For most of my life, I have been terrified of hospitals in fear that one day I may contract an illness or sustain an injury which may hold me captive forever within the haunting sterile white walls, trapping me from the outside world I love so dearly. Unfortunately, no matter how well I have managed to keep myself out of the wars, there are others around me who do require care from hospitals and their staff. Despite my distaste for such places, I have been inside a hospital every single day for the past month which has given me time to think about how I view medical care and how I have seen medical care be distributed throughout different parts of the world.
When I was little, being sick was taking a day off of school to rest, eat dry toast and to watch Oprah Winfrey with my mum at lunch time. This routine has carried through my whole life as can be seen by the way I begged a local Indonesian to bring me dry toast when I was sick in Medan, despite not having anywhere to get bread or even a toaster from for kilometres surrounding my house. If they couldn’t get toast, there was probably even lesser chance of obtaining Oprah Winfrey to comfort me in my time of need.
In Madagascar, everyone inevitably contracted a severe case of “The Shits” which lead some people to set up camp at the long drop until this never ending period of life actually did end. I called my sharp abdominal pains “My Tree Baby” after the episode of Around the Twist where Pete urinated on a tree and ended up having to give birth to the tree’s child after somehow impregnating himself in the process. Soon after impregnating myself with my “baby tree” I aborted it with a couple of shots of moonshine from the Frenchman down the beach. In the middle of a tropical island, land locked from any real town, moonshine was as good as any medicine to kill stomach bugs and a litre of Coke was all you needed to replenish your sugars after you had lost all your mass, water and electrolytes.
Having a fever in a wooden hut in the middle of a tropical island was one of the few times I thought I was actually going to die. Having a fever in the equivalent of a sauna had me thinking about what I wished I had said to my loved ones and wondering who was going to bring them the devastating tales of my loss across the oceans that separated us. Like a zombie, I crawled across camp to the shower, stood lifelessly under the nozzle with my clothes on, and went back to bed already dry by the time I got back. After being force fed beans, rice and a litre of coke, I began coming to the realisation that I might actually survive to tell the tale.
This way of thinking carried me through to Indonesia when the nurse couldn’t find my partner’s vein to put a drip in so he could replenish his fluids after his first experience with third world diseases. After being frustrated from seeing him wince in pain every time the nurse missed, I stopped her, took him home and made him drink a litre of sports drink instead. Needless to say, He felt much better after and it was 100 times less painful. Even now, back in Adelaide when he gets a cut or a scratch, I immediately get out my forest medical kit and dress his wounds as if he was at risk of a tropical ulcer…..unnecessary, however old habits die hard and you can never be too safe.
There is something about African doctors visits whereby they are always the same. From wealthy South Africa, to poor Madagascar, any doctor you have will invite you into an empty room with just a single desk sitting in the middle of it. They will then sit you down to explain your ailments and following this, no matter what you say, he or she will open the top drawer of the desk and remove one bag of small blue pills. They will push them towards you and send you on your way. In one instance where I had a foot infection, they supplemented the random magical blue African pills with eye ointment. In that instance, I walked out of the doctors office confused then paused shortly before walking back in again to ask what was actually wrong with me.
When I snapped my tendon and the whole country of Indonesia tried to convince me that all I needed was a massage and herbal tea to fix it, I was not impressed. No way in hell was I allowing anyone to touch a broken tendon, and to mash it forcefully at that. My boss swore to me that if I went to a hospital or doctor they would laugh at me hysterically because all I needed was a special Chinese massage. I was at the very least hoping for an experience like at the Indonesian dermatologist who asked me to point to my disease in an English picture book, knowing full well he couldn’t speak a lick of English. More random pills. More desk drawers. HOW, TELL ME HOW, are third world doctors fitting their whole medical inventories in the top drawer of their desks? This is surely which craft or multitasking medication.
From dry toast to a bottle of moonshine and random magic blue pills, I have experienced a plethora of medical advice in my time. Maybe, just maybe, Australian hospitals aren’t that scary after all…. but then again, maybe living in the wilderness has taught me that all you need to survive is a Frenchman baring strong potent liquor and a doctor baring a single desk drawer of random blue all encompassing pills.