It is 11:40 AM and my appointment with the specialist is at 12:15 PM. I’ve already watched the receptionist hand the nurse my file, and seen him place it in the doctor’s office.
So far, so good.
As I look at all the miserable people around me, especially the crying babies, I sigh and hope that I’ll be out of here by 1.
Thank goodness my parents never wanted me to go to medical school.
I really hate everything about hospitals – the gloomy faces, the shots, the pills, the white coats, the bad handwriting, the smell of disease – but unfortunately, when extreme discomfort starts to inhibit my ability to perform daily functions, I know I have to see a doctor.
I pass the time and try to drown out the crying and sniffling by listening to music (Stereo Love was on the the play-list, of course!), and I chat with everyone who is online – on facebook chat, on gchat, on whatsapp.
12:15 passes. Then 12:30.
That’s when I start noticing something fishy.
Every time the doctor’s door opens, someone in the waiting room makes a dash for the door and shuts it before you can even count to three. The woman sitting across from me has also been waiting for an hour and progressively inching closer to the door, chair-by-chair. So far, the two patients who have been in and out of the office were people who arrived after me.
1:00 PM passes.
The door opens. Another patient zooms for it and nearly collides with another, but makes it in first. The door closes.
The woman across from me sighs. But she’s moved closer by yet another chair.
Rather suspicious at this point, I stand up and walk back to the receptionist.
“Hi ma’am. Hello. I’ve been waiting here for an hour and my appointment was at 12:15.”
“Yes,” she says, “The doctor has your file. He will see patients as they come.”
Ah, so is it first come, first serve?
“I know he has my file, but I’ve been waiting here for an hour and people who came after me have already seen the doctor.”
She smiles at me, but her voice signals an end to the conversation. I hesitate. But then decide to go back to the waiting room.
1:30 passes. Another patient makes it in before the woman across from me even stands up.
2:00 passes. This time, the woman makes it.
But by this time, I am also really annoyed. I go back to the receptionist.
“Hi ma’am – sorry to bother you again. But I’ve waited more than two hours now and I still haven’t seen the doctor. Is there no order or structure here?”
“The doctor has your file – ”
“I know that. But people who came after me keep going in the door. This is getting ridiculous.”
The receptionist can hear the anxiety in my voice, and she calls the nurse over. He frowns at me as he listens to her explain the situation in kinyarwanda. Then, he heads back toward the doctor’s office, and I follow, hoping that yes, it would finally be my turn.
He goes into the office and comes back out with all of the files. Immediately, the patients in the waiting room start clamoring at him in kinyarwanda and he silently begins to flip through the files and rearrange the order. Finally, after a couple minutes, he signals for the room to be quiet and starts reading out the names.
As each name is read, and each anxious patient sits back more comfortably in his or her seat, my heart begins to sink lower and lower as he reaches the end of the pile.
No, it couldn’t be possible. I’ve already complained to him several times in the past two hours.
But he reaches the last file, and looks at me with a smirk, “Lydia.”
“What?” I burst out, “Now, I’m last? Are you serious?”
He seems stunned at first by my reaction, but then starts laughing at me. Then, all the patients in the room start to laugh.
Unable to handle the situation anymore, I grab all my things and leave the waiting room.
I break down as I make my way back into the lobby and out of the hospital doors.
Yes, I left King Faisal Hospital in tears.
It wasn’t just this incident that finally pushed me over the edge. It was everything – the failed project, the illness, the disappointment, the homesickness – all of a sudden everything just compounded and culminated with this: public humiliation.
It was just too much.
But once again, I have to thank the angels in my life.
Far, far away in a still-dark home in Pennsylvania, someone answered my call and groggily listened to my sobbing and hysterics. And far, far away on the other side of the world in Beijing, another friend called me just as he was about to board a flight and listened to more sobbing and hysterics.
“Call out the big guns,” said my friend in Philly.
So I dialed the number – the same number that got me research clearance to all of Rwanda’s primary schools, the same number that cut through all of the red tape at the Ministry of Education and jeopardized a secretary’s job last summer.
I called my friend in government.
And boy was he furious.
In less than twenty minutes, I had a new appointment at the same hospital. So I went back to King Faisal Hospital, my eyes still red and swollen from crying, and called the contact that my friend gave me.
Almost immediately, a huge man in a military uniform showed up and escorted me to the CEO’s office. There, he went directly to the fridge and offered me drinks and listened as I explained my story.
He shook his head. “That is bad. Very bad. So sorry.”
The door opened and the CEO stepped in. Then, the door opened again, and the Head of Nurses and the doctor I was supposed to have seen also entered.
One by one, they apologized profusely to me and gave me their business cards. They claimed that it had all just been a “miscommunication” and that the nurse and receptionist did not feel comfortable enough with English to explain to me that the doctor sees emergency cases in between appointments, so appointments often get pushed back.
Of course, I knew they were just giving me an excuse. It was very clear that there was no system in place to track appointment times and patient visits.
Still, I was reminded once again about how important connections are in Rwanda. Here, you are only worth so much time and attention as how important and well-connected you are in society.
Because of my friend, I am now on some sort of “VIP list” at King Faisal Hospital, and the CEO continually reminded me to call him directly next time if I feel ill.
As for my medical “condition” – The doctor ultrasounded me three times (I got to see my liver, kidneys, and spleen! – oh, and I also confirmed that I am not pregnant … ) and determined that, very likely due to extreme stress, my organs had started to malfunction. And the doctor decided to prescribe for me – wait for this –
Alpha blockers (usually prescribed to men with prostate cancer).
Do you ever feel like sometimes life is some sort of twisted comedy where everything falls apart but things become so progressively ridiculous that all you can do is laugh?
After having spent an entire day at the hospital, it felt so good to finally leave and breathe fresh air and eat brochettes and fries with friends at Chez Lando.
Of course, I had no idea during dinner that I would end up spending the next four days in bed with a bad cold/flu (probably due to the extreme stress from the entire ordeal). But at least this made for a good story, huh?
Family and friends, just wanted to let you know that I am feeling MUCH better now — and if I ever have the slightest headache or cold, I know who to call!
Thank you so much to my two angels.
And thank you all for the many prayers and all the love and support you’ve given me throughout this journey.