A Reflection of My Life after living in Uganda as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Friend Maria

Maria is a 12 year old girl from Tanzania. She lives at the school I live at and has for several years. She won’t go home until maybe after she finishes P7. She is in P6 now. For the last month and a half Maria has been going blind. It came on suddenly and wasn’t discovered until this term when she was having other students read the board for her and teachers saw her bend over double an inch from her paper. Sister Carol took her to Mengo Hospital, the government hospital in Kampala, to be checked out and they told her they don’t know what is wrong but it looks like she is going blind. They gave her some steroids because they thought the nerves behind her eyes might be enflamed. It made her eyes feel better but her sight has not returned. She can barely see out of one eye and a little better out of the other. Maria needed to return to the hospital to be checked on this week.

Normally, I dislike having white skin. Sometimes I am taken more seriously and sometimes I am regarded as trying to bring in crazy ideas from the West that are not part of Ugandan culture and therefore not wanted or respected. It means I am treated differently, usually given preferential treatment. I am served meals first, I am given the best chair to sit on, and I am the guest of honor at events. It is a challenge to be white. With this situation with Maria it was the first time I wanted to use the power of my white skin to get some answers and hopefully push things along. So, I went to Mengo Hospital with Sister Carol and Maria.

The eye department has very rudimentary eye equipment. They see several patients at once and you all read the chart in front of one another. Maria could only read the first two lines; the ones with the giant letters. If you need to move on from there and see the actually doctor, you wait for what can be hours if not days to see the doctor.

I made sure I was very visible to all the staff standing with Maria and moving with her whenever her name as called. Sister Carol and I took turns inquiring about when we would see the doctor. It was much faster than I thought it would be. We saw the doctor just under 2 hours of waiting.

The doctor informed us that she didn’t know what the problem was. I asked very pointed questions and she just keep saying she didn’t know what is causing this and that it looks like Maria will go blind. She put her on more steroids and wants to see her again next week.

I am so sad and frustrated with the health care here. They don’t have the resources or availability to find causes so they just treat patients with lots of medicines and they never improve. I am so afraid poor Maria is going to go blind not because what she has can’t be cured but because they won’t figure out the problem. They seem so passive. But it is a nationwide problem – the lack of critical thinking skills! I am going to try and research possible causes and if any of you have any ideas please pass them on. Next week when we go back I want to be able to offer ideas that will hopefully be investigated. How can we give up on a 12 year old girl who lives in a foreign country without her family? How can we give up so quickly on anyone?

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