By Eunice Aber

This past one month has found me making more trips to the hospital than I have in last ten years combined. Unfortunately, my trips weren’t to a fancy hospital where one is given V.I.P care and life is taken as a very urgent issue that deserves microprocessor speed. Luckily I wasn’t in one of our dilapidated government hospitals where, even if given V.I.P treatment, you would still have to travel kilometers to the nearest pharmacy to buy the drugs the hospitals didn’t have. The situation there is so dire that a patient has to buy their own cannula to pass IV fluids. I’m not even sure there is blood for transfusions. At that point you cannot blame poor service on the staff and doctors but on the demotivating and de-energizing conditions.

So the reason why I’m criticizing the particular hospital I’ve been visiting is because I don’t believe the decent working conditions there should warrant such inhumane actions from the staff. Before I continue I would love to state that the doctors, the people actually trained to work on patients, were amazing. They did their job like they had regard for human life, or at least had been told about the urgency.

The people I’m pointing my arrows at this time are the support staff of the hospital. I do not know whether this happens in all hospitals but what I saw was people just working to earn a living with no regard for what kind of people they served and what kind of service they needed or deserved.

I wouldn’t have been this bothered if a doctor had taken an hour to examine a patient. Maybe the patient’s condition was extremely dire, requiring that he conduct many complicated examinations before reaching a diagnosis. My problem is, what justifies a cashier taking 30 minutes to print a patient’s receipt so he can move on? Now, this case for this particular hospital, and probably most of the hospitals in Uganda, is that you have to show a fully paid receipt before you receive a service, ranging from a doctor’s consultation to receiving laboratory examinations and scans, all the way to getting the drugs. This is a very good procedure, but only if everyone in the chain understands the urgency needed in particular situations, like when a patient’s life is in danger.

As I sat in the billing room, 18th in a line that was trickling down at a rate of 1 person every half hour, I had no hope that I would receive treatment that week. I had come very early that Monday morning to receive treatment, sacrificing a lot to make sure I would know what was causing me severe pain and, if possible, to treat it. So far, I had managed to pay the consultation fees and see the doctor who referred me for a gazillion tests before he could conclude his diagnosis.

Unbeknownst to me, going for tests meant facing the worst part of the hospital. You would think the worst part of the hospital was the mortuary, or maybe the theatre. No! That day, I found out the worst part of the hospital was none of these. It was the “Billing Room”. I really wonder if support staff for hospitals, or this hospital in particular, are taught the value or urgency for human life. The cashiers, the cleaners, even the gatemen. This isn’t to say that doctors, nurses and lab attendants are blameless. They also have their weaknesses, but we will get to that next time.

My predicament in the billing room made me understand why some people die in hospitals and others choose to stay home and have a more decent death. I understand there are emergency issues; but then, every medical issue is an emergency issue because it could be one step between life and death. Even if a patient comes in through the outpatient department, that does not mean their life is any less at stake than the one that came in through the emergency department.

For a cashier to attend to a patient that needs to pay for medical treatment as though they are attending to a person looking for a job in an already filled public office is such a gross disregard for human life.

Anyone who watched the animation Zootopia must have felt sorry for Judy when she went to the DMV and had to bear with the pathetic speed of the sloths, and they will understand my grievances when I say the cashiers in this hospital were just as slow and unaffected as those sloths.

As I did some exercise around the hospital, having gotten extremely tired of sitting on the hard benches of the billing rooms, I realized that the other offices in the hospital were empty. The bulk of the outpatient population were crammed into the billing room. Most of the patients seeing the doctors or having lab tests and scans done were those who had managed to pay the previous day but could not make it in time for the rest of the tasks. The billing room sat like an ocean or a mountain between the patient and his treatment, laboratory tests or consultation. I heard some patients saying they had started making their hospital trip 4 days ago and still had not received a diagnosis or treatment. And all that was standing in their way was paying the bills.

I felt a mixture of pity and contempt for those cashiers. Pity because I thought they were poor. So poor that they couldn’t afford basic compassion in their hearts to work on the patients with enough speed. Contempt because I despised their lack of human compassion, simple compassion that you could have for even a sick dog.

As I pondered on what was happening around me, I realized this does not just happen in the subsidized hospitals. Even public offices, some charity organizations and so many organizations trying to “help the poor and needy”, display the same inefficiency and general disregard for people.

I realized that charity organizations, non-governmental organizations and hospitals need to put aside some resources to train their workers about the values of the organization and what they stand for. It is very unfortunate to build a whole legacy just to be spoiled by people that come in midway and do not understand your goals and values, and neither are they taught.

One thing I have learned in life is that nothing is obvious. It might seem that it is an obvious matter for hospital workers to know and appreciate the urgency for human life, but that is not true. Professionalism demands that everything should be communicated, even what seems the most obvious. That is why we have fire drills in our office building and medicine tins labelled with “Keep out of reach of Children”. Those are obvious matters but professionalism requires it.