Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Chance For Research/Activism in Hospitals

I'm typing on top of the world right now. For the past three weeks I've had my right hand in a half cast because I tripped on a piece of wood in my living room and flew through the air hitting my kitchen door with my middle finger, breaking the bone inside my hand. That's right, it was that finger that is so useful in driving through Cairo traffic. I got an xray and went to visit my good friend and orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Mostafa, who has already reconstructed my left shoulder for me two years ago and did a double knee replacement for me last summer. He laughs over the fact that I'm the age of his mother but manage to do some pretty creative stuff to my poor old body....calls me his "bad boy"! Today I did a second xray to show that the break is knitting well, was given a brace to protect my hand for a while, and a prescription for some calcium to help the hand finish its work.

Body issues taken care of, Mostafa and I caught up on what's been happening lately. Despite being a very busy orthopedic surgeon here in Cairo, he's lately agreed to help at one of the government hospitals in administration. A government hospital job isn't going to make him rich. Salaries in them are laughable. He's doing it because he realises that someone needs to try to help this hospital improve. The salaries for the staff are too low. Cleaners might make LE 300 a month, a wage that will feed no one, so they don't work too hard and they try to get tips from patients. Who can blame them? Nurses here are not well paid or well trained and they are looked at by most Egyptians as being only slightly more respectable than prostitutes or dancers. Not great. Mostafa told me that in learning more about how the hospital was working...or not working as the case may be... he found that the communications between patients and staff are not good, with patients often being highly suspicious of the staff. We talked about how the Egyptian habit of bringing family members to a hospital to help care for a patient, while still definitely necessary, can often be counterproductive in terms of contagion. This is especially true in cancer wards where chemo patients are taking immune system battering meds while surrounded by possible sources of infection. He shook his head in wonder that he's surprised that the stress of trying to analyse and treat a seriously ill institution is not simply breaking him down. Somehow he's staying calm about the whole thing.

It occurred to me that this could be a chance made in heaven for some serious university students to help him do some research on what was working and not working in the hospital. Anthropology, sociology, medical and urban planning students could find some fascinating data here. As well, there is a major opportunity for community organisers to help to establish something like a hospital auxiliary, perhaps a group for would-be nurses to learn about their chosen field...something like the Candystripers that work as volunteers in hospitals in the US and Canada. I'm going to put word out about this chance for research and/or activism and let's see what happens. The government hospitals have long been disastrous in Egypt and have been the source of much head-shaking and concern, but perhaps the better way to view the problem is to see it as an opportunity for parts of our society to come together to seek solutions. Doing research and setting up programs hasn't been so easy in the "old" Egypt because pretty much everyone had something to hide. Perhaps this is the time to change all of this. If you know of anyone who might be interested in helping in this project, or maybe with another one like it, do contact me and I will put you in touch with my overworked friend.

copyright 2011 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani