All you potential health tourists out there, you are in luck. This week, your intrepid journalist will help you get the bottom of those thorny medical questions you have always wanted to ask. For I have done no less than (courageously) develop an abscess in my bottom last week in order to go infiltrate the Khartoum health system.
It all began with a lump 10 days ago. Holding out with the help of ibuprofen and some stubbornness, until it could only be rectified by a full-scale operation, I made my first move. I turned up realistically white and shaky to the recommended doctor’s surgery to find a young lady in her twenties standing in for the normal doctor. She was clearly a little nervous as she plucked at her hijab. She listened attentively to my ailment, asking about my general health, occupation, the weather, anything really to put off the fateful moment. But no longer: ‘Could you show me what is wrong then?’ She bent her head for some moments in a silent desperate prayer. Cheering up though having survived the ordeal of inspecting a man’s bottom, she confidently told me that she really didn’t know what to do, but perhaps I would like some painkillers?
With the pain bursting through all available pills, I thought this would be a good time for a second opinion. The office nurse was aghast and immediately warned the local hospital to expect me. Incidentally, navigating the agony of mud rut bumps while sitting on an abscess is much more difficult when you are driving the car.
The surgeon was equally impressed, pronouncing it ‘quite huge’. Dropping my trousers was now a formality, unfazed even by an old man in a dashing white turban clambering out of his bed to see what the fuss was about. Waiting for the hours to pass before the op and clearly the only khawaja in the hospital, my celebrity was spreading. I was getting meals at an alarming rate (despite not being allowed to eat), and an endless stream of medical staff wanting to get in on the action with injections, blood tests and the like.
Then the operation was nigh. Two nurses tried to manoeuvre me into a wheelchair to go to theatre. An animated little discussion in broken arabic convinced them that as I couldn’t sit down, this wasn’t the best option. On the operating table, anaesthetised from the tummy down, I have never before had the experience of not feeling anything while my body is physically moving up and down. Why the force was so necessary when an array of sharp little knives was at their disposal will remain a mystery. Maybe they weren’t so sharp.
A slightly traumatic experience later, I was back in my hospital room, the nice clean effect only slightly spoilt by a lack of soap or loo paper. More food; pills; blood pressure machines; injections; and nurses trying to convince me that two wives is definitely better than one. Though not up to working out if they were offering their services, my arabic was good enough to explain that drugged and with a large hole in me, I might like to be alone with my thoughts. All very entertaining though when you are still high on opiates.
Sadly the anaesthesia wore off during the night. The dressing change the next morning was excruciatingly thorough. A nurse, luckily for all concerned with no English, enthusiastically worked away at the hole in my flesh. Our office nurse, horrified, negotiated that she would do the dressings from then on. Small mercies…