Collateral Kids, Disposable Kids
Although touched by the plight of patients in the children’s ward at Korle Bu hospital, I must confess that I had only read about the conditions and haven’t visited the hospital myself since January, 1978, when I was being smacked on the bum a few minutes after birth. As a board member of the KBFF team, I of course have an obligation to familiarize myself with the institution which I had set out to assist.
I don’t know if the reality which I was met with was worse or better than I expected. All I know is that it was pretty bad. In the West, and in America in particular, we have a certain expectation when it comes to healthcare. Across the board, most procedures are pretty standard. You expect to be checked-in in a somewhat timely matter, with a climate controlled environment (heat in the winter, A/C in the summer); you’re them ushered into a room where you’re given a hospital gown to slip into, a bed to lie on, and if you’re lucky, your own TV in the room, depending on the procedure. A slew of hospital staff traipse in one after another to gather your insurance information, diagnose you, ask you if you need some water (at least) and then inform you that a doctor will be in to see you shortly. Thirty minutes to an hour later, one will certainly appear. These are the things we take for granted.
Such luxuries are not afforded to the children at Korle Bu. The admissions area is a dingy green, decorated with rainbow murals and laughing children that have lost their luster, twenty years after being painted on. It’s hot and stuffy in the December Harmattan air, and the only circulation I can find is in the form of a ceiling fan further into the waiting area. There are no backed cushiony seats for the admitting patients. Only long wooden benches, filled with mothers, grandmothers, and a few fathers holding or “backing” their sickly young ones, trying to make them as comfortable as possible. We began our tour of the hospital (we being my husband and mother-in-law) here, and then moved on to the ER, separated from the admissions area only by a wooden screen and hinged door.
The first child we saw was a little girl, maybe 9 years old, with cerebral malaria. Laying on a broad stretcher, she was barely conscious. The staff struggled for two or more minutes to push her through the obviously too narrow do or to the emergency room. Dr. Adei noted with some surprise that they had seen a swell in the number of malaria cases this season, which was odd, as malaria is generally rampant in rainy season. She commented with some frustration that many parents waited far too long to bring the kids in for treatment of malaria, and cited many cases where children would literally die in nurses arms while blood was being brought into the room. The general feeling is that it’s almost as if these parents feel like they can just have another kid if this one happens to die…disposable kids. These children are known as B.I.D’s, or Brought In Dead. On the drive into the hospital, I pointed out a technological relic from our colonial past to my mother-in-law: A huge, seeping open gutter; the final destination for the maze of smaller gutters in that locale. These gutters are a breeding ground for all sorts of preventable diseases, including malaria. They will never be seen in the plush residential areas of East Legon or Cantonments, but for the families living in places like Madina, Pig Farm and Asylum Down, they are an unnecessary and unfortunate reality that must be coped with.
Across the hall was a tiled and empty room, which served as another portion of the ER. It was empty because there was no one to staff, as the majority of the hospital team had fled the abhorrent conditions to work for better pay anywhere but Ghana, or Africa for that matter.
We were given a bit of reprieve from the heat when our trek took us past the habitually broken elevators to the second floor where the hospital’s consultants now reside. It was fully air-conditioned and beautiful. It was just too bad that none of the children benefit from its efficiency. The staff often comes here to escape the heat and discomfort of the rest of the building. We used the time in the spacious library, well stocked with outdated medical journals, to discuss the good and bad aspects of the NHIS and the need for an overhaul of Ghana’s overall medical infrastructure. 15 minutes later we were assaulted by the heat when we exited the double doors leading out of the consultants’ wing and on to the children’s wards. More faded murals greeted you at the entry, but the floors had recently been redone, which improved the aesthetics of the area. The walls of the ward had been repainted a pleasant buttery yellow as well, replacing the gangrene-ish color that dominated the rest of the medical facility.
Today, the ward was sparsely populated, although each bed was occupied. As a rule, there can be 2 or 3 children sharing a bed or crib. The “cribs” looked more like cages. After introducing us to the nurses on duty, a very enthusiastic head nurse tried to ascertain how much money we had brought to provide relief for the children. She knew each of them by name, their parents’ names and occupation, and sucked her teeth with pity for those who did not have a pesewa to their name.
I mumbled, a bit ashamed, that we had $300 to disperse.
We walked around and met most of the children, some so ill that all the nurses could do was to make them as comfortable as possible before the inevitable came. I watched as one child screamed in fear as a nurse tried to insert an IV into his arm. His mother had removed his shirt just moments before to facilitate the procedure. A thought struck me.
“Eunice, how come none of these kids are wearing hospital gowns?”
“Well, like that little girl who just came in is still wearing the yellow dress she had on at admission, and that little boy is wearing short and regular street clothes. Is this not something they should have?”
“Well,” she replied, “hospital gowns are so far down the list of priorities that it’s actually not something we’ve even given consideration to.”
I felt like a fool. Here the staff was without mosquito nets, climate control and modern ward room equipment, and I was yammering about hospital gowns. All the same, I silently vowed to find a sewing club who would make some pieces for the children.
The final leg of the tour took us to the NICU, where the pre-term babies are housed and who maintain the most astronomical bills…anywhere from $100 - $300, depending on their length of stay. It was pretty modern by all accounts, with incubators, heating lamps and air-conditioning. We were all smiles and cordiality until we reached a room in the back of the NICU, where healthy babies were being nursed by their mothers on the floor. I estimate the room was perhaps 13 by 7 feet, and there were 16 or more ladies nursing their infants. This was hard for me to watch, and seemed very invasive. I ducked my head in, gave a quick wave and moved on back to the “reception” area. The chief nurse there again told us each patient’s name, and how much they owed.
“This lady, Hawa*, gave birth to twins 3 months ago,” she said. “Their balance is 2.5 million cedis, and they have been making gradual payments. They are very poor, so they haven’t even put a dent in the total amount. The twins are still here.”
“How much is that in dollars?” my mother in law asked.
“About $250,” I said.
“Anyway, since it seems so impossible to get the money, her husband has been trying to convince her give the twins up for adoption to S.O.S., but has refused. She says God will make a way.”
I fought back my tears. What a good mother! These are the people I connect with the most…those who stare down adversity and the seemingly impossible, and refuse to surrender. This was the very reason I created this fund.
If this is your first time hearing about KBFF, you may ask “Why can’t the hospital just bill the patient and follow up to collect later? Doesn’t it cost more to house them once they’re treated and discharged?” The answer is simple: The entire system, nationwide is a broken one, and can’t accommodate such an efficient idea. Somehow, the hospital has to ensure that these parents will pay their debts for treatment; their children end up becoming collateral.
Please join us in our mission to send these kids home. Make a donation and tell a friend about us. Honestly, no amount is too small.
Little drops of water, little grains of sand, make a mighty ocean and a pleasant land.
*Patient’s true name withheld for privacy
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