[pullquote]There was about twenty people ahead of me. I took out my book and settled down to wait. One hour passed. Then two hours. Then three. The queue hadn’t moved by a single patient.[/pullquote]
I promised myself I would never knowingly take advantage of the preferential – if not at least differential – treatment foreigners receive in Ghana. Even though I fall into the rather ambiguous category of a dark-skinned obruni, I have, on occasion, been given more attention or faster service than usually afforded to locals. I can’t do anything about it – to refuse would have been rude – but I promised myself I would never illicit any special treatment.
Regrettably, I had to break that promise. I caught malaria despite taking regular medications and avoiding unnecessary exposure to mosquito bites. One weekend, while I was attending a colleague’s wedding, I started feeling especially sick. My temperature fluctuated, my joints ached, I was nauseated and my stomach couldn’t retain any food. Fearing the worst, I called one of my fellow interns’ colleagues at Kapital Radio. He suggested that I get checked, but he advised me to go with a local who knew the ins and outs of the system so I wouldn’t have to wait long to see a doctor.
He didn’t state it explicitly but what he meant was that I should go with someone who could help me jump the queue.
Remembering the promise I made to myself, I went to the hospital alone (My fellow interns Chris Tse and Leah Wong had gone out of town for their mid-internship break).
After asking around, I managed to get to the hospital, find the walk-in clinic, register myself and join the queue to see the doctor. There was about twenty people ahead of me. I took out my book and settled down to wait.
One hour passed. Then two hours. Then three. The queue hadn’t moved by a single patient.
I felt my nausea growing, my stomach threatened another visit to the loo and my fever was back with a vengeance. I glanced over to the man sleeping on the bench next to me – he had been there before I came – and decided I couldn’t wait anymore.
I called another friend who I thought might be able to help. He promptly instructed me to meet him at the hospital where his wife works. Once there, he ran around getting me registered and within twenty minutes, I was sitting in front of the doctor relaying my symptoms. There followed a flurry of activities – a blood test, another session with the doctor, getting my prescriptions – during which I saw my friend speak to this person or that in order to get me ahead of the line at every stop. The whole process took a little less than 3 hours.
As I curl up in my bed feeling calm and medicated, I saw the faces of the people I jumped ahead of. They were all sick and they still had to wait their turn. My stomach churned again with guilt. I reminded myself that I had gotten ahead of the line because my friend had connections at the hospital, not because my skin was a little fairer than the average Ghanaian. There is little comfort in that, but I’ll take it nonetheless.