To say my life is ridiculous would be an understatement. The past few months have been crazy, what with being evacuated from site, landlord/housing debacles, and now this. I’m pretty sure the last PCV to live in this house cursed it prior to leaving. That is the only rational explanation for my spectacular first full day at my new site. No welcome home is complete without a trip to the ER, right?
Saturday started like any normal day. I woke up to the sweet sound of silence and the harmattan tinged red rays of the sun. Wait, that’s not true, I woke up because my new little kitten decided to go spastic, jumping and pouncing over every surface of my body. After a couple of time out tosses from the bed, I finally succumb to his wishes and get up. At which point, he decides he wants to go nap in the corner. Typical.
I decided to mentally map out my day: paint, shop, watch a movie, unpack, play with cat. In that order. So while it was still relatively cool outside I gathered my paint can and prepared to paint. I have only four walls and I was only planning on painting three. So I set to work painting, dancing, and trying to avoid stepping on my cat (who naturally was sitting right between my legs the entire time). In order to get the top part of the wall, I had to step on my small table. Eventually once I had made my way to the final wall, the guy that lives behind me decided to come over, grab the paint brush, and finish for me. Whatever. He stood on the table the entire time though. Just painting the hell out of my wall.
After all three walls are expertly painted and my eyes have started to burn from the fumes, I hop into the shower area. I take a well deserved bucket bath, making sure to scrub the hell out of my body. I needed to attack the paint, sweat, and cat scratches off my body. I get dressed, throw on a dress, grab my shopping list and make my way to town. My first adventure into my new town as my town. First things first, I head to a good chop bar for some delicious banku. After I stuff myself with two balls of banku, three things of chicken, and a heap of groundnut soup, I head to the batik section of the Techiman market.
It’s curtain shopping time! I find three different batik patterns that look fabulous together and happily buy them. I then head over to a tailor and have the batik made into fabulous curtains of fabulousness. I go on to buy other things, including nails, a broom, plastic buckets, copious amounts of toilet paper, all the stuff you need to move in. Afterwards, I head home laden down with goods.
I spent the afternoon looking at my stuff, thinking about watching some movies, and obsessing over my curtains. I hang up the rope for my curtains and hammer the nails in with my lock (I didn’t have a hammer…). The curtains aren’t perfect, but I let them be. I come back about 30 minutes later and I can’t stand the thought of my curtains not being perfect. So I get back on my table and I start adjusting the curtains. Suddenly I feel myself losing my balance and I hear a very audible crack underneath me. I grab for the rope, but feel it snap in my hands. The table is slowly falling backwards with my body being ejected from the table top. I land square on my tailbone with my legs on top of the side of the table. I’m still wearing a dress and my legs are spread open for the entire neighborhood to see what Obruni panties look like. Because only I would fall that ridiculously. The first thing I do is realize I can’t move. Then I realize that’s a problem. I start screaming “HELP! HELP!” until I realize no one near me speaks English. So I just start making weird noises to get someone’s attention. Finally after what seems like forever, someone comes over to pull me up. They don’t speak English, but I kept telling them “no, I can’t move.” After another bout of forever, someone comes who does speak English and he picks me up and puts me on my bed. The landlady rushes over and starts pounding on my back, attempting in a very weird fashion to violently massage the pain away. I’m crying and in serious agony. I say the one thing I know she will understand “cell phone.” She finds it and gives it to me.
I dial for the PCMO, even though I know it is a Saturday. No answer. I try again. No answer. I try again. Still nothing. So I called the next person I could think of who would be able to help – the PCV in charge of the Kumasi office. She calls in the troops and about 5 minutes later the PCMO calls me. He tells me to get to the Holy Family Hospital in Techiman.
Oh god no. I have to go to the village hospital in Ghana? Oh god, oh god. This isn’t happening. The landlady and her son? call for a taxi and about 10 minutes later they hobble me over to the car. It takes me 3 minutes just to sit down. The taxi driver decides to drive like a maniac and take the only damn road in Techiman that has speedbumps. We are in a Daewoo. The bottom of the car is approximately 2 inches off the ground. Every time we went over a speedbump I thought my life was over. I felt like someone was smashing my rear with a frying pan. It took everything not to burst into tears every few seconds.
Finally we get to the hospital and they help me out of the car. The second I get out of the car with assistance I hear an eruption of cheers. I still don’t know where they were coming from, but hiding somewhere within the courtyard of the Holy Family Hospital a crowd of Ghanaians was cheering for the lame ass white girl. They were probably laughing at me, but in my disabled state I took it as encouragement. Semantics really. They heave me over to the ER which tells me, no go get registered in the other building. So we hobble over the other way. They set me down at the window for registration. The seat was a slated wood bench which was quite possibly the least inviting seat I’ve ever seen in my life. Sitting down was like sitting on a bed of hot coals – excruciating and unpleasant. I burst into tears upon sitting down and the man at the window starts asking me questions. The PCMO was calling me every few minutes, so I was answering question after question. Finally the window man asks me for my telephone number (right after he asked me which Christian denomination I was, that was awkward!). I told it to him, but he didn’t understand me. I suddenly started to feel queasy and like I might pass out. He asked me for my phone number again and I couldn’t for the life of me remember it. I kept saying numbers out loud and hoping they were correct. A group of interested onlookers stared at me like I was an even weirder white girl who couldn’t string 10 numbers together.
After I yelled incoherent numbers at the man for an adequate amount of time, they hauled me over to the triage unit. I honestly don’t know if that’s what it was, but that’s what I’m calling it because it sounds cool. I really should know these things, I did hospital advertising. Anyway, a man has me stand on a scale to weigh me. That didn’t go so well. The man told me to stand on the scale, then walked away to chat with his buddy about soccer or something. Here I am wobbling on a scale, barely able to stand up, and this guy is chatting it up? After a good 30 seconds of standing on the scale, my landlady and her son catch me as I fall backwards, very close to passing out. They sit me down in the chair to get my blood pressure checked.
I am not even exaggerating when I say the man took my BP no less than 10 times. He checked it first 5 times and then asked me if I was feeling dizzy. No shit Sherlock, did you watch me fall off the scale? Then he kept checking it like he was a med student on drugs who thought it would be fun to listen to my arm make cool noises. Finally he sends me on my way and I’m dragged over to the ER again. They sit me down, this time in evil metal chairs, and have me wait for what I don’t know. The PCMO is freaking out because I haven’t been seen yet and damnit, white girl needs attention! I’m not going to lie, sometimes I like getting special treatment because I’m a different color. Sometimes I get a better seat in the taxi, skip the bank line, or get my food faster. But this time, when I really wanted special treatment, they were not giving it. I sat and waited in line like everyone else. And honestly, despite the pain I was in, I appreciated the art of the queue. Lines are there for a reason, to keep things orderly and organized. I truly treasure queues, especially when they are followed. So, despite the PCMO calling in favors, hustling up the nursing staff, and calling friends who work at the hospital, I waited in line just like the rest of the incredibly ill folks.
So let me paint a picture of what a Ghanaian ER looks like for you. For starters, there was the smell. It didn’t smell like anything, which is actually rare in Ghana. Upon entering the ER, to the left there was three hospital beds sitting right next to the waiting chairs. Each bed was occupied with an ill woman. The women were hooked up to IVs and looked downright despondent. The lady closest to me just stared at me the entire time I was there. I never saw her move, which was really creepy. Heaven knows if she was really there. The chairs faced the hospital rooms which were very small and had two beds in them each. Each bed had at least 5 people on it, only one person was the patient. Everyone had family there feeding them, bathing them, or otherwise taking care of them. The nurses station was to the right and there were 3 women manning the station. I watched as they started to give an IV hookup to a woman, but she forgot something. So the nurse just left the needle in the woman’s hand, facing the traffic flow, and got up to raid the cabinent for something she needed. She took a good 2 minutes to find what she needed before heading back to attend to the woman. The lady sitting next to me was clearly very sick and was being assisted by 4 family members. One person to keep her head up. One person to give her water (despite the IV drip) and one person to bark orders at the nurses. Everyone needs an order barker, I had one (my landlady). The woman was about my age and she wasn’t responding to anything. She sat there like a vegetable unable to keep her own head from falling to the side. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with her, but I knew I didn’t want it.
Finally they call me up to the nurses station for more BP taking. I notice a nice pool of blood on the floor and on the table from the last lady. (By the way, there were no men in the ER – the only one was the doctor – no patients.) Despite my addled pain brain, I point to the blood, give the most disdainful “I don’t think so” look I can give and wait for the nurse to clean the place up before I sit down. While they look my BP another 3 times I sat there repeating the mantra “please no IV” over and over in my head. All they needed was my BP. Now, I didn’t notice this until after the nurse attended to me, but up until this point not a single person had asked me what happened or why I was there. I found that very curious.
So after another 10 minutes, the doctor finally calls me into his office. He asks me what I did and what hurts. I tell him about falling on my ass and he barely listens. He writes down in my little book in the worst scribble imaginable something about something. He tells me I need an XRay, prescribes some pain pills, and sends me on my way. I was in the office for a total of about 1 minute. Most of which was spent watching him write in my book. The XRay technician wasn’t there though, because it was a Saturday so they spent a good 20 minutes calling every number possible trying to find the guy.
The landlady and her son leave me to collect my pills. I sat in silence as I waited for the Xray technician to show up. Do you have any idea how painful it is to sit on a hard, metal chair for over an hour alone with really sick people when your ass feels like the bones have been ripped to shreds? It felt amazing…I sat there and just watched people stricken with tropical diseases be attended to by the nurses. They didn’t have enough room for this one lady so they just dragged over a curtain and put her behind it in the waiting area. I watched as old women who would barely move pissed in buckets next to their beds. A family member would promptly grab it and go wash it out. The women would then slowly roll back over covering themselves with their two yards. I felt like the entire world was moving around me, like I was stuck in a time warp watching life pass in front of me. Then the XRay technician showed up and they hobbled me down the corridor. Once I was almost there someone came over to offer me a wheelchair. Seriously? Where were you like oh, say 2 hours ago?
We get to the XRay room and I was surprised at how medical it looked. I mean it looked like a real XRay machine, a real medical room, and professional. The XRay technician had at least one drink earlier in the day, that much was obvious. He began asking me a series of questions while the landlady (who speaks NO ENGLISH) looked on.
Tech: “Do you have buttons?”
Tech: “You have zipper?”
Tech: “How did you get dress on then?”
Tech: “Underwear – it have buttons?”
Me: “Ummm, no.”
Tech: “Do you have waaast beaaads?”
Tech: starts patting down my sides and stomach area. “waist beads?”
Me: “Oh, no.”
The tech then looks at the landlady and then back to me in pure disbelief. He points at the machine and tells me to lay down. Great, more painful metal tables. It took me at least 2 minutes to just lay down from a sitting position. He pokes around for my belly button and then adjusts the table. He doesn’t put any lead apron on me, just casually slinks over to his bunker and pushes a button. I feel my insides cooking and growing cancer cells. After a quick XRay development he puts the image up to the light and then starts pointing at random places around my hip. Oh god, I shattered my hip! The landlady walks over lifts up my dress looks underneath and says something to the doctor.
I ask the doctor if he wants me to change into the dressing gown. He agrees so I hop off the table (hop meaning take 5 minutes to labor myself off the table) and head over the salon style doors to change into something a little more comfortable. The landlady follows me and helps me undress. Oh hey, I just met you and this is crazy, but can you help me get naked? So not only have I just met this woman today, but now she has seen exactly what my pasty white ass looks like. Surprise! It’s white. Time for round two. Another trip onto the table, more inside cooking, and image developing.
I redress and head back outside XRay in hand. Honestly it was pretty quick. Much faster than all my XRays in America have gone. And by that I mean the one I had when I was like 14. We go back to the waiting area for I don’t know what. I notice that the landlady has a vial in her hand with my name on it. Oh no. Oh god. WHAT IS THAT? She hands it to the nurse and the nurse takes a saber to the top of the vial. Slices it right off. She pulls out a needle, turns to me and gives me a fantastic show of exactly how you put meds into a needle. She squeezes it for fun and I watch as out spurts liquid horror. I put out my arm and turn my head to the side. Oh no, she says, come with me. I follow her a few feet to a door.
She opens the door and I notice it is basically a cupboard. Inside are two broken chairs, a few deserted sandals, a dirty towel, and various other odds and ends. She tells me, I’m going to put the medicine directly into your butt to make the pain go away. I protest saying that needle your holding is pain itself. What makes you think this won’t hurt more. She says – oh it will. Then she says the one thing I will always remember, “now don’t scream like a small girl.” She lifts up my skirt, pulls down my panties, and I brace for impact. Of course I let out a small gasp/scream. She just jabbed a needle in my butt cheek. How do you not react to that?
And that was it, all finished. I was free to go. I was confused though, doesn’t the doctor have to look at the XRay – shouldn’t someone evaluate it? Nope, not necessary, he will look at it Monday. WHAT? They lead me outside to get a taxi and I call the PCMO. Apparently the XRay technician has already spoken to the PCMO and told him that I don’t have any broken bones. Oh, well then. When was someone going to tell me that? I demand fufu from my neighbors and they pick up the necessary goods to make it along the way home.
I get home and look at the time, I was only there for about 2 and a half hours. Not bad for a trip to the ER. I chug down the pain meds, eat my fufu in peace, and get another call from the PCMO. They want me down in Accra for further evaluation. So someone will come and pick me up, since I can’t ride in a tro, and I will be flown down to Accra.
Word of my demise spread fast, especially since Becky (Kumasi office PCVL) and the PCMO called every single Volunteer nearby to come to my aid. My best friend wasn’t able to come help me, but honestly I was okay. I had two Ghanaians babying me and I just really needed food and to lay down. Food would be easy enough to mooch, plus I had crackers and Chocodelight. If I were a doctor I would prescribe that for all patients, except those with diabetes, because that would be negligent. I kinda forgot about breakfast though and didn’t realize pain meds would make me ravenous. So when PC came to pick me up Sunday I was close to eating my arm. Luckily, since I had just moved in I still had a packed bag with freshly washed clothes. Ridiculously convenient. I gave instructions to the neighbors for feeding my cat and was whisked away to my awaiting plane, two hours away. First stop, rice and chicken. Jollof and fried chicken never tasted better.
I rambled in my half delusional for the entirety of the trip to the airport. Becky and Tess waited with me at the airport until I could check into my flight. Then I waited for another 45 minutes to board. Finally I went through security which was a joke, although they did have me take out my laptop. Finally, it was time to board my flight. To say I was excited would be a bit of an understatement. Despite being in incredible pain, I had always wondered how magical it would be to fly within Ghana. To avoid all those potholes. To just skip over the two hours of hellish road that leads to Accra. To spend less than an hour travelling when normally it takes 5-8 hours. But then I had to walk to the plane. The plane was parked a fair distance away on the tarmac. I hobbled over to the plane like a geriatric hip replacement patient. I was carrying my backpack (couldn’t even get it on my back), my XRay, and my handbag. I finally made it to the plane and then had to ascend the steep stairs into the plane. The flight attendant looked at me like I was insane, why on earth would a fresh, young person be walking like that? I make it to my seat, sit down and assess my surroundings. I’M ON A PLANE! HOLY SHIT. There was even first class. First class for a flight that I soon found out would take 35 minutes. I still shake my head in disbelief at the people who pay for first class on an inner country flight for a country the size of Oregon.
We take off and down come the TVs – in flight entertainment. Then come the drinks. Is this the real life? I’m flabbergasted. We arrive in Accra a few minutes later and I suddenly realize I’m not in Kansas anymore. And by Kansas I mean Kumasi. And by Kumasi I mean under the effects of the Harmattan. Accra was about 90 degrees with 90% humidity. It felt like walking into a swamp with a parka on. I walk over to the exit and right there is a beautiful white mega SUV with the Peace Corps logo on it, waiting to take me to the office. I felt like I was on a different planet. I felt like one of those expats who come to Africa with 30 suitcases full of fine clothes and powerbars. Once I realized how high up the seat was and how difficult it was going to be actually getting in the car, the dream like state washed away and I remembered exactly why I was there.
The driver tore through the streets of Accra with poise and very little bumps, thank god. The PCMO was there waiting for me at the office (on a Sunday evening! I love the PCMO!). The first thing I said to the PCMO was “so we meet again…” So, we have two newish PCMOs, one female from Turkmenistan and one male from Ghana. I’ve spent more time with the male one and I was glad he was on duty. I like his sense of humor, he probably thinks all PCVs are all walking time bombs. I just so happen to blow up fairly frequently. And he gives me some medicine and I’m reassembled. See I have this thing for disdain, I love disdain. I’ve been told I have three modes – disdainful, extremely disdainful, and bitchy. The male PCMO has a very subtle current of disdain as well and because I’m attuned to disdain wavelengths, I can pick up on it very easily. That’s why we get along. I know that when he sees me, hears from me, or reads my text messages he is probably rolling his eyes wondering “what now…” And that’s not a bad thing, because honestly I think that myself too. WHAT NOW BODY? what now. So rolling up in the Peace Corps vehicle, hobbling out, and saying “so we meet again” was probably the most James Bond villain I’ll ever get in my life. Another thing I can check off my bucket list.
He took my vitals, let me ramble on about how evil tables are, and told me I needed an MRI. WHATTTT? I thought MRIs were just for brain scans and cancer. Turns out they are just super magical tools for looking inside your body without having to grab a scalpel. That evening I went over to a PC staff’s house and had dinner with a few other volunteers. Do you have any idea how wonderful real burritos with mango salsa, homemade guacamole, beef, and cheese taste when your body is trying to tell you your ass isn’t welcome here anymore? They taste wonderful. Oh and Cherry Coke. Sometimes I forget how fantastic it is to be an American, with access to food, glorious food. I’m just kidding I think about food all the time, who am I kidding. Ground beef really does a lot for your spirit though, let me tell you. So after a hardy meal, I was happy to pass out and await my MLK day MRI.
The PCMO went with me to arrange the MRI, they told us to come back in 45 minutes so I begged them to let me find something to eat. We drove around looking for food on the street, but unlike all the other towns in Ghana, Accra is hoity toity and it is harder to find street food. Finally we get to a place with egg sandwiches and I happily eat the most delicious breakfast ever. Back to the MRI place and they have me change into a dressing gown. I go inside and I’m very happy that it is an open MRI. I have to use stairs to get on the table, which again takes me a ludicrous amount of time to get on. They position me so that my arms are above my head, a pillow is under my knees, and a plastic contraption is encasing my hips. They were very kind and put a thick blanket over my legs – so thoughtful, it was cold in there! I can’t move for thirty minutes so I drift into a state of day dreaming. I couldn’t actually fall asleep because the sound of the MRI was far too interesting and loud to allow for sleep. I had a brain MRI once and that was loud as hell, this one was much more soothing. In fact it reminded me of Close Encounters of the Third Kind which is one of my favorite movies. I spent the thirty minutes thinking of things I wanted to do but now couldn’t because I was a gimp. Damnit. It only took 10 minutes though for the pain in my hips and ass to become insanely painful. All the pressure in my legs was being forced into the parts that hurt. Somehow I mentally pushed through the pain (didn’t take a painkiller that morning) and accepted my fate. The mind really is rather powerful. After thirty minutes the MRI was finished and we went on our merry way. The results didn’t come back until Tuesday late afternoon and they were in doctor lingo. The PCMO needed time to translate them, so I came back Wednesday. Luckily, it was nothing serious or sinister as the PCMO pointed out. It did say though that I had bulging discs in my tailbone. Two of them.
About 15 minutes prior to getting the results of my MRI I got an amazing care package from my dear colleagues at my old job. Inside were all the things a girl needs to feel better – trivia, ugly doctor photos, peanut M&Ms, hand sanitizer that smells good, a stress ball in the shape of a skull, cards, cheese whiz, and the greatest gift of all time. A coozie that says “That’s what she said.” So when I got the results of my MRI I giggled and thought about my lovely coozie and how much I would like a nice cold beer out of that coozie while I repeated the words – bulging discs.
My prescribed course of action? Take pain pills, take it easy, and no more standing on tables. Well there goes my career as a table dancer, damnit. So they kicked me out of the med unit and put me in a Peace Corps car going back north. It was me, another PCV, and two staff members squished into a stuffed car laden down with mail. We took the crappy road. It took 5.5 hours to get to Kumasi. My knuckles were white from clutching on to the hand thingy near the window. What are those things called anyway? Handle? No. I don’t know, anyway. Each speedbump, acceleration, brake, and swerve to avoid potholes was like a hot poker on my ass. My knee also got a bit of damage from my fall so sitting for that long was doing wonders for my knee too. I was so ready to just scream “LET ME OUT!” when I saw that we were only 15 minutes away from salvation. Then it started to rain. Seriously? Ghana, stop it.
I had taken a pain pill halfway through the ride and it kicked in at about that 15 minute mark. So by the time we got to the office I was white knuckled, white faced, starving (hadn’t eaten anything that day), and feeling the effects of the painkillers. There were a lot of people at the office for a meeting the next day and when I walked in it was like they all saw a ghost. I probably did look like shit, let’s be honest. I wasn’t really coherent either, luckily someone got me some food and I cuddled with my bestie. The pain was so great I couldn’t leave the next day. When I thought of sitting on a tro for another 2-3 hours over a speedbump infested road, I imagined sitting on top of a rodeo bull with spikes on his back.
And that’s basically what I got when I left Friday. The tro I got into filled pretty fast and I picked the back row next to the window, just in case I needed to puke. Who knows? So two ladies sit next to me and for once they were tiny. For the first time in history I didn’t touch the person sitting next to me on the tro. There was literally inches of space between us. It was spectacular. Well, until we started moving. Turns out the back seat hadn’t been bolted back in when they last took it out. So we were sitting on a seat that wasn’t exactly stable to say the least. Every time the driver accelerated, slowed down, went over a speedbump, or passed another car my entire row went sailing forward into the seats in front of us. The entire seat would lift off the ground and go forward. It wasn’t that bad on my rear though considering it wasn’t touching the seat half the time, since half the ride I was airborne. I was queasy with a pounding headache though the entire ride and my ass was still in serious pain. Normally I suffer through tros pretty easily. I’ve developed a hefty amount of patience in this country and I can occupy my time quite well. Well, my head hurt so I couldn’t listen to music. I didn’t even want to think because that would hurt my head more. The pain was radiating throughout my entire body, which clouded my mind even further. So I sat there and suffered in agony for two hours. And for probably only the second time in country, kept repeating in my mind “are we there yet?!” I’ve never been so happy to see the Techiman station. I promptly got a drop taxi and hustled my broke ass home.
My new goal was to stay in my new house for at least 48 hours without injury, a need to call the PCMO, or being run out of town by an evil arch-nemesis. Well it is now Thursday and I’m happy to say I made it so far through the week with only minor injury to myself. I tripped and almost fell into the most terrifying gutter in Ghana and that screwed up my back again, but luckily I rested and it felt better. My back/butt/hips still hurt like no one’s business but I’m able to carry on. I try to walk a decent distance everyday so as to keep my body from withering away, but I can’t otherwise exercise. So much for my resolution to do daily squats. My ass is doomed for all eternity to be big, broken, and legendary.
Hard to believe it has only been about 16 months in country. I’ve already experience enough for a lifetime. With every tumble I take, I continue to believe that Peace Corps has been the best decision I ever made. I can handle a lot more than I thought I was ever capable of withstanding. Except tables, apparently they can’t handle me.