The Mwales live in Chimwakhunda on a street that can be accessed two ways, neither of which is easy. Usually, we park at the bottom of a very steep hill and walk up the completely undrivable" road" for 50 yards to their home. It is deeply rutted with many jagged rocks protruding from the ground. Still, is is easier than driving on the road from the other side, which is not steep, but neverless presents its own challenges. We have to drive over a short but EXTREMELY narrow bridge without any side guards and make a very sharp turn to do so. It is difficult to turn around once you get to their house and you can't drive out the other side because of the aforementioned reasons. This time we decided to drive because we needed to get as close to the house as possible. Though she lives with her family in another home, Juliet had been staying with her parents because of her condition. She is married with three children.
She was unable to stand or walk on her own. I put one arm around her waist and draped her arm over my shoulders. Nora, her sister, was on the other side. We slowly made our way to the car. Her mother and Maxwell, a family friend who knew the way to Chiradzulu got in the car with us and off we went.
I discovered that Juliet had been in St. Elizabeth's but had never been diagnosed because they had "lost the lab results". She was given mostly ibuprofen for her swollen legs and arms, her most serious symptom, but when she didn't improve they sent her home and said there was nothing more they could do.
We drove about forty minutes to reach the hospital. It is actually a lovely drive with views of Mulanje and wide expanses of maize fields.
From the outside, the hospital looked fairly nice. We managed to track down a wheelchair, very old with broken leather and tightly-tied rags for a footrest.
Juliet was taken to an examining room and we waited in the hallway.
The bulletin boards were filled with notices about procedures for disposing of hospital waste and how to keep things sanitary. About half were written in Chichewa.
After about an hour, we were told that she was going to stay in the women's ward. I met a nurse assistant who directed me to the ward and said she had been assigned to clean the bed. We chatted as she moved a thin plastic coated mattress to the standard hospital (wire mesh) bed and then wiped it down with a sanitizing solution.
Her mother had come prepared and pulled out clean bedding.
Each bed had a metal bedside table and there was one electrical outlet close by, though most of them were hanging out of the wall.
The ward of forty beds was only half full, so it was nice that Juliet got a bed by the window.
Hospitals do not supply meals for the patients except some porridge in the morning. Sister Mwale went to the street market just outside the hospital grounds and purchased food, then paid a small amount to prepare it in the hospital kitchen. This she did daily.
We came back two days later to visit. The ward was filled with family and friends everywhere, many sitting on the floor and eating out of common pots. Malawians eat with their hands. Sometimes the patients were up and part of the social scene but some were just lying on their beds. Juliet was sitting up on her bed, eating chicken and rice, surrounded by family members. The hospital is so far from Blantyre, that I was really moved by the efforts of so many to travel and spend time with their loved ones.
We know there are other private hospitals in Blantyre, such as the Seventh-Day Adventist, which have good reputations but most of the members we know go to the government hospitals. The government hospitals also have large outpatient clinics. When people say they went to the hospital, it sounds very serious to us, but it usually means that they went to the doctor. Only when they say they are "in hospital" do we realize that they had a stay there.
We picked Juliet up after five days and this time, she could walk very slowly to the car. In this hospital, the lab results determined that she had malaria, but there were (are) probably other complications. We are getting mixed messages as to how she is doing at home so time will tell.