What would you do?

There is a family that takes care of our compound in Kampala. David* and his wife, Susan*, take care of cleaning our flat, washing our clothes and letting us in and out of the compound gate. They have three children, two boys and one girl, aged 10, 7 and 5. They had two other children, but they died when they were very young.

Recently, David has not been around, and I assumed he had gone to the village as usual to visit relatives and take care of family issues. I discovered only yesterday that he has actually been extremely sick, unable to get out of bed, and that one of his aunts was now living with him and taking care of him.

Today I went in his house to talk to him. He said he had gone to a hospital (not Mulago) several times and was told he has ulcers and cancer that is causing pressure in his abdomen, leaving him in excruciating pain and urinating blood. He needed more money to go back to the hospital, but this morning his mother called, and told him that the family had wasted enough money, that he should come back to the village and they would find another solution. She told him to get on the next available bus, and come to Soroti, in eastern Uganda. The bus ride takes, I believe, somewhere between 6 and 8 hours.

David’s brother had died some time ago, and David had to carry him back to their home. He has been having nightmares every night, and his family seems to believe that his illness is due in part to this traumatic experience. Hence the search for an alternative solution.

I could not tell from his description what exactly he was diagnosed with or how he was diagnosed, and his aunt did not know the name of the treatment he was given. At first he said he wanted to drive back to the hospital, but then at his family’s insistence it was decided that he would get on a bus to Soroti today. He said he was confused, that he didn’t know now what was causing his pain and didn’t know what to do. I wanted to take him back to the hospital, get more medicine, and figure out what was really wrong. I can’t imagine how he will survive the bus ride. He can barely sit up on his own and cannot walk without assistance.

But it is not my decision, however sure I am that going to the hospital in Kampala is a much better idea than getting on a long, hot and bumpy bus ride to Soroti for some alternative treatment. As a student of human biology (my first degree anyway) I of course have much faith in so-called “western” medicine. I know that it will not solve everything or save everyone, but I want to know that he has gotten the best treatment possible and been properly diagnosed at the very least. And I am not sure that he has been.

I am so afraid for him, and for his young family here, but it is not up to me to decide what is best for him. There was nothing I could do but drive David and his aunt to the bus park and hope for the best.

*for privacy’s sake I have changed their names


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