My first trip to Korle Bu’s surgical department and theatre

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After enduring some unbearable pain around my rectal area for a week and some days, I finally gathered enough courage to call a brother, who is a doctor, just to know what is happening. He advised I go to Korle Bu, get examined and know the way forward.

Since the pain was getting worse, I called my best friend to come help me get to Korle Bu. In a sleepy voice (time check was 11 am), she asked me to take the lead so she meets me there.

I always feel weird whenever I come to Korle Bu, from all the terrible stories I have heard over the years, my 28-year-old mind sees the biggest referral hospital in Ghana as a death trap, and indeed I was not surprised when my uber driver drove past a family crying uncontrollably over the death of their relative.

Forget my pain, I was now in full panic mood. “I don’t want to die. I was at church on 31st December, I prayed, I screamed, I jumped to receive all the blessings thrown at the congregants, what is all this????,” I kept asking myself.

It was when I tried getting down from my Uber, that the pain shot me back to reality. A walk to the surgical department that will take 5 minutes, took almost 20 minutes for me. Yes, I was taking one step at a time and practically counting it. Every step sent waves of pain through my body, forcing me to take in sharp breathes before taking another step.

Finally, I got into the elevator (I have never been so grateful to use one) and made my way to the third floor of the surgical department. My doctor, Asare Offei, was a nice short man in glasses. He asked me to describe the situation to him, did a quick examination of the area where the pain was and asked for three things.

First, I was to get a folder, then run a few tests and finally get a scan. If you know how big Korle Bu is and how separated all the departments are, you won’t be shocked by how I knew this task could only be completed with the help of the gods.

Mind you, in as much as I couldn’t walk, I could also not sit down or stand for long. To make matters worse I was alone. After I realized my “sister” had no intention of joining me at Korle Bu, I called my mom. Don’t judge me, I am single and all my friends work (I wasn’t expecting any of them to abandon post and rush to my aid).

Long story short, by 4 pm I had everything done. It took me 4 hours,  but who cares? I walked all the way to get my scan done, joined a queue to pay for my lab test (only to be told although advertised, they don’t accept mobile money so I have to go and withdraw the money), manoeuvre my way through a thick crowd at the reception to get a folder and back on the elevator to the 3rd floor, sideward 2 – my new home.

I think this will be a good opportunity to urge Ghanaians to get a health insurance card. While I was lifting up my hands in prayer on 31st of December cross-over night, my card was busy expiring. I had to pay for everything – everything – even my folder went for a cool GH¢89. As for the scan and the tests, hmmm, I made a mental note to renew my card immediately I was discharged, not because I had plans of being sick again but because I wanted to be prepared.

On my sickbed, many reasons were given why I couldn’t have the operation done the same day. First, I had to take some drugs to prepare my body and secondly, water was not flowing at the theatre. Since I was alone and in pain, I couldn’t get up to go get the drugs from the pharmacy on the ground floor. I started praying for my mom. I was stuck in bed and with the pain.

Finally, my mom came from the Eastern Region, and I was immediately put on a drip but the water was still not flowing. By 6 pm, my new roommate had been discharged leaving me to spend the night alone in a strange room. I spent the whole night tossing and turning, woke up to a nurse entering my room every 30 minutes to check my pulse, temperature or just check if I was ok.

It wasn’t that bad and I am glad to say I didn’t see the angel of death too, just a nice nurse who gave me an injection that took the pain away and put me to sleep.

By 4 am on Friday, January 17, I was up. The injection was wearing off and I was very hungry. I had not eaten the whole of Thursday because we assumed the taps will flow for the operation to happen. At 7 am, my mom was finally allowed to come upstairs. She took my stuff, helped me off the bed and through the female ward to the bathroom used by all the sick women over there.

The women’s washroom had three toilets, three cubicles and another space with a huge bathtub. There were towels and sponges hanging on chairs and tables at the far right side of the washroom. Although the bathroom was as neat as it possibly could, water not flowing AGAIN did not help as the toilets were not flushed. This meant I could not use it or get water to wash down. My mom, ever-resourceful, went begging for some and came back with a pail or two. I used bottled water to brush my teeth and went back to my room to prepare for my theatre date.

At 9 am, Dr.Asare finally came to announce that I will be going into theatre at 10 am. My mom was nervous but I was so happy, anything to take the pain away.

The doctors had explained what was going to happen to me. I was going for an incision and drainage procedure. In medical terms “Incision and drainage or clinical lancing are minor surgical procedures to release pus or pressure built up under the skin, such as from an abscessboil, or infected paranasal sinus.

It is performed by treating the area with an antiseptic, such as an iodine-based solution, and then making a small incision to puncture the skin using a sterile instrument such as a sharp needle, a pointed scalpel or a lancet. This allows the pus fluid to escape by draining out through the incision” but in my term, there was water under my skin that needed to be taken out and that opening was going to be done between my legs; that’s close to my anal hole.

Don’t laugh. I was scared about how I was going to move around, sit or be intimate but then again, I wanted the pain to go away. So yes, I was ready and yes, I was eager for it.

The nurses described me as a very happy child. They said they had no idea where I got my positive energy from and why I was always happy even though I was in pain. I remember how they all kept wishing me well when I finally changed into my surgical robe and was put on the stretcher heading to the theatre.

For some funny reason, I felt shy and weak. I have seen people being pushed to the theatre and back on countless occasions. I have even seen a lot in movies, so as I tried to lay down quickly, smile and crack a joke once in a while, I was still scared.

Outside the theatre

As scheduled, by 10 am I was outside the corridor of the Korle Bu theatre. Each room was numbered, I counted 8 in total but was told there were theatre 8A and 8B, which will make it 9. There were two other women outside the theatre with me. One was going to theatre 8A and the other theatre 4, I was scheduled for theatre 5.

Doctors and nurses walked busily past us, talking and preparing for their next surgery or whatever they were doing. It was obvious the doctors were the ones in deep blue uniforms with their names boldly written on it, while the nurse or assistants had on purple, green, faded blue and white uniforms. I stayed outside for more than three hours before it was my turn. The torture from being nervous took me to dreamland.

At 1 pm, a doctor woke me up. Its time he said.“You are not going to be put to sleep. What we will do is to give you an injection that will make you go numb waist down so the surgery can be done without you feeling a thing.”

Immediately I got into theatre 5, I felt at home. The doctor had cool Nigerian songs playing from an iPad somewhere. Davido’s ‘Fall’ was on full blast and I couldn’t help but relax. I was moved to the surgical bed and had some things placed on my chest, beneath my breast and my thumb to monitor my vitals.

After connecting my drips, it was time for the anesthesia to be injected into my spine. At this time, I cannot begin to describe the pain. Every time the needle touched a nerve I felt electricity shoot through my body. I was told not to move when I was practically shivering. I was so scared. In fact, I cried. I felt like I had three different injections at my back, I kept hearing “don’t move”, something I tried really hard not to do and then finally, the doctor moved away from my back and said he was done. Thank you Jesus was all I said under my breath.

Not even the Nigerian song in the background could stop the tears. I was told to wait for six minutes and lie down, within 3 minutes I couldn’t feel my toes, it was obvious the drug was working.

A quick scan around the room showed about 5 male doctors, the one who injected my spine, his assistant, the doctor who was going to work on me and two others. I saw some females at the back who I was told were there to observe the procedure.

It took my mind back to the consent form I had signed earlier that said I was okay having students around to observe the procedure and that I was in full support of everything that will happen in the theatre.

On the bed, with my eyes fully opened, I started to feel things moving beneath me. I was really shy and a bit uncomfortable. I was totally naked waist down, my legs have been widespread and all those people were down there looking at me. It was embarrassing. I started to wish I had been put to sleep.

For 15 to 20 minutes, I just stayed quiet, not feeling a thing as doctors and nurses kept poking between my legs. Some of the assistant doctors tried to engage me in small chats to get my mind off the whole exercise and I was really grateful. Finally, that was done too. A stretcher was brought in and I was moved from the surgical table.

They praised me for being brave, said I was not going to feel the pain again and took me to the recovery room, the last place I wanted to be. I hadn’t seen my mom since I left my ward at 10 am, I knew she was probably worried since she had not been told the surgery was moved to 1 pm and that I was outside the theatre the whole time she thought they were working on me.

I heard the doctors and a nurse still complaining about the fact that water was not flowing. According to them, there was a reservoir but it serves the whole surgical department and therefore does not last long. They said several calls had been placed to the management of Korle Bu and even the Ghana Water Company but to no avail. From eavesdropping, I got to know most operations are put on hold when that happens, a situation the nurses are not happy about. As for the unannounced lights out, I experienced three right in the theatre.

Dr Offei asked for me to be kept in the recovery ward for 2 hours, after the first 15 minutes I wanted to go back to my ward. I still could not move my legs and my spine was hurting but just looking at the sick people around me made me so depressed. To my right was a woman I know has not been able to get out of bed for days. I watched as a nurse came for her faeces and cleaned her up.

Forget what people say about nurses, they are God-sent. To my left was another man, who seemed to be struggling to breathe, I could see urine hanging in a tube by his side. He was so helpless, I just started to cry again. I was grateful for my life, grateful to be very healthy and eager to leave now. I know if I could walk, I would have gotten up to leave.

But I was still numb from waist down and weak from hunger. I started begging the nurses to take me back to my ward, thankfully the stress and everything took me back to dreamland.

I woke up to see a nurse in green standing by my side, he said it was time for me to be taken back to my ward, my vital showed I was healthy and everything was well. I could go, but I had to wait till 6 pm to eat something. The best news, ever, I was practically pushing myself on the stretcher to make it go faster. The smile on my mom’s face when she saw me made everything ok. I have gone to the theatre room in Korle Bu and survived, I am a HERO.

Ready to go home

Back in my ward, I had my last talk with Dr Offei; apart from taking the drugs that I have been prescribed, I was supposed to sit in warm salt water thrice a day and any time I go to private till my wound heals. I was also asked to wash my private part with clean water any time I urinate and for the next few weeks always wear my panty with a liner or sanitary pad.

On Saturday, I was finally discharged after being asked to pay an amount of GH¢1,800. Once again, I wished I had my health insurance, then maybe I would have paid less than that. The pain is gone though, it’s a bit uncomfortable sitting down and walking because of where the incision was done but I try to move around as much as I can without showing the pain.

I still sit in warm water every morning and evening, before and after work; I take all my drugs judiciously and keep myself clean and happy. I eat more fruits and less solid food because I get scared of going to private and I hardly urinate when I am not home. But I am still a happy girl, who needs to go for a diabetes test since doctors conclude it might be the reason for the collection of ‘water’ which caused the pain.

I have great respect for Korle Bu and all the doctors who work at the surgical department, I admire the night shift nurses who stay awake throughout so patients can sleep better.

If the government will not help Korle Bu, maybe as Ghanaians we can help. I left the rest of my drips behind to be given to patients whose families can’t afford theirs, I would love to go back someday and renovate the ward and the washroom I used during my time there. But while I am putting my intentions into action, what would you be doing to help Korle Bu, the biggest referral hospital in Ghana?

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