Feature Article of Friday, 19 October 2012
Columnist: Nartey, Sandra Owusu
As the taxi drove through my gate, my heart jumped and my only prayer was to be able to look at him in the face this time. It is his first day at home after spending five days at the Cholera Unit of the Achimota Hospital.
I wish to share this story with the rest of you in order to raise awareness of the deadly nature of Cholera and hope that you all are on your guard and do your best to prevent yourself and family from infection. It is also to advocate for people to develop the spirit of self motivation to take independent actions with regards to our sick relatives and the health systems in the country. After reading this story, you would eventually agree with me that, when it becomes very necessary, you have to take matters in your own hands and not completely trust the judgment of particular health institutions and professionals only to regret later.
When my family finally retired to bed on Sunday, whoever thought the next 24hrs will be a very crucial moment of our lives. I was in my bedroom Monday morning when my Eighteen year old boy knocked and came complaining of severe diarrhea all night. Unbeknown to me that the diarrhea had been accompanied by vomiting, I simply gave him Pepto Bismol with the hope of relieving him. A little under 20mins later, I responded to a call to rush out only to find my boy throwing up in all sort of colors. He then told me that the diarrhea had also been vomiting all through the night; I knew right there and then I was standing face to face with Cholera. But how was I supposed to know this had been going on all night since the master bedroom is not so close to the rest of the rooms. My first thought was that he had been irresponsible for not alerting anyone after a couple of times in the night but that were not my priority at the moment. I quickly rushed him to a hospital directly opposite my house and the unfolding events thereof were those that would have changed our lives forever. This hospital is supposed to be a very renowned one for their 'quality service' and exorbitant charges and have lately even made efforts to decentralize by setting up branches in some suburbs of Accra.
As I completed the registration procedure, we were ushered into the consulting room. Meeting a middle-aged Physician gave me some hope of a sort since it is general knowledge that they are better experienced. After interviewing us, he told us there was nothing really wrong with him so he will subject him to some lab tests to among other things, check for kidney infection due to the severe diarrhea and also treat him for the vomiting by admitting him. Before the consulting could be over, Andrew threw-up again in the full glare of the Dr. who could not even take his time to check the nature of the vomit for clues. This made them rush him to the ward, by which time he had began getting weak. He was given intravenous fluids but he kept on vomiting and the diarrhea had intensified in frequency. My husband had also mentioned when I called to inform him that the symptoms looked like Cholera, this I had also been suspecting but when the nurses kept telling me they also suspected it was Cholera, I began getting agitated because if the professionals themselves cannot simply diagnose but are also suspecting, then we were in real trouble. When the Lab Technician came to the ward to take samples of his urine, blood and stool, I again asked if the Dr. among other tests asked him to test for Cholera and he told me they couldn't test it there. Then I knew something could go really wrong at that hospital.
After spending close to 30mins in the washroom vomiting and trying to obtain his urine and stool samples, he came out with two different containers with similar contents to the dismay of all of us. In her disbelief, the nurse asked him which was stool because to our eyes, they were both the same in color, texture and consistency yet they still could not confirm he was suffering from Cholera. By this time about 1pm, he had vomited about 20 times, so was the same with the diarrhea. The only test that came back positive was that of an infection in his stool but the rest of the tests were to be ready in three days. Three days? The vomiting and diarrhea persisted until the staff changed shift for a new Dr. to take over at 2pm. This Dr. told us he was going to observe him until later in the day before recommending a transfer. By this time and after hours of treatment, nothing had changed and he was getting worst and weaker. So when my husband stopped by from the office, I pleaded with him to talk to the Dr. to confirm if it was Cholera and transfer us because I was so sure their treatment wasn't working. This hospital continued to carry on their so called treatment and to our disappointment handed us a letter at 7:30pm that we were being transferred to Achimota Hospital. When I asked a nurse, she was bold enough to tell me that they couldn't keep him overnight because they only work 12hrs and not 24hrs so will close at 8pm. Words can never express my fury at that particular moment. Why did they detain him all day if they knew they couldn't treat him, after all they were not even sure of what exactly was wrong with him? What a shame.
Again, my priority was to get him to the hospital asap so decided to ignore all that negligence and only pray that my boy is fine.
Meanwhile, Andrew's eye and skin color had started turning white and was so weak that he could not even walk. My husband carried him from the ward upstairs into the car and quickly sped off to Achimota Hospital. I began weeping on the way because he had started talking to himself, fidgeting unnecessarily and had become so restless and this broke my heart.
Upon arrival at the hospital the nurses expressed shock in why the initial hospital waited so long for the situation to deteriorate before referring him. One even complained of how this same hospital detained a patient until later before referring him only for him to die minutes upon arrival at Achimota Hospital. In less than 24hrs, Andrews’ eyes were bulging and so white, there was virtually no skin on his face, all left of him was his cheek bones and teeth that had become so visible and protruding. In my fright for the worst, I run into the car and wept as I prayed to God to save him. I only communicated with my husband and cousin on phone who were assisting the nurses in the ward for him to commence treatment because as far as the hospital was concerned, he had not been treated for Cholera at all, so why did the first hospital make me pay all that money for no treatment when the actual life-saving treatment is free of charge.
After four days of treatment, he started getting better and I could heave a sigh of relief and thanked God for his healing power. I then began to ponder over all about Cholera, the campaign for cleanliness and most importantly, how much we all are vulnerable rather than the assumption that it is only for those in the slums and deprived communities.
Due to intensive campaign against the disease, awareness creation on the mode transmission, prevention and treatment have sunk in so well that it is almost common knowledge so we all should strive to insist on appropriate diagnostic and treatment when we visit health institutions and read as much as we can to acquire knowledge and information.
Andrew is only lucky to be alive or probably God’s will for him to survive.