July 3, 2022

Note: This account is in no way directed to hinder the reputation of the hospital or its workers. For what’s it worth, it should be a yardstick to assess the progress of the hospital and seek proper attention to the institutionalized problems facing the medical establishment.

Throughout my years, I have always noticed a strange activity within my eyes. Sometimes, it gets pretty scratchy, red, and swollen. For me, it was just a normal body reaction. Perhaps, natural changes to the body. I would traditionally douse my face with salty water to temporarily ease off the reaction. Even though it worked, I later learned that it was harmful and dangerous to the optic.

I knew this was getting out of hand when I started seeing halos in my vision – an indication that I was developing an eye disorder. Troubled by this traumatizing change, I made an informed decision to visit the Sight Savers, the eye care center at Connaught Hospital. A decision I regret to this day.

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Connaught Hospital is one of the oldest hospitals in Sierra Leone. Officially commissioned in 1925, it has been the first point of call for medical emergencies across the country. However, the standard of operations and environmental upkeep is significantly down the drain. Months ago, images of the hospital’s unhealthy sanitary state went viral on social media.

I knew of Sight Savers and was hoping to finally get the needed medical attention there. Maybe, the nurses and doctors had gone months without salaries, because the nurse at the registration counter teasingly asked for a tip after filling my medical form. Of course, I had to strike a compromise. I made way for Sight Savers after directions from passersby.

Sight Savers Center is the medical branch of Connaught Hospital responsible for eye treatments. The expectation I had of the center was all-around huge and massive. I asked for the doctor who was probably a young man in his 30s. He wore a lens spectacle and the usual white doctor’s robe. My astonishment was seeing a young man delegated such high regard in the hospital. I thought I was in more professional and safe hands. I met with him in what seemed like a classroom, in the building.

He was talking to some other patients so I waited some time for his attention. We finally talked and I revealed the state of my condition. For starters, I had an eye examination using the Snellen Chart (an eye chart used to measure visual activity with the use of letters). We did an exercise with my right eye which was successful and intact. However, the test with the left eye was fatal. Indeed, I am unable to grasp any clear image or sight.

The doctor signaled a colleague to carry out a retinoscopy on the eye. This is done to measure the refractive error in the eyes. The other individual arrived with a retinoscope to do the measurement. Shamefully, the battery power in the device was down. Yes! You read that right. The power in the device was inoperative. He tried tapping the machine against his palm, ritualistically thinking it would light up. He finally reached for a Retinoscope he borrowed from another physician and did the examination. I later went to the counter to deliver my medical document.

Stanley-Coker! I heard my surname echoing across the brief corridor. I navigated to the doctor in anticipation to know my final medical fate. Expecting to hear a detailed explanation as to what the problem was, I was only shown two mini bottles of eye drops, meant for application. I was surprised, but afterward, I have little medical enlightenment. He asked me what amount of money I had with me. I told him the total amount of cash, while he prescribed the drugs for me. Now, my problem was that these drugs were prescribed almost for every single individual I had met. I was no doctor to know that my problem was pressing and tough. But, as I said, I wouldn’t want to question his medical qualification.

He handed me these eye drops, with directives on what time they should be applied. This duration was the same he had directed patients before me. I started applying these eye drops as he advised thinking it would help the situation. It was a total mess. Had it not been for my father, I would have ended up visually impaired for the remaining part of my life.

My eyes were scratchy as before and even worse. My father told me of a long-time friend who was a medical doctor who specialized in ophthalmology. He is also a lecturer. They were college mates. At first sight, he was an accommodating and meek person. His approach was extremely professional, worthy to be deemed European standard.

His office is situated at Jui’s popularly known “Chinese Hospital.” The journey to safety was indeed a far one. I emerged at what seemed like a gigantic foundation. I was shown his office where I gazed at the level of sophisticated eye machines they had. We exchanged compliments and got straight to business. In the company of students who came to tend to the admonishments of their lecturer, I was asked pertinent questions as per the eyes. I underwent the same examinations at Connaught Hospital.

This time, however, I knew this was a hospital in every sense of the word. I was first escorted to the Retinal Camera and later the Tonometer. The latter is used to detect eye problems and gives an actual view of optical vessels and tissues, and the former is used to reveal the amount of pressure my eyes could withstand. “This is serious”, I heard him murmur “You must have visited earlier Delvid, the left part of your eye is almost gone.”

That was how he alerted me that I have “Hereditary Glaucoma.” The optic nerve of my left eye is damaged. My memory instantly transcended to my grandfather who was blind probably due to this eye problem. As if he knew, he asked me whether I had been to Connaught Hospital. I shook my head in agreement where he lamented on the poor structure such a hospital has acquired over the years. The news of this shocking medical statement left me momentarily depressed. He counseled me together with the other students and issued me a tablet I must take when I arrive home. He prescribed two eye drops different from the ones I got from Connaught Hospital. Those set of eye drops I was told I should induce for the rest of my life. I did a research on them both and I learnt that they were the actual medication fitting for my eyes. The dosage from Connaught Hospital was insignificant and irrelevant to my situation. I learnt about everything when I was at Chinese Hospital.

This experience dared me to have a denigrating mental perception of Connaught Hospital. I was grateful on the premise that the Chinese Hospital was around. But also, I remember how well the inefficiencies of that hospital may have disorganize the health and lives of the less unfortunate ones who were not in a position like mine. This is my experience at Connaught Hospital.

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