Monday morning 08h30 a.m. in Damongo, Ghana. As we open our front door to leave for the hospital, warm rays of sunshine meet us, as well as a small group of children abundantly waving and greeting us with an “Obruni, bye bye!”. A commonly heard phrase meaning as much as “Bye, bye white one”. We have been in Ghana for several weeks now, but the hospitality and kindness of the Ghanaian people still amazes me. On our way to the hospital (which is only 200 meters from the house) literally everybody wishes us a good morning. Besides asking how you are doing, here in Ghana it is custom to ask how your husband, house, job or children are doing. Fortunately, the answer mostly is a simple “Awo”, which allows us to soon become acquainted with the local dialect and the villagers clearly enjoy our small conversations. Even in the early morning, the village surrounding the hospital is a busy place. Women carrying big buckets of water on their head, followed by children in school uniform that follow mother’s example with small lunch packages on their heads. Motorbikes crowded with entire families pass by, as well as the pigs, chickens, goats, sheeps, dogs, donkeys and other cattle that most definitely belong to someone but wander the streets of Damongo day in, day out. Fires are being light for the preparation of lunch and the many colourful cloths are hung to dry in the sun. It all seems so normal; sometimes I have to make myself realize where I am and what beautiful things I am experiencing here!
Today our day in the hospital starts at the casualty ward, the West Gonja Hospital (WGH) emergency room. Patients that visit the hospital after 19h30 p.m. are given a bed here to be seen by someone of the medical staff in the morning. After working in Ghana for a few weeks, it has become clear that there are a lot of differences with hospital life in the Netherlands. There’s only three doctors in the whole WGH. Most of the patients are seen (and treated) by medical officers, what we know back home as nurse practitioners. Instead of the nurses the family takes care of patients and there is no need to hurry, ever. But there are also a lot of similarities. The people that visit an emergency room with a seemingly non-acute problem for example. As is the case this morning. A man awaits with a head wound that has been taken care of by the night staff. Like most of the local people, the man’s English is spares and one of the nurses helps me to find out what happened. “He bumped his head into the plastic sheet covering his roof”, Sister Grace explains. While Grace continues her morning tasks, I try to find out more details using the few Ghanaian words I have learned accompanied by the necessary gestures. Does he have a headache? Did he lose consciousness? Then suddenly a family member arrives who speaks English and he tells me: “He was chopping wood when a piece of wood hit him in the head”. I look up from the file, to the patients, his brother, the nurses and back to my notes, deciding to ask again what exactly happen. The nurses get into a heated discussion with patient and family, something which in Ghana almost always looks more intense than it in fact is. And then the final verdict is given: ”This morning while waking up he bumped his head into the roof. After that he went to chop wood and a piece of wood hit him in exactly the same spot so now he has a wound”. Well, surely this is not the first weird explanation I have heard here in Ghana. I decide to have a look at the wound and what turns out? No blood, no sign whatsoever of a fresh wound. But a small tumour with an old crust in the middle, surrounded by depigmentated skin. It does not take long to see that this is no acute problem, and possible not even a trauma. Finally, when I explain that the story they are telling does not quite fit with what I am seeing, the ‘definite’ story is revealed: a few weeks ago the man visited the hospital with a small tumour on his head and the use of hydrocortisone-crème did not change anything. After bumping his head into the roof earlier this week, followed by a flying piece of wood yesterday, the man decided to return to the hospital. Well, glad that this is all cleared now! With a letter of my findings and some explanation I try to convince the man and his family to visit the dermatologist at the Tamale Teaching Hospital, a three hours’ drive from Damongo. If he will in fact visit there is most probably “In God’s hands”. The past few weeks I have had to surrender myself to God’s hands quite a lot of times.
When I decided to do my final year participation in Ghana I had not expected to make any changes of global impact. Nor did I expect to be able to achieve long-term changes in the Ghanaian health care system. I went with the intention to test myself in a unusual, new setting. Out of my comfort zone! Wanting to develop myself as a person on more aspects then just the medical knowledge and skills. What I most definitely did not expect is the beautiful, permanent impression that Ghana, and moreover the Ghanaian people, have left in me! More and more I realize how I am going to miss all of this once we will be back home. Not only the life within the hospital, where joy and sadness, life and dead accompany each other in the most harmonious way. Where every patient complains that his urine is yellowish and I try to reassure them that this is normal. Or where I have realised in what a luxurious position we are to assign a lot of value to the life of one human being. This all has made quite an impression on me, but furthermore I have also lived my own small Ghanaian life here and parting from it will not be easy. Cooking on charcoal (if at least three white women succeed in starting a fire). Conversations of all kinds and the regular marriage proposals in the local ‘drinking spots’. Driving our own motorbike on the red, sandy dust roads on our way to the tailor to make yet another one of those beautiful colourful Ghanaian dresses. All in all too much to recall, but I will miss every part of it with all my heart. But above all, it is the endless humour, cheerfulness, hospitality, kindness and curiosity of the Ghanaian people I will miss!
Read more: Sitsi Toonders: GEZP