Twists and turns of Africa

As I have been stating on more than one occasion, I have been developing a love affair with Uganda and all that it has brought into my life and before my eyes.

I have made conections with a multitude of people, and feel blessed to have so many dear friends around me, especially given that I am only just entering my fourth month here.

It  has been such a joy, especially after some turbulent times in work situations, to experience yoga on the hill at sundown, to share supper with a friend and his sons, to sit on the veranda of a South African friend’s and partake in a Braii amongst friends, to go and dance and soak up art and culture with my Ugandan friends, to meander around markets and start to finally get offered items at their actual prices rather than the mzungu price, to zip around town on the back of a boda with the wind in my hair and the sun on my face, to listen to beautiful music whilst I watch the birds overhead as I sit on the rooftop of my apartment, and so on.  Let alone to consider all of the amazing trips I have been so lucky to have already been on, with relative ease of last-minute decision making and minimal costs.

However, when illnes strikes, all of this fades into the background.

Almost two months ago, I had begun to feel flu-like symptoms, most noticeably throat pain and lethargy. I have not been taking prophylactics (anti-malarials) as it is not in line with my health views, to put chemicals like this into my body long-term.  I have been using alternative medicine however, and it is my firm belief that this is the reason why, in the whole time I have been here, I have not had more than 5 mosquito bites.  Hard to believe when I look at my counterparts, but it is the truth.

Anyhow, my symptoms seemed to stick with me for more than a week and they began to worsen, most notably with an alternating high-fever and chills, be it day or night.  And I endured a multitude of other symptoms too, which I will not detail here.  After almost two weeks, I found myself on a playground duty in the hot sun, wearing a thickish jumper and feeling somewhat disorientated.  When one of my students came to question why on earth I was wearing such attire when it was actually quite hot, I suddenly realised my illness was much more severe than I had appreciated, and that I had actually been denying it, even to myself.  My housemate had known I felt unwell, but otherwise I had turned up to work each day and carried on my commitments and social meetings without saying a word.

In that encounter with my student, I suddenly felt the impact of what was actually my apparent situation and I sought help from my workplace to allow me to attend the next-door surgery immediately.  I had hoped that I would get some on-the-spot treatment and be ready to return to teach my next lesson within the hour.

That was not quite the case!

Upon arrival to the surgery, I had barely finished filling in my details when I found myself hooked up to my first drip of two, and having my bloods taken, with a strong feeling from the doctor that I did in fact have malaria.  There was no way I was getting back to school in time for the next lesson, so amidst all of this I was rapidly texting away trying to locate numbers of colleagues and get cover arranged, etc.

I was also working hard on my own state of mind, not to drop into fear of this potential diagnosis, despite the very real fact that I had all of the symptoms on the list.  Or had had over the fortnight prior.

Time stood still for a while, as I awaited the results and tried hard not to get caught up in the “what ifs” that my mind was throwing at me. And thankfully at this point, the worry was alleviated.  Although I had a big list of horrid symptoms, this was not the result of the malaria parasite.  Hours later, I returned home, once again running a high fever, but this time armed with medication and a knowledge that I needed bedrest.

Jumping forwards four days, and the symptoms seemed to be on the increase again … Not ideal. So once again I returned to the surgery and was informed that the blood tests are not actually always accurate regarding malaria and they needed to be run again. Ah.

Again they were clear however, though the test for typhoid showed a mixed result. It seemed to me, and I have heard people say the same before and after this experience, that if you don’t have maleria, then the medics here don’t really know what else it could be. In this situation it mostly felt that way, as I was simply sent away with a repeat of the same set of original medication. I was told I most likely had a severe respiratory tract infection, and that if I just kept drinking, everything would be fine. I ended up on antibiotics for ten days. And ironically ended up with another horrid form of one of my symptoms whilst on a night away from home – most likely a result of not having had any probiotics during this time to counteract the effects. (Honestly, it hadnt even crossed my mind as I had literally been wiped out with the illness. I dont recall ever having felt so lacking of energy or resilience to fight infection. But thanks be to the heavens that it was not malaria. That thought scared me when my family were far from me. That said, it showed me that I was blessed with beautiful people, most especially my housemate, ready to care for me, provide me with hot soup and cherished company. What a lucky woman I am).

I returned to work with a bang, as my energy really wasn’t ready to pick up and return to me for quite a few weeks afterwards. But I tried my very best and I accepted that having been so sick, it would not be a walk in the park to get back to my strength and full-spirit.

It was ok though, and I learnt so much throughout all of that experience. And focussed on self-care and love with even more intention than I had done for a while. It was a joy when I got my energy back to do my first yoga practice again, though I felt incredibly frustrated to feel how much my spine had tighened in that time. I began waking before sunrise again each morning, and thanked myself each time I was able to make my salutations to the sun. I cherished the children I work with, who had sent me beautiful cards and messages, and told me they had prayed for me. And I slowly but surely was able to start seeing my friends again, although I was much more subdued than they had previously known me to be. That was ok, it was to be expected and with the beauty of Uganda, it’s warmth and it’s people, what a wondrous place to be to help me heal.

Skipping forwards however, right up to the weekend that has just passed. And things once again took another unexpected turn. Or should I say twist. I was delighted to be returning to Kampala’s National Theatre, where a lovely Ugandan friend of mine was due to perform at The Pearl Festival, and where myself and another Ugandan friend were to partake in the one monthly free dance event called “The Equation“.One of my main desires for my time in Uganda has been to learn African dance (I also want to learn local songs too), and finally my opportunity had arrived. Unfortunately things didnt flow smoothly for most of my day before arriving there anyhow, and the meet-up with my friend failed to work out as planned, due to issues with lost phones and so on. Meaning that I had ended up waiting outside in the direct sunlight for over an hour, and feeling pretty fed-up and sleepy by the time we all managed to meet. I explained that I didn’t much feel like staying there anymore, and that I would soon head home. Naturally this dismayed all three of us, so we bought some sodas and sat in the cool shade of the theatre and chatted for a while instead.

As time passed, I was refreshed and my friend suggested we join the end part of the dance. I climbed the stairs and sat with some of the others to watch the dancing initially, as it was the end of the class and I lacked the confidence and/or courage just to get stuck in and have a go regardless of failure or success. Later though, the teachers switched over and another couple began to teach some new steps. So I plucked myself up by the scruff of my neck, saddened that I had allowed an irrational feeling of ego/embarassment to prevent me from having fun with the dancing that I had especially traveled across town to do! We did a warm-up and fooled around with mirroring and expression, then we began to learn the formation …

… POP …OW …

We had been doing a light-footed jumping turn (jump, jump, jump, turn.  Jump, jump, jump, turn. Or something to that nature. Nothing particularly complex or over-exerting). But as I did one of the turns, I felt a burning pain to my left knee and immediately shouted at the guy next to me, as it felt like he had quite literally kicked my leg with full force, akin to an illegal football tackle. He looked utterly bewildered and carried on dancing. And I couldn’t for the life of me work out why he was being so rude and insensitive. I brushed my pride off, gave myself a while to catch my breath, and returned to the steps. And that was when I knew what had really happened. As I heard a vey loud POP again, with much more force than before, and I literally slid across the floor as my leg buckled from underneath me. Sweat immediately dripped down my head and I thought I was going to vomit there and then. I knew I couldn’t stand and it was all I could do to hold tightly onto my knee, as I saw stars before me and sensed a huge feeling of everyone looking right at me in wonder.

The same guy that I had accused of kicking me rushed to my side and told he was right there ready to help, with whatever I needed. I just focussed on breathing and not being sick!

After what felt like a very long time (not even the length of the track playing in reality), I slowly steadied myself into standing, and slowly, slowly climbed the stairs to retrieve my belongings, knowing with complete certainty that something was very wrong and that I needed to leave. I rested for a while, adding pressure to the leg and calming my breathing rate. Then I tenatively walked in a straight line back and forth, to test my ability to weight-bear. It hurt incredibly, but it was do-able. Another friend had come up to ask me what I needed and to offer me love and support, and I was so grateful. I made it gently down the stairs again, whispered to my friend that I would call him later, and made my escape, hoping that an ice pack and elevation would be the magic cure required. As I made to leave the theatre itself though, the knee went from under me once more and this time a Ugandan police woman came running to me. She basically carried me to a chair and said straight away – “your leg cant hold you, can it?“. I could feel terror rising and asked her for help. She called me a boda and together they lifted me onto the back. I realised in a panic that I didn’t have my medical card with me, but once again the Gods were smiling on me that day, as not only had I left my room unlocked (which I never do), but I also managed to catch my housemate by phone, literally moments before she left the apartment.

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When I reached the hospital, I was instantly put into a wheelchair, given pethidine and other strong pain relief, and had x-rays taken. My blood pressure was dangerously low – 81/59 and I was in pain, a lot of pain. The staff were reasonable that night, though the overall experience of that particular hospital was an absolute disgrace to the medical profession, and I have since reported them on expats sites, to my own workplace and to their own complaints department. During that night, once they had decided they had done all they were able to do (oh, and that they were going home regardless as it was handover time), they simply expected me to walk out of there. I was given nothing for the blood pressure, despite my repeated requests, (in fact when I even asked just for some glucose, they told me the cafeteria was on the 7th floor and it was too far for them, they didnt want to go there) and I was told that I couldnt have any crutches because they were locked away in a store room which had only one key, which was not present. My friend and I felt totally marooned there and then, for quite some time, whilst we both fought hard to be listened to, about the fact that I was quite literally unable to walk, so how exactly did they see us being able to leave? I had been told I had to return the next day for an ultrasound and to see the orthapedic surgeon, and at one point I even considered sleeping on the chairs in the reception area as I could not see an alternative solution. The doctor that night also applied a very basic crepe bandage to my leg, that provided no support whatsoever, and actually made me feel more at risk. Eventually some backhanded deals were made, and we were able to drive to a pharmacy and pay over the odds for some crutches. At least that was something. Though the 9 flights of stairs that I then had to traverse in order to get to my front door back at home was another matter entirely. I finally got to my bedroom after 1am, and just as I lay my crutches on the side and went to sit down onto the bed, a fourth and much more final POP happened. Sending me into a deep-set scream and instant tears. My friend came running and found me thriving in pain. So much for the crepe bandage.

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The next day was a long and pretty horrid one by all accounts and I really don’t think I can thank my housemate/friend enough for staying by my side for all of it. Without going into masses of detail, I will give a brief summary of our experience:

  • We were asked to be there by a certain time and told we would not be at the hospital for all that long anyhow, so we arranged for our driver to wait for us … We were there for almost 8 hours. He lost a lot of money and time with his family that day, and we basically saw no daylight.
  • The doctor eventually showed up nearly 2 hours after the arranged time, didn’t know what was wrong with me, applied a knee brace onto my leg incorrectly, ( that I had first had to hobble across to the pharmacy to collect) and told me that it was useless me being there that day, I should return on Tuesday when the scan could be done. When I argued the toss with him and told him I had been informed it was available that day, he backtracked and sent me for the scan. Meanwhile he left the hospital in order to spend time with his own family. And may return later if we were lucky.
  • The ultrasound took over 45 minutes and after a 2-hour wait, because the staff didnt want the hassle of getting my medical aid’s authorisation after the first time they had called and no-one had answered.(They hadn’t bothered to inform of us of any of this however, and it was only through my friend’s continued resolve to try and help me get treated that it changed – in fact I got handed the number to call and had to deal with it myself).
  • Many of the staff kept laughing in both my friend’s and my face, at the fact that not only did I keep having to walk from one end of the hospital to the other, but that I was not getting treated and was receiving poor care, etc.
  • The doctor finally returned at 7:10pm by which point my pain threshold had reached its limit and I broke down, there and then, in the main reception/entrance area.

At this point my friend’s partner arrived and quite literally saved us both from losing our minds. He whipped us up, took me straight to a higher quality hosptial doctor, and I was treated and on my way within an hour. The first hospital hadn’t even touched my knee after the first five minutes of me arriving on the Saturday night, and had told me it would be fine within 3 days. Where in fact, I have ruptured my patella ligaments and my knee had been repeatedly dislocating. I have potentially life-long damage, will need to use crutches for the next two months, and I may well need arthroscopic surgery in future.

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I have been totally reliant on others as I have been needing to be pretty much immobile this week, and ideally for the next two weeks, and it has been a very intense and profound week. I have been flooded by love and honestly cannot believe how much support I have been surrounded with. For the first three days I stayed at home, to be around my comforting surroundings, but it also made me feel like I was under house-arrest due to the amount of stairs, etc. So when another dear friend offered me to stay at their place for a few days, as they have a ground floor bedroom, I could’ve wept.

I am shaken, from these very unexpected twists and turns. And I cannot quite believe this alternative view of Uganda that I have now been witness too. I have never experienced such a big-scale injury so far from home, and certainly not in what is predominantly a third-world country. It is unnerving and I have needed a lot of reassurance in the past couple of days to overcome the cloudy head of the pain relief and limited sleep effects, to know that everything is fine and I will mend, just as I am meant to.

Thanks be to God or whoever it is you believe in; for me, it is to the universe itself. I am astounded by the people that are in my life here in Uganda, as well as of course those from back in the UK and elsewhere.

A bounce in the road, an obstacle to overcome and a hurdle to jump. Though it would seem that maybe jumping is not the right course for me for now 😉

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