Friday, June 10, 2011

Hospital Food's Not Bad Here...

The title is a bit misleading, but I'll get to it...

This Thursday, I joined my local Rotary club as we celebrated the donation of a mammogram machine to a hospital in Dakar.  I am convinced if the U.S. stopped giving any money whatsoever for "foreign aid" and instead asked people to give 1% of those funds to Rotary International, all the problems of the developing world could be solved. 

This particular machine came compliments of a club in Belgium and was the first mammogram introduced to this section of Dakar.  There were two things about the introduction of the machine that took me completely by surprise.

First, most women in Senegal do not even know what breast cancer is.  In Africa, people just "get sick and die" - there is not much regard to "Why?"  So, introducing this piece of equipment also means introducing a whole new concept called, "preventative medicine."  In fact, one female member of the donating Rotary club (a business professional from Senegal) had no clue how the machine worked.  While we might be over-stimulated by all the breast cancer awareness marches, fundraisers and advertisements in the U.S., this concept that disease might be detected early enough to save a human life is news in Africa.

Second, we actually walked right into the exam room while a woman was having an appointment!  No, she wasn't actually being screened upon our arrival, but the idea of patient privacy is something that hasn't really occurred here either.  I'm thinking a description of the hospital might be in order to help the set the scene...

The building looks like a high school built in the 1960's that hasn't been maintained ever since it was built.  There were lots of chipped and decaying tile floors, tile walls and whitewashed concrete walls.  The decorations on the walls looked mostly like "school spirit" posters you might see in any high school.

There were no "recovery rooms" to speak of: just the equivalent of park benches or locker room benches.  There was an open-air atrium (although atrium isn't the right word, because that would imply some amount of class and fancy) and people were sleeping on the benches wrapped in blankets.  A mangy orange cat slept on the ground next to one patient.  There were no waiting rooms, either, just more locker room benches for arriving patients.

After we finished our tour of the hospital, we retreated to a conference room for our meeting.  The chairs in the conference room had well-worn cloth fabric that was a deep orange color; these chairs could have easily been hand-me-downs from a restaurant that closed in the 1970's.  I nearly fell through a hole in my chair, when - suddenly! - someone brought us covered dishes and beverages to thank us for donating the mammogram machine. 

Having never eaten in a Dakar hospital, I - of course - decided the worst thing that could happen to me would be that I would get sick and have to go to the hospital... and I dug into my plate that included some version of what could only be called an African spring roll, some type of spongy bread-cakes that were shaped like fortune cookies and some kind of ravioli type thing with minced meat.  It was accompanied by a pineapple beverage whose can proudly proclaimed, "With real chunks!" 

You'll note that I didn't ask what the names of any of these foods were.  Half the time, I can't recognize what I'm eating in an American hospital, so why would an African hospital be any different?  In any case, none of the foods was life threatening and the pineapple chunk concoction was an excellent pairing with the menu. 


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