Nerding in Nairobi

A few months travelling, living and hacking in Kenya

Kenyan Medicine

Getting hit by a car gave me the unique opportunity to explore the (private) Kenyan medical system. After a long night trying to sleep through the pain in my wrist I resolved to get the thing looked at. I found a reputable medical center near the office and landed an appointment at 10:30.

I arrived a few minutes after 10:30 to learn that appoinments are a pretty loose concept. I was the second person in the waiting room that morning so I was seen second, around 11AM. Dr. Zulpiquar Ali Jaffrey was a character of few words in his 70s, hard of hearing, with rotted out teeth and no bedside manner. He examined my wrist from across his desk over the top of today’s paper with expertly probing fingers. He quickly determined that I needed an X-ray, collected my name and mobile number and sent me across the hall.

The imaging people took $17 along with my name and mobile number. After about 15 minutes of waiting (with anmind melting soap opera blaring in the background) I was led to an X-ray machine, zapped and sent back to wait. Another 15 minutes and I was back across the hall waiting to give the doctor my freshly developed film. After some further waiting, the doctor emerged into the now packed waiting room and announced “You have a half healed fracture, about 40-50% healed.” No HIPAA here!

I was sent downstairs to the pharmacy to get bandages and came back up to wait again for them to be applied. The doctor told me to take it easy, come back next week and pay him $35 cash. Final diagnosis was a distal fracture in my radius from my recent ski accident refractured hitting the car yesterday. The break is stable and healing nicely with no need to cast it. Competent care for a broken bone ran me <$60 plus 3 hours of shuttling around between waiting rooms. Good deal for those who can afford it!

You might notice a few things missing from this story. At no point did I give any information other than my immediate health concern, name and phone number. Nor did anyone keep significant records beyond a carbon copy of my receipt and diagnosis. At no point did the doctor ask if I was in pain or mention pain management. Apparently, if I want Vicodin, I just have to go to any pharmacy. In many ways, the patient here is expected to carry the load of managing their care — it is nice to be treated as the primary actor not a diagnosis + possible lawsuit. Still, if I need open heart surgery, I’ll be on the first plane back home.

  • Lots of time in waiting rooms
  • X-ray time, real film here
  • Can you spot the fracture? I can barely see it.
  • Thankfully just a wrap, no cast