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Words fail me when I think of the state of our healthcare in this country. It is nice to know that as old as he is, our first president, KK ,will still seek treatment locally rather than being flown out of the country, making us believe there is hope for our health care.

Sadly, I don’t think there is. Not unless government truly means to focus on, and commit to it. Development comes from having a healthy population. Your health shouldn’t be determined by your socio-economic status.

I have talked about healthcare in this country before, and I’m doing it again because of the injustice and unacceptable behaviours that I keep witnessing or hearing about to do with our health care. Last week Thursday, my niece was taken to Levy Mwanawasa General – the massive hospital by Chainama that was only recently built. This poor little 5 year old had fallen out of a tree and broken her arm – bone sticking out and all.

Friday we went through to the hospital to see her and found she had had the bone shaved, but that was about it. The doctors had all gone to march in the labour day parade (or so they said) and there was no one to attend to her.

Fast-forward to Monday and finally the child was seen by a doctor, who then said her arm was too swollen to be put in a cast, so they were going to have to wait another day before they could put the cast on.

Now I’m no medical doctor or expert in that sense, but surely there can be longer medical implications with not resetting the bone? Including possible other infections.

The worst part is that my cousin (whose child it was) is barely literate with limited education, not even understanding her basic rights. Though not that it would have helped her to know her rights because trying to enforce them at a Government clinic is probably just a waste of time to be honest. I understand that the medical stuff are overworked, but let’s be honest, they also have serious attitude problems – stank ass, rude ones.

I argue, would our medical care be any better if our ministers or government leaders went to these facilities for treatment? Or are they unconcerned because they are privileged enough to go to any healthcare facility they choose to go to – within or outside of Zambia?

And the reality is that since the masses don’t vote based on issues, the politicians don’t need to do anything about health care because people won’t vote them out of office because of it. Besides, how many of the masses know of any other way than long queues, absent medicine in hospitals, doctors who don’t talk to you, but talk down on you, dodgy linen (if there is an available bed), missing doctors, and nurses and just appalling services generally?

Would a proper voters education drive be useful to provide more understanding to voters on their value and what they need to be looking out for to get better voting going in Zambia, and to maybe light a fire under politician’s butt’s to get them to care enough to actually do the work that we can hold them accountable for?

These are just some of my thoughts thinking about this child – in fact I need to check in to see if finally she’s had the cast put it and let’s hope no complications have arisen.

Healthcare should always be a priority of ours as we look to develop our country. The last week I’ve mourned two deaths – one of a child, the other of a senior citizen and when I hear the stories of their death, I can’t help but wonder if there was negligence that played a part in their deaths. iv

Let me rewind to a couple of weeks ago, to my own experience. My parents thought my high fever, lack of appetite and feeling of weakness was due to malaria and insisted I go to the clinic. En-route to my usual clinic, I decided that the popularity of that clinic would mean it would take hours for me to see a doctor, and I simply didn’t have the energy for it. I instructed my nephew, who was driving me as I was too weak to drive myself, to take me to a nearer clinic that I knew my siblings had been to before. True enough, I was seen within 15 minutes and to my amazement the doctor ordered a full blood test – which was a shocker when I too thought I only had malaria. 20 minutes later the results were in, I had bacteria in my blood – my stats were off the charts – and I was admitted.

The first day wasn’t so bad – could also have been that I was in and out of sleep the whole day. The next day, I was the only patient in the ward (it was a very interesting private clinic, where you don’t get a private room, but rather each patient is separated by curtains across your entire area for you and your visitors). I was quite glad to be the only patient in the ward that day as I was over the noise from the other patient’s visitors! But the thing I did notice was the nurses came to check on me less as there was no one else to check. In fact, as I had one drip out and waiting for the next one to be put in, the nurse comes in saying ‘Oh, I forgot to come back to put in your new drip!’, like it was no big thing. At this point, my temperature had stabilized and my blood pressure was going up (it had been 90/50 when I was admitted), so I guess they were less worried about me. I felt pretty much ok too, but doctor was not ready to discharge me.

Later that evening, around 8pm, my temperature shot up to 38.2 degrees and my bp was fast dropping. The nurse came in with all sorts of injections and stuff to help my temperature go down and lord knows what else – because if you don’t ask doctors or nurses you just get given any sort of medication! That was the last time I saw any nurse until 6am. I hardly slept that night, my drip stopped working at some point, and I was deeply regretting telling my family members I didn’t need anyone to spend the night with me.

Ok, since my return to Zambia, I have never been admitted to hospital – generally I don’t get sick, maybe occasionally I’ll get a cold but that’s about it. So anyway, I didn’t understand the need to have someone by your bedside, after all, if you’re paying for private healthcare, surely that should include a nurse to check in on you at night. 6am rolls along and the nurse realizes that the IV was not working as it should have been and the doctor was coming through in two hours time. She decided to put it in overdrive, the drip passed through me so quickly I was dizzy! Eventually I threw up.

When the doctors finally came through I berated the duty of care of the nurses. I spoke of my actual fear that I could have died during the night – by this time I knew just how serious bacteria in blood is. I was close to tears with emotion at this point – it had just been a rough two days for me, only my immediate family and closest friends knew I was in hospital. The lack of understanding of the seriousness of my infection coupled with the fact that I’m known to be strong and independent probably didn’t help, with people thinking their visit was not necessary. Instead I just felt lonely – eek! Anyway, so as I went off on the doctor – who I believed to be in management of the clinic, my emotions were taking over. The doctor did listen to my concerns, but was quick to have me discharged after that!

Forward a week later and as I’m listening to the story of the older man who died after an operation because of water build up in his lungs followed by sepsis, I couldn’t help but wonder if the round the clock checking in on a patient after surgery was observed – how did he get fluids in his lungs without anyone noticing?

A few days later, the story of the child dying after being sent home despite having a fever, it all seemed to point to our health care staff just not being fully attentive. At the funeral for this beautiful child, one lady remarked that there was no point in going to private facilities because ultimately the good doctors are at UTH. And I thought, if you’re going to get pretty much the same treatment – i.e. inattentive nurses, you may as well go to UTH! Besides, they too have fee paying wings so what is the real difference? Ultimately the bigger worry is where is the oversight in this case? Who really are these health care professionals accountable, who keeps them in check? Are you not outraged by this? I know I am. We cannot truly develop until we have a healthcare system that we can trust. Even look at the issue over the ‘missing’ drugs, that weren’t missing but were at Medical Stores!  What level of corruption is that that you don’t mind risking the lives of your own citizens for?

These are things that we need our politicians to be held accountable for, and to really demand this level of care when we’re voting them into office. 2016 is the year of issues, the year we should demand more from our leaders, and lets see the number of preventable deaths reduce drastically, or someone is brought to task for them!

I believe one of my biggest flaws is empathy. Especially when it’s people that I’m close to, friends, family, and occasionally people who’s stories I’ve followed in the media.

If a family member is hurting or in need, then I find ways to alleviate that pain or help them in their time or need. But when you’re constantly giving it drains you. I remember when I used to be in therapy and my therapist asked me why I helped people, including family members, and I replied, like it was a no-brainer that because if I didn’t, who was going to? I was in a position to help so shouldn’t I? His response was no, I didn’t have to, not if it ultimately hurt me more.

At first I couldn’t understand this. We should help, if we can, with no expectations of anything in return, that was the right thing to do. But after awhile I realised that what he meant was sometimes you have to put yourself first and ask if you can afford – emotionally and/or financially – to give of yourself. Actually the more I think about this, it’s not sometimes, but always. You have to for the sake of your soul.

After awhile I began to resent my family. Don’t get me wrong, I loved them, and knew that deep down, but I felt very alone from them. I was the first one people called when they needed help because I always came through, but when I needed help, I didn’t know who to turn to. I have been blessed to rarely need financial help, but emotionally, when I’ve been at cross-roads, and I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve suffered from mild depression (people told me to never admit it, saying it was career-suicide, but there I said it). I have been lucky to not have had severe depression, but even mild ones are hard to deal with, you really have to fight to stay happy and positive, which is draining, and difficult to do, especially alone.

But I overcame it, I got to a place where I was happy with who I was and happy with the decisions that I was making, really listening to what my heart and soul was saying, to keep me happy. As I’ve gotten older, gotten ‘successful’, I’ve realised that nothing can replace happiness.

I continued to give of myself, because I thought I could afford to. After awhile, I started to feel unappreciated – probably one of the things that furthered my depression – and felt that everyone took from me, but no one gave. I know that my friends and family love me and I would never question that, but I did wish that someone would stop and say, ‘I wonder how Cathy is feeling? And what does she need that I can give her?’

It never happened. It finally dawned on me that the victim mentality I was plaguing on myself was also not contributing to my mental health. Why should other people care about you? And why should you care if they don’t? Do we not have the capacities to be responsible for ourselves? We came into this world alone and we’ll leave it alone, so what is this need to have people focus on you?

It’s not me being cold or indifferent by any means, I simply mean it as a survival mechanism. If you are always giving, sooner or later there will be nothing to give. You will be tired, bitter and miserable, and then what good are you to anyone?

You have to put yourself first to keep your soul intact. If people around you can’t appreciate that, then that’s their loss. Because when you feel you are sacrificing for someone else, or being considerate of other people’s needs, while giving a piece of yourself, then you are only hurting yourself. Life, and indeed, relationships are about give and take. For everyone to be happy the scales have to be balanced.

It’s not a selfish attitude to take care of yourself first, it’s a healthy attitude. And it’s one I’m trying to do more and more, I might lose some people along the way, but then, that’s just a consequence I need to deal with to get myself to a better, healthier, happier place, and that’s my priority right now.