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October 26, 2010 / Dan Whipple

Daktari

I had my second brush with the Kenya health care system today. (I’m counting my first as the one described in Wanacheza ngoma earlier).

For the last couple of days, I’ve developed a rash roughly the size of Mozambique on various parts of my body, both mentionable and un. I’ll spare you the pictures. Now with any health issue, my reaction is the same one I have to the “check engine” light on our old Subaru—if you just leave it alone, it will fix itself. So that’s what I did.

Over the next few days, the rash wandered around invading different areas of my derma like Israelites in the Sinai. But it didn’t really diminish in total area covered. Red raised flat-topped bluffs of skin, interrupted occasionally by a round purple hill.

Then this morning—Tuesday—my lower lip was so swollen I couldn’t drink coffee. My tongue was developing a tingle like I’d bitten into a lime. I broke down and consulted the Kaiser Permanente website. When I described my symptoms, they said (well, their computerized diagnost-o-meter said) I was having an acute allergic reaction and should head to the nearest emergency room.

Check engine.

There is a private medical clinic on the 11th floor of the building Kathy works in, so I went there. Okay, it wasn’t an emergency room, but was this really and emergency? I mean, really? I filled out a very brief form, sat down to read the Daily Nation. The room was round, with a two-person reception desk just a little off-center attended by two women who spoke so softly that the patient whose turn it was next had trouble hearing them. This proved to be especially an issue when two guys named Francis were numbers 2 and 3 in line.

Anyway, I’d just gotten through the sports—I think Chelsea’s a lock in the Premier League—when they called my name. Or I’m pretty sure they did. Yes, I said, ndiyo. Here I am. “Examination room five,” the receptionist whispered. I looked around, baffled. I could almost hear her thinking, it’s amazing how stupid these wazungu can be. But she was too well bred to say it aloud. She pointed to the west. Sure enough. The examination rooms circled the reception area like a Ward Bond episode.

I went into Examination Room Five and the doctor was already there! It was, like, his office! True, he was young, he was Kenyan, he was speaking just as quietly as everyone else. “Please sit down,” he whispered. “What’s the problem?”

I explained (and showed, which I’m sparing you, as I said) the mesas of red, the hillocks of purple, the check engine light, the swollen lip and the lime on the tongue. I took deep breaths into his—what do they call that thing? periscope? oscilloscope?—stethoscope and he clucked a professional cluck.

“Have you eaten anything in the last few days that might have caused this?” he whispered.

Now, gentle reader, I’m not an idiot. An “acute allergic reaction” means that you must be allergic to something. Even when the “check engine’ light goes on, I think, “I wonder what made that ‘check engine’ light go on?” So I was pleased to be able to answer promptly.

I said I didn’t know.

He ordered a hydrocortisone shot, and two follow-up prescriptions. He tactfully suggested that I contemplate my diet of the last week. He sent me over to the chemist. I was familiar with the layout of the wagon train by now, so I was able to navigate unassisted.

The nurse from the chemist came out, taking me to the Treatment Room, which was over by … never mind. She prepared the shot, made a test poke in my wrist. The doctor appeared from his office to supervise. He was young enough to be the nurse’s son. They administered the shot, carefully, professionally, with considerable good cheer and a minimum of fuss. The nurse sent me to the laboratory, which was a failure. No test results awaited. I got the prescription filled, paid for my visit, treatment and prescriptions at a single go.

I’m still alive, so the treatment seems to have succeeded. I’m sure many people reading this will consider it a mixed blessing. The whole thing took about 45 minutes, from the front page of Daily Nation to pocketing the prescriptions.

The top-to-bottom cost was 1,365 Kenya shillings (Ksh). Or $16.91 American.

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3 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Barb Rea / Oct 26 2010 5:54 pm

    Indeed, I have been thankful for hydrocortison myself. Perhaps we will reach that level of efficiency here soon. Bless your heart, and get to the doctor quicker next time!

  2. fish / Oct 27 2010 6:03 pm

    wow. that’d would have taken the better part of a day – at least half – here and probably cost you many, many times that… amazing.

    • Dan Whipple / Oct 27 2010 6:09 pm

      I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I was willing to (and expected to) pay quite a bit more for this service. Sometimes being naive helps.

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