Bouncing off the floors and walls, the scents of life and death, and hope and despair coalesce in hospitals. In the wards or private rooms, we face our mortal limitations and our fragility is exposed. Men, women and children, in their weakest hours, rely on intravenous therapy, injections, pills and solutions, and surgeries to reenergise them, to mend the broken parts. It is all humbling.

I dread visiting hospitals. Georgetown Public Hospital is often the institution in which the dread is faced as over the years I have watched relatives and friends recover or die there. The shortcomings of the institution are evident. Bouncing off those floors and walls are the frustrations of both patients and visitors, and staff, I am quite sure.

Upon admission, most people do not wish or hope for death. Even the man who may doubt the wonders of modern medicine must often seek the help of the health care providers in hopes of healing. But do Guyanese have the best access to care and treatment? Certainly, over the years there have been improvements based on reports, and many believe that the Georgetown Public Hospital is one of the medical institutions that offers the best care and treatment in Guyana. But can we truthfully say we are completely satisfied? And when we assess the conditions at the Georgetown Public Hospital, if it is indeed one of the best, aren’t we astonished by the lengths we need to go?

The failures of our healthcare system often begin from the time an ambulance is called. Lucky are the ones who are able to secure an ambulance expeditiously because often that is not a possibility. It was sometime last year when I called for an ambulance for a sick relative and the person on the other end of the line asked for all the information before telling me that no ambulance was available. Recently, a friend of mine tried calling an ambulance for a relative and the call went unanswered. Eventually it was a relationship with someone she knew in the fire service that had to be exploited. The individual used his authority to get an ambulance to the home of the woman who had been waiting for at least three hours. Must Guyanese prepare to die because ambulances are often unavailable? Is there any hope for the man or woman who suffers perhaps a heart attack or stroke and must rely on an ambulance to get them to the hospital? 

The inadequacies of the public health care system have often been highlighted.  While many lives are saved and efforts are being made to improve the system, people are still being mistreated and losing their lives because of negligence. Recently, babies and children have died at the Georgetown Public Hospital under suspicious circumstances. A baby was burned by a headlamp in an incubator and subsequently died. The hospital has said that it was not the burns that caused the baby’s death, but is that supposed to make it somehow acceptable? It was reported that the family plans to seek legal action. Often no one is jailed, and relatives receive no compensation when lives are lost at the fault of the hospital.

Many people seek private care, but even the private institutions have been known to sometimes also fail their patients. There are many cases where patients are first admitted to private hospitals and when those hospitals realise that they are incapable of helping or saving the patient, they send them to the Georgetown Public Hospital.

Our healthcare system is laden with deficiencies. One can only hope they receive the best care possible.

During a visit to the hospital this week, I heard a story of a patient who fell off a bed and that nurses made no efforts to help. They ignored that the patient’s hopes of recovering were sinking into the floor. It was not until her son arrived that she was helped. And as any child would cry for their parent, so did the man as helped his mother back into bed. Through his tears, he also berated the staff. There are many unpleasant experiences that often occur, and it is nurses who often face the brunt of the criticism.

The work of nurses cannot be discredited. I have encountered many courteous nurses over the years. But there are also those who disgrace the profession and have no business calling themselves nurses. Their attitudes suggests that they do not care about what happens to the patients. They are rude and insensitive. Perhaps it is just a paycheck at the end of the month for some of them. Many older nurses are especially hostile and, unfortunately, they negatively influence young nurses who may enter the profession with the best of intentions.

We know that nurses may not work in ideal conditions here. Being face to face with sickness and death from day to day may numb one and slowly exhaust one’s compassion. Nurses are underpaid in this country. They should be some of the highest paid professionals. Many may be motivated to serve the profession with more sincerity and honour if they were given the respect they deserve and decent remuneration.

As I sat in the Georgetown Public Hospital this week, trying hard to ignore the anxiety I felt, and the odour of fear and hopelessness, I was suddenly amused. I have seen people in the hospital selling items like pastries, but I had never seen vendors in the hospital corridors visiting room after room selling items like toilet paper. In 2019 in Guyana, in the Georgetown Hospital, items like toilet paper are being sold during visiting hours. It was also reported that items such as underwear and nightdresses are also being sold. I cannot fault those men and women for making an honest dollar. And I suppose the hospital must be commended for allowing the vendors to solicit sales from patients and visitors though some may see it as a nuisance. For me, it was a distraction from the despair. Humour, humility and admiration were added to the myriad of emotions that bounced off the floors and walls of the hospital.

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