Taking a child to the doctor

Kwame is the smallest child at the orphanage, though not the youngest. Although he looks like a baby and is as yet not walking or talking, he is actually 20 months old. Kwame’s mother was reportedly a heavy drinker, which may account for his delayed development.

On the Thursday before Easter, Mara, the other volunteer, came to me with Kwame in her arms. There was a large boil on his head which had burst open and was oozing pus. He had been screaming in pain all morning, but was now quiet and limp. Mara and I agreed he needed to see a doctor, but when we put this to Madame Rose, she said she had no money. We assured her we would pay for it, so she gave us directions to the nearest clinic.

All the way there Kwame lay limp in Mara’s arms and barely moved. When we got there, the clinic was packed with people waiting to be seen. We were asked to fill out a patient records booklet with Kwame’s details, many of which we didn’t know but some of which I managed to get by ringing Madame Rose. Then it was a case of joining the queue to be seen by the triage nurse. As we sat waiting, pink goo started bulging out from Kwame’s head. It looked as though his brains were coming out – which of course was impossible, but that was the impression. I found a couple of paper hankies in my bag and Mara dabbed at the gooey mess while I looked away.

When we got to the nurse, she took his temperature and asked us to weigh him. Kwame refused to stand on the scales, so I had to weigh myself and then pick him up. He weighed 10 kilos; tiny for his age. The nurse then ushered us into a side room, where she said he would be treated. Mara and I both had the impression we were being given special treatment, since other patients weren’t seen so promptly.

The nurse explained that she would need to shave the area, but there were no razor blades, so Mara was sent to buy one from the dispensary. When she brought it back, the nurse used it very carefully and efficiently to shave the hair from around the bump. Meanwhile Kwame lay limp and silent in my arms, barely moving. Then the nurse bathed the boil in Savlon, squeezed it, bathed it again and squeezed it again. It must have hurt like heck, but Kwame didn’t react. The nurse placed a dressing on his head and ushered us through to another area to see the doctor. At this point we definitely felt we were being privileged, because others wanting to see the same doctor were waiting in line.

The doctor asked a few questions and wrote a prescription for a long list of medicines, including antibiotics, vitamins, worm medicine, cough medicine, nasal drops and more. Seven different medicines altogether. She said the boil would need to be incised, but it would be a different doctor who did that, so we were taken back to the side room again. There was supposed to be a wait, but the second doctor squeezed us in straight away. This is where it got difficult. The procedure involved cutting the boil, squeezing out more pus and inserting an antiseptic-soaked bandage into the hole. But now Kwame didn’t lie passively – he screamed and struggled. I had to hold his arms down with one hand and his head against my chest with the other, while the doctor did his thing, muttering softly, ‘sorry, sorry, sorry’ as he did so. Mara couldn’t watch, so left the room and I turned my head away with tears streaming down my face. I felt like a torturer, holding his little head so hard as he struggled

At last it was done, and the area was covered with a dressing. We were told to come back the next day to have the dressing changed. After this Kwame went to Mara and wouldn’t look at me. We went to the dispensary to get the medicines, which came to 52 Cedis altogether. I paid it from the money people had sent.

Next time I saw Kwame was after Easter and his wound was healed over. He looked a whole lot better and came to me happily. Apparently all was forgiven.

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