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Fencing With The Ghanaian Doctor
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Leila Djansi
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I’d literally avoided what could have been a fatal accident on my way to Ho. I was rushing to get to the hospital in time to see my friend Anna, who was having her baby on my birthday!

When I got to the ward, there were about five other women in various stages of labor and undress. I was not happy. There was palpable pain in reach. Women endure way too much. I think I might have changed my mind about motherhood in that moment. As I chattered away to my friend to mask my nervousness, a woman stripped completely naked and began to shriek. It was like ten banshee’s in there.

A lanky guy in a white coat, an older woman behind him strolled leisurely by, giving her a cursory glance.

The woman screamed again. It was a scream of death eminent.

The guy, a doctor, I found out later stood a very safe distance away and called out to her.

“If you continue screaming like that, you’ll die”

My eyes almost popped from their sockets as I starred at him. My friends’ bed was by the entry. Right where he was. I couldn’t hold it in.

I managed to suppress my anger and said, “She’s in pain, is that the right thing to say to her? Aren’t you scaring her?”

‘Oh”, he laughed awkwardly. Trying to gauge my accent. “She’ll be fine”.

I wasn’t done. “Can you endure the pain she’s in?”

“Oh haha”. It was another awkward laugh.

I opened my mouth to pursue my argument when Anna pinched me. I looked at her and she shook her head vehemently. The doctor and nurse had walked on.

“Why did you pinch me?” I asked her.

“Leila, I know you too well. You’ll start arguing with the doctor and when you leave they will punish me. “

“Punish you? For what?” I was incredulous.

“These people are wicked. I just want to have my baby and go home in peace”.

She forced me to leave.

This happened July 17th 2013.


August 8th 2014.

I visited our neighbor Helen at the Ho district Hospital. She’d just had a baby.

There were 10 other women in the ward. All had undergone caesarean sections. They were in various levels of pain. Aunty Helen was cool though. She was the ward comedian. Making everyone laugh.

As I played with baby Stephanie, I was also eavesdropping on the conversations carrying on. They were talking about the nurses. How no attention was being given to them, the rats in the ward, the nasty bathroom. The nurse one of the women had called two hours ago, but she had failed to respond.

I’m sorry. I cannot contain myself in the face of certain things. I volunteered to talk to the nurses. They said no! “They’ll insult us when you leave.”  These were working women, wives, and mothers. Adults. Scared of their fellow women? What crock of bull was that?

I said I would talk to them nicely.

I tried to be nice. I was seething but I put this saccharine smile on my face. Then one of the nurses said “Are you not Leila Djansi?” I said yes I am.

We spent 5 minutes talking about Ama K Abebrese and Sinking Sands. I promised to get them copies of all my films if they attended to the women.

MAGIC.  Aunty Helens husband came home that night and asked Leila, what did you do? The nurses are now friends with the women and the women are so happy.

Jessica, Providence, Priscilla, Edem, Peggy,

Few of my friends who died within the last five years and what do they all have in common? Needless Deaths.

Which was it? The doctor or the facilities? 

Many Ghanaians can relate to this.

I’ve heard this mantra in Ghana many times “When you visit a Ghanaian hospital and return alive, thank God”.

I have witnessed so much fear of doctors in our hospitals. Patients too frightened to ask questions about their bodies. You practically have to apologize for being sick. “I don’t want to go to the hospital, the nurses will insult me”. How many times have you heard that or said that yourself?

If you are blessed like some of us who have AMAZING family doctors we barge in on at will and play with their stethoscope and ask all the silly questions about our ailment, be grateful.

My friend said he once had to fake an American accent before nurses at Korle-bu attended to him, he had to do same with the doctor. His accent made her unsure of whom he was. And he looks like a superstar too so they had to be extra careful. That made me laugh a mirthless laugh.

Not everyone can resort to these so what is the way forward for that person who has no wit? 

It’s your body. You should not have to apologize for asking question. You should not be afraid to find out what exactly is wrong with you. Knowledge is power; it is also peace of mind. My friend went to the hospital and came back with a prescription. I asked her, what did the doctor say was wrong with you? She said “she did not tell me. She just gave me drugs.” She didn’t know any better so she did not ask, or she was too scared to ask.

My cousins baby had liver failure. When she asked the doctor questions at Korle-Bu, the doctors response was “Are you a doctor?” No, but that’s her child. If she has a clear idea of what it is that’s wrong with him, she can better manage his pain. That baby was only 5 months old then. They almost operated on him until another doctor called off the surgery. If that had happened, that child would have had two invasive procedures within 3 months because we finally flew him out of the country to save his life via transplant.

If this is not frightening, I do not what is. So what is the way forward?

I have had fights, like blood feuds with some Ghanaian doctors on facebook. Those people have ready insult, derision.  Caustic lot, I kid you not. No sympathy. Just blind defense.  It makes sense though. People who have no sympathy for pain, what else would they excel at? Abuse of course. It’s the easy way out for the gutless.  Are you a doctor? We went to school for ten years. We are above reproach.

My favorite books growing up were doctor romance novels. What were those, Harlequin! Blue eyes, gentle touch, a smile that lights up a room, a set of bright white teeth that make you forget your sickness. How do you think I came up with that movie A Northern Affair? I grew up thinking every doctor was like that. The doctors I grew up around because my mama worked in the Ho District Hospital compounded that thought. Those doctors were so kind, so funny. Then I grew up. I became an employer who had to experience other doctors and that fantasy quickly faded. Faded when I rushed staff to Police Hospital where the nurse was on her yam phone. Ignored us.

We rushed into the ER and the doctor threw daggers at us with his eyes. He had good reason to. The ward was over crowded and he was the only one on duty. Poor guy.

We ended up in another hospital where we got treated but when I ventured to ask the doctor about a fear of glass in the cut and what to do in that event, he gave me this “shut up! What do you know look”. It was 2 am in the morning. I let it slide, or rather; I was tired and knew it was a fruitless effort.

These are just few of the many stories I have. Real life experiences and second hand telling. Is this Ghanaian nature and not medical staff nature? Are we bullies at heart? Are we a people who love our power more than caring for the lowly? Are we a people who desire to be respected at all cost?

Security men will yell at you in the banking halls like you’re a goat.

Policemen will bully you and waste your time.

Nurses will abuse the life out of you.

Doctors will treat you like you’re invisible. Ask you questions through pursed lips.

The teacher will give you 12 lashes on your ankles.

The sales girl will roll her eyes and serve you with a frown large enough to start a hurricane.

The only person who treats you nice is the bank teller because they want your money.

Ghana filmmakers asking Government for free money. Please let that be. That money should go towards our hospitals. I heard there are no basic supplies in some of these hospitals and the doctors say it is because their salaries are small, and the hospitals lack facilities that they have permanent frowns on their faces.  It’s why you can’t ask them questions.

Human life is far more important than making films that won’t secure proper distribution. Filmmakers are not paying taxes either. I’d rather have a working hospital and safe roads than a grant to lobby money from to make a film that will not go anywhere because there is nowhere for it to go. It’s not been created.

Healthcare is politics. Taxpayers life, gambled with.

No, I do not have any solutions. But I write this hoping to awaken some humanity.  If you are in the position to donate equipment, supplies to our hospitals, please do! Can you volunteer your time, please do! I do, every year. Children’s wards are my focus.  Don’t wait till you lose a loved one before you awaken.

Ghana is for us. If it works, we work. If it fails, we fail!
Source: Leila Djansi/Emai: [email protected]

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