Sick in the smiling coast


This time however, there was nothing to dread. A little niece of mine had a case of food poisoning and was throwing up by the minute. I saw first-hand the fear of loss in the eyes of a father. The little angel is just that – a little angel. She speaks with a soft controlled voice and most times she seems to be the quietest of kids ever. Yet she is one of those secretly bubbly kids who need the right environment to be themselves. So, when she caught a case of ‘the vomits’ and her quiet side took over, even I was scared. 

Getting to the Africmed private clinic by ‘Brusubi Roudabout’ (or is it ‘Turntable’), I was overly impressed by the vast improvement from their previous location. It felt like I was in ‘Babylon’. The floors were clean, the walls were white and the lighting was perfect. I could have done a video shoot right then and there! I could have dropped my Chop Shop Sweet Burger on the floor and picked it back up, licking up the remnants from the floor. I could have figure skated on the tiles!! Yes! It was that clean…that impressive. However, this is Red Black Nonsense so do take a seat and be patient. I’m getting there.

My weak little niece cuddled up on one of the seats as we awaited her turn to see someone whilst her parents took care of the paperwork. Suddenly, a voice shot through (and certainly not a voice from the heavens), “Come now”. I could have mistaken it for an R’n’ B joint. As the little girl tried to wiggle her way out of the chair, the young man who seemed to be a receptionist or attendant suddenly did it. He did the one thing you expect in a Gambian institution. He raised his friggin voice at the child. Talk of insolence! Talk of stupidity! “Gaawal”, he said. Actually he said it twice! I mean he thought the first time wasn’t rude enough so he repeated it. I shot him the kind of stare that could kill but unfortunately he didn’t drop dead. I wish I could do those things in Chinese Kun Fu movies where I could throw him a punch to the gut from a mile away but unfortunately, my Tai Chi days are far behind me. I let it pass because the young girl’s health was more important at that point in time.


Minutes later however, it would get even worse. The little angel threw up on the once clean floor. Might I remind you, she had a case of ‘the vomits’. These things are inevitable. I mean, it’s a clinic for goodness sakes. People go there because they’re throwing up, or they have poor bowel control. There should be a big sign in all clinics and hospitals in The Gambia saying ‘Vomit Free Zone’. The young girl’s mother, being the thoughtful mother that she is, went to see the cleaners to inform them of the incident. She came back a minute later with a stack of tissue paper and bent down to clean it herself. It was later I would learn that the cleaners – all four of the useless cleaners – had decided it was not a day to clean vomit. Instead they had directed her to the toilet to clean the mess herself. As you would expect, the toilet paper did little to clean the mess so when another attendant walked past (totally ignoring the mess by the way), almost avoiding it, the girl’s mother brought it to his attention, warning that if it wasn’t cleaned, someone could slip and fall (as if that was the only reason why the floor needed cleaning). I mean maybe it would help the institution if someone did fall and break their neck! The insurance company would pay for damages if it ever got to a court of law and the hospital would have a new patient to treat. A record 5 minutes later, a feet dragging cleaner came to clean it up with the most sullen face ever and she couldn’t even offer a pleasant hello. 

I would expect a cleaner in a health facility to be more caring and more responsive. I would expect her to ask the little girl if she was feeling better. I know the question would be stupid considering she was still waiting for her lab test results but at least that would have done well to calm my nerves. However, she had decided this wasn’t the time for niceties. The little girl had given her extra unnecessary work to do at a time when she needed to chill and watch some television or partake in the usual corner gossips.

I did the Gambian thing and complained in private. I didn’t expect that from a private health facility. It was nonsense! I understand the sometimes poor service delivery of our public facilities. Public service isn’t an easy thing. It’s the one place where everyone goes. Patients are many and Doctors are few. I can imagine the working under stress every second of every day of your life. Some people can handle the pressure and others can’t. However, even that is not an excuse. But in a private facility that looks like a Raddisson Blu I expect the very best. Do these people know how expensive it is to get treated at their facilities? 

When I complained to a friend of mine who happens to be an acquaintance of the owner (or partner), she advised that I place a suggestion in the suggestion box. Like seriously! With rubbish like what happened on Saturday, can I trust whoever handles the suggestion box to ever open it? I had heard some lovely things about Dr. Jagne. I have heard of his love for health care and how much he works to ensure quality and efficiency of service but I was totally let down by his staff on this particular day. 

Business owners all over the country complain of the attitudes of their staff (usually Gambian staff). Many businesses in the country have collapsed simply because we hire people that are ‘untrainable’.  For them, they’re doing the customers a favour and we must “sit down and wait”. I do not want to believe that the Dr. and whoever it is that has invested in such a beautiful facility would spend millions moving to the heights their structure has reached just to hire irresponsible staff but after that experience of mine that day, I don’t even know what to think anymore. 

Many of us turn to private health facilities because we expect better service. We know that our public service Doctors also work in these facilities but we expect the better pay and better environment to encourage them to give us better service. However, when a cleaner starts asking patients to clean their own mess then we know we have a serious problem in need of fixing. 

Should we have CCTV coverage on all our facilities and ensure that staff behaviour and attitude is checked at all times? Should we have quality of service control officers stationed at every corner to check on the service their staff deliver? Wai lii ken munut kor d! I know we’ve all had these crazy experiences when we take our sick to hospitals, clinics and health centers. However, are we becoming a development based on infrastructure but not on capacity? I have been to so many countries where their infrastructure is miles ahead of their mentality. Are we becoming such a development? The development where we have lost our most human characteristic of caring for the sick? Nju ne Gambian bi defa barri yerrmandeh. Wai suday lii moye yerrmandeh kon daal dohut.

I could have written about my bad experience earlier this week at one of our government institutions but today is not the day. In as much as it was frustrating for me to sit and wait for someone to be done with a 15 minutes casual call before attending to me, it was nothing compared to the way I felt when I walked into a facility that boasted excellence only for me to receive a slap in the face because a couple of staff had forgotten to take their medication before work.