Visiting an African Clinic… As a Patient!

Of all the parasites and blisters, sunburns and indigestion I had prepared for going into Tanzania, I never considered my toenails. I have been known to on occasion come down with the excruciating pain of having an ingrown toenail. Somehow, I didn’t foresee this as a potential problem, until on the second day of the trip my left big toe was swollen and in a lot of pain. At first I figured a few days in my open toed Chacos would do the trick. By the end of the day, however, I decided I would have to do something about it. The first night I sat up on the bathroom counter and soaked my toe in hot water. I explored the contents of our medical kit and gritted my teeth trying to dig the side of the toenail that was overgrown out. I got the top part out but not the root and cried and went to bed. The second day I continued with our tree-planting project despite the pain in my Chacos. I kept my toe clean and bandaged (which with my interest in first aid was actually fun). That night I soaked my toe again, and realizing it was too incredibly painful to dig out (by now it had swollen a lot more and I had created a jagged edge from cutting part out the night before) I sat there crying, cleaned it off with some iodine, wrapped it up and went to sleep. The third morning I knew it was beyond my help. I talked to Professor Kerr who had been helping me keep eyes on it and we agreed to see if we would visit a clinic that morning to get some medical care. Luckily, there was a clinic in the town we were on the outskirts of and we made plans to go there while the rest of the group headed up another tree planting project. Our driver Christopher, Kerr and I planned to go. Then two of my friends Taylor and Mackenzie offered for one of them to join for moral support. I was, a little nervous, but I didn’t think it was necessary. Then I thought about it more and decided it was a good idea. They played rock paper scissors to decide who would go and to my surprise the winner and not the loser was the one who joined me! Taylor won and hopped into our rover for the adventure.


Planting trees on a muddy morning in my chacos!

I had no idea what to expect. You hear about all these missions to go build clinics in Africa and also scary stories of how under equipped and unsanitary healthcare can be there. Tanzania is one of the “wealthier” countries in Africa due to their tourism income, but I still was nervous. We drove up through a street of banana trees to a set of brick buildings and got out of the car. There were people sitting out on a porch area waiting to be treated and we sat down while Christopher talked with the receptionist. Next, I went into a small room to be assessed by the doctor. He was a younger looking man and was kind and serious as he examined my toe. He took out his flip phone and turned on the flashlight to get a better look at my foot! That was the first sign that supplies there were low. He wrote me a prescription for some strong antibiotics and sent me to a woman doctor to clean my toe. I sat while she carefully cleaned my toe with a sterile needle and iodine (apologizing each time I winced). She wrapped up my toe with a minimal but efficient amount of gauze and tape and sent me on my way. The whole visit cost a grand total of twelve dollars!


Getting my toe cleaned and bandaged.


The very kind woman doctor who bandaged my toe.

Although the clinic wasn’t white and shiny and our idea of a modern sterile clinic- I was very impressed. The doctors were intelligent, kind, and went out of their way to talk to us. They didn’t have a lot of supplies, so they were impressively efficient and sparing with all they had. We learned that a German doctor who was actually visiting that day had set up the clinic and Kerr got to meet and thank him! We later found out, that single clinic serves 20,000 people! That’s a lot of responsibility for a small clinic! At the end of the trip we pooled all of our medical supplies from our first aid kit and medical pack and sent it to the clinic with a thank you letter. I really hope to visit them again someday. Although it was painful, I’m so glad I had that chance to experience being a patient in Tanzania. My toe healed up well too!

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