Hope all is well in West London! > > >


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s