Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, February 6

Medical Situation

As soon as I got home from a trip to Dakar, I knew I was at risk for getting sick (for the millionth time!) when I spotted mom stumbling around with an achy body and coughing up a storm. Awesome. The two people I can’t avoid catching a cold from are my mom and youngest brother, Saliou. I spend too much time with these two. Lo and behold, a few days later I woke up feeling off.
As the day wore on I compiled a list of symptoms: body aches, headache, fever, sore throat… the works. Two days in my fever spiked. Three days in my throat was hurting more than a normal cold. Four days in my throat was swelling closed.

Med Hut Library
To mitigate hypochondriacs, the Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO for short) gives each volunteer a guide book. It’s just a few pages with some notes about common problems including methods of contraction, symptoms, and treatment options. They ask that we always consult the book before calling the PCMO. According to said book, a volunteer should have a low grade fever for over 3 days (I had one just under 3) or a high fever over 100 degrees for over 24 hours (and I only had about 8 hours). A sore throat is listed under common cold as well as half a dozen other options. I had no reason to think anything serious was going on until my throat actually started closing. Eating came to a halt, followed by talking, and the practice of breathing was become a continuous conscious thought. Hmm.

Med Hut Kitchen
Once a volunteer has consulted the book and decided to call in reinforcements, there are two options. If your problems aren’t that serious, wait until the office is open to call the PCMO. This is what I normally do. Wait until the next day to call about my creeping eruption or other mildly annoying rash symptoms. I give them my stats, explain what I think is going on based on the book information, and ask them to confirm. They then tell me which medications to dig out of my enormous stock pile… or if it’s something a little more heavy they’ll give me French names and doses and send me off the pharmacy of Mboro (and reimburse me for the costs later). But if the problem is more serious (broken limbs or malaria), there is an emergency 24 hours hotline. I have never wanted to call this number. I find it intimidating and I’ve always been able to wait until the next business day.

Med Hut Bathroom
But, by the morning of day 5 I couldn’t sleep and my throat cavity was the smallest I’ve ever seen it. I got the cell phone number for the PCMO and sent her a text message, before I knew she was in the office, with my symptoms and asked for her advice. She called, but I could barely get a few words out. “How far are you from Dakar?” About 3 hours by car. “Get here. Now.” Ok. I packed a bag, included the lunch my mom had already made for me, called an uncle to come watch my empty house, and took a cab to the garage. On the road, I confirmed with the doctor that I’d arrive just around lunch time and that she’d wait for me before leaving. The ride was exactly 3 hours.

We suspected, and later confirmed via blood test, that I have strep throat. Awesome. For more information about it, go look at Wikipedia:

Med Hut Living Room
The thing about Peace Corps is the PCMO is generally really far away. So to help patients recover faster they’ll give out basic medications so that a volunteer can treat him or herself without having been examined by the doctor. Then later one has to request that medications be refilled for the next quarterly shipment. I can get to the doctor within half a day, and, of course, that’s totally abnormal. But, since I’m here, and the illness is a bit more complicated than the standard provision can handle, the PCMO simply stepped into an enlarged closed and brought bag a bag of steroids, antibiotics, decongestant, pain killers, and throat lozenges. Stop and think about this same scenario in the US. You visit the doc, he writes you some prescriptions and then you have to drag your sick ass to the pharmacy, deal with insurance issues, wait around for them to get filled, and then pay ridiculous prices. I skipped all that.

Med Hut Bedroom
Within an hour of my arrival at the office I’d seen the doctor, had blood drawn and sent out for testing, received a bag of meds, checked into the living facilities for sick volunteers only (affectionately called Med Hut), eaten my packed lunch, and logged on to Skype my Dad about the situation. The efficiency of the staff and lack of bureaucracy astounds me. Sick days will never again be this simple, no matter where life takes me after Peace Corps. It should be mentioned, however, that problems involving major surgeries and the need for evacuation back to the USA for treatment are not this simple. In fact, a lot of bureaucracy is reportedly returned to these instances. Good luck to anyone going through that.

On to the recovery… The Med Hut is a glorious place. 4 dormers (each with 2 sets of bunk beds), 2 bathrooms with toilets, toilet paper, and tub-over-showers (not that I have the guts to take a bath here), 2 living rooms (one with a library and one with a TV, DVD player, and stock pile of DVDs) each with very comfy couches, a dining room with beautiful wooden table, and a kitchen full of all the utensils needed to make a great home cooked meal. Every room has air condition. A phone is even available to make free calls to the USA. Only sick volunteers are allowed to stay there, so it’s quite the relaxing oasis.

Med Hut Dining Room
Adding to the thrill of Med Hut is Senegal’s unique status of being THE locale for any volunteer in West Africa needing advanced medical treatment. Volunteers service in surrounding countries will get flown in, picked up, checked out, and treated by our staff or a qualified professional found only in Dakar. Which means, during my stay I have the pleasure to exchange stories and stats with volunteers from The Gambia and Cape Verde.

So while I’m enjoying a bit of comfort and new friendships, I’m coughing up my lungs at the same time. I’m keeping myself well medicated and grounded to the couch. I’ve send messages back to my host mom about getting tested for strep, but I don’t know how stubborn she’ll be about it. Meanwhile, word has gotten around about my urgent exodus from Mboro, so Senegalese friends have all started to calling. They want to know that I’m ok, that I’m coming back; they wish me a speedy recovery. Merci beaucoup, mes amis!

1 comment:

  1. Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa ( may be another choice. i know alot of people use it, its also non alcoholic, though it's effectiveness is not as good as alcohol based cough medicine, but it's still good to use on not so serious sore throat.