By Baba Galleh Jallow
Dear Mother Gambia,
After reading the first part of my letter to you, someone said there is in fact a second x-ray machine at Serekunda General Hospital. My response was that’s good. But my feeling is even if we have another x-ray machine at Serekunda General Hospital, I hope it is not like the one at Banjul, and two are certainly far from enough. We should have more and better x-ray machines at the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital, at Serekunda, Bwiam, Farafenni, Bansang and elsewhere. The ancient x-ray machine I saw at Banjul is clearly well beyond its “use by” date. It should be retired and replaced. And it should have several other companions at the hospital and be housed in much better premises.
The x-ray machine at the hospital in Banjul has what looks like a large steel slab upon which patients lie to have their x-rays done. At first sight, and for some strange reason, the steel slab reminded me of the steel torture slabs of the shah of Iran on which victims were literally fried. Victims were strapped to those slabs, a switch was pulled and within minutes the slab became a red hot piece of steel. But this was no torture slab of course, and I couldn’t help wonder at the nature of the object it called to mind.
Anyway, Mother Gambia. As I lay on the large steel slab, I could not help thinking that someone could get corona virus from that slab. I hope that slab is sanitized after each patient. If it is not, it could well be a transmitter of diseases simply because patients with different ailments have to lie on that same slab to have their x-rays taken. It took me about 15 to 20 minutes lying on that slab to have my x-rays done. It was a very cumbersome process.
The nurse had you lie on the slab and helps you into the right position. Then she picks up a film and places it on what looks like an old, rusted heavy iron plate. This she inserts into a hole on the side of the metal slab; then she goes behind what looks like a small door and from there, I imagine she pulls a switch or presses a button. The dull red light on the projector above you blinks, and the machine loudly groans as your x-ray is taken. The nurse then pulls out the large iron plate, carefully takes the film, and goes out into another room where I imagine she checks it out. A few minutes later, she comes back for another shot, repeating the whole cumbersome process above. After about 15 to 20 minutes, the nurse said I was done. Then I was asked to go and wait outside again. I was called about 20 minutes later to go and collect my x-rays.
It was while I collected my x—rays at the large open window of the small cubicle that served as a registration and collection point for patients that I had another shocking experience at the hospital that day, Mother Gambia: I learned that the x-ray films produced from the old machine have to be placed in the sun to dry, or if there was no sun, hung near a fan to dry! I dared not imagine what could happen, Mother Gambia, if there was no sun and no electricity to run the machine and the lone stand fan I saw in a small adjacent room blowing away at x-ray films. Perhaps NAWEC does not “go” at the hospital as they do in our homes Mother Gambia, or if they do, that there is an alternative power source to keep the machine running and help dry the films when there is no sun! Under normal circumstances Mother Gambia, taking a patient’s x-ray and getting the films ready for the doctor takes 5 – 10 minutes or less. At the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital, the process took more than an hour from the moment of registration to the moment of picking up the films! If it takes more than an hour a patient, how many of those numerous patients will have their x-rays done and ready in a day? That question exercised my mind as I waited, shocked at the fact that at Gambia’s premier public hospital, x-ray films have to be dried in the sun or placed near a fan to dry!
Now come on, dear Mother Gambia. You certainly can do better by your children. You certainly can afford to buy more state of the art x-ray machines for our hospitals. You certainly can build a better space for the x-ray unit at the hospital in Banjul. If you invest one million dollars in x-ray machines Mother Gambia, you can get at the very least five brand new machines, if not more. And then you can invest another million dollars in a new building for the x-ray unit. Two million dollars only and you can provide world class x-ray services to your people at the hospital. Surely you can afford much more than that Mother Gambia. Surely you do care for your children enough to invest that much money in new x-ray machines and a new x-ray unit building at the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital. As things stand now, there is an unfolding tragedy at the x-ray unit in Banjul. Your children are crying in pain at its doors from hour to hour, day to day, month to month. Please hear their pain and do something now!
Over and above the x-ray machine Mother Gambia, my little asking around at the hospital suggested that the two absolute requisites for the improvement of conditions at the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital are an improved administration and adequate funding. It appears that the hospital is severely underfunded, and that when doctors submit their requests, they get fractions of the funds they requested to purchase much needed equipment. There is a tone of frustration in the voices of your hard working doctors, Mother Gambia. Please give them the funds they need to keep your people healthy, for a healthy people make a healthy nation. You know why you don’t need unhealthy people Mother Gambia.