Post 1: “Welcome to the realities of the health care system in Africa”

On Thursday the 23rd of May, I walked into the military hospital of Abidjan. I was excited to be in a different environment and excited to start my internship. I was creating scenarios in my head of how my first day would go; the people I would meet and the relationships I would create. I was nervous but ready, or so I thought.

My first day in the emergency room in Abidjan.
My first day in the emergency room in Abidjan.

I first walked to the tailor whose place was in the hospital near the restrooms to get the uniforms I ordered the day before. After I changed into my all white outfits, I walked directly to the emergency room. I was at the hospital the day before to meet with the Chief of Service and speak about my goals for this internship. After our short conversation, because of his busy schedule, he showed me around the hospital and the different departments. Before he left me in the emergency room to meet with the head of the emergency department he said to me, “I hope you are ready because the things you will see here, you will never see anywhere else. Unfortunately, we have very little to no resources and we work around that. I think you should visit as many departments as you can. Work closely with the doctors and see how they are managing with their patients. Also lastly, I will advise that you start in the emergency room. That’s where our most serious cases happen and you will definitely learn a lot.”  He did not lie.

After I dropped off my bag, I headed to the doctor’s office. A patient was being rushed into the hospital. He was in a coma for a couple minutes, was barely breathing and his blood pressure was low. My first day had just started. I saw doctors and nurses run around to re-animate the patient. No machines were used on him, unfortunately.  The main room where patients were being consulted in the emergency room was one bed, a desk for the two doctors on duty, chairs for them to sit, a closet that contains some medical supplies, a sink to wash their hands, two garbage cans, and that was it. These doctors were clinicians and relied more on their hands than machines. The patient, after a couple injections and many other things, woke up and was breathing normally. When things quieted down, I finally had the chance to present myself to everyone. The doctors took me close to them and made sure I understood why and how they were doing the things they did to the patients. Throughout the day, they presented me to the rest of their patients as Doctor Soumahoro which made me carry some type of responsibility and made me feel included, or at least welcomed. The waiting room of the emergency room was also filled with patients with different conditions ready to be seen by the doctors. However because they were only two doctors and two nurses present, the wait time could vary between an hour or two or even more sometimes depending on the urgency. When a patient came in, the nurses took the vitals before the doctors saw them. I learned and found myself helping to do the same.

One thing’s for sure, My beautiful country is still developing and is struggling to give the proper resources to their hospitals.  However, I have never seen doctors as dedicated and hard-working as the ones I met here. We worked from 8am to 2pm without a break.  I finally took a moment to drink some water and eat. But these two doctors took no breaks because they felt like their patients were waiting. I left the hospital to go home around 5pm and these doctors were still working. I finally met people who were as dedicated as I am and ready to save the world, and I felt comfortable around them. Here was a place where there is love for medicine and love for humanity, and that love brought me here. “Awa welcome back home. It was a pleasure working with you today and welcome to the realities of the health care system in Africa,” one of the doctors told me before I left. “Thank you and I am ready for the challenge” I replied.

– Awa Soumahoro