We proceed into the male wards, singing and offering prayers. We divide up into pairs with our Malawian team members and distribute petroleum jelly and big soap bars as gifts. I am paired with Gary, a genial medical student who translates for me when necessary and offers additional details on patients he knows from previous visits. I am struck by how cold it is for the 20 or so patients crowded into the same room, the presence of numerous IV poles, but only one with any medication hanging on it. The bare plastic mattresses lie on bed frames rusty enough to have inhibited the ability to raise their backs, had that ever existed. Call buttons? Not a one.
written by Steve Okonek
In mid afternoon we return to Queen Elizabeth Public Hospital where we’d visited the children patients two days earlier. The chill from the outside permeates through the open shutters into the long blue hallway. Large windows on either side look out on filled clotheslines and construction spoils. We suddenly stop short of the first ward awaiting further instruction. Down in a dark windowless section a woman stretches out alone on the cold cement floor, weeping loudly in resignation. One of our team’s translators explains her sobs, “He’s gone, he was my support, he was my everything, what am I going to do?”
Minutes pass in this uncomfortable, tragic sequence, and I notice her return to the ward. Moments later orderlies with a gurney rapidly approach, and we quickly move to the walls to allow a passage as the remains, wrapped entirely in white sheets pass by within a few feet of our view. Following is the woman, weeping even more forcefully and a contingent of family, friends, who knows. We know that death can breed destitution in many lands, but it seems particularly cruel in Malawi.
The men I visit all seem willing to chat. Their diseases: TB, malaria, HIV, seizures, are all what I read in the guidebooks as being particularly prevalent here. I shake each one’s hand and hold it, recalling how I craved this during my hospital stays, and not a one objected. The condition of public hospitals such as this one must be one reason behind the country’s poor life expectancy.