Peace Corps, Ponders
Comments 4

Hospital Visits + ‘White’ Privilege(?)

I’m allergic to avocados. As a matter of fact, I’m allergic to most fruits. However, as my diet here is super limited, I’ve learned to concoct a mixture of allergy medicine to control my reactions.

Vegetables here are limited to cabbage, potatoes, (wrinkly) bell papers, and tomatoes, while fruits here have a bit more variety. Depending on the season, we’ll have apples, pears, bananas, clementine, and, you guessed it! Avocados!

So. I eat avocados here sometimes. Apparently, there’s a method to the madness of pitting avocados. I was not aware of said method and have consistently butchered many an avocado during my time here.

Last weekend, my attempt ended with a sharp paring knife halfway through a part of my palm, followed by a strange delirium that I’ve never experienced before.

Even though, in theory, I know basic first aid (pressure on wound, disinfection, etc), after I realized how deep the puncture was, I froze.

I ran to the sink to rinse the wound, felt searing pain in what felt like the depths of my bones, and immediately stopped rinsing.

Then, I realized my water source comes from the Kavango River – ‘rinsing’ my wound probably made it worse.

I grabbed some towels to put pressure on the cut, but then I panicked.

I started feeling SUPER light headed, then nauseous. Then MORE light-headed! It didn’t make sense to me because it certainly didn’t seem like I had lost that much blood yet. I called the Peace Corps Medical Officer, she told me to have some sugar water, I stood up to get some apple juice, and fell to the ground. Ell-oh-ell.

On the ground, I stayed.

They call is vasovagal syncope, I hear. Fainting as a result of shock to the body.

PCMO assured me that I’d be okay, so after I felt better to stand up, I got up, ate the avocado, and removed the towel.

Blood gushed out, yet again.

I sent a picture to a Nigerian doctor I befriended who lives in town, and she told me to get to the State Hospital immediately for sutures.

This was my first time at Rundu State Hospital. Volunteers usually visit the private medical center, but as it was past 2100, the center wasn’t open. While Rundu Medical Center is more modern, posh, even, to many, Rundu State Hospital is a huge complex that checks off all 3rd world country stereotypes of run down, unsanitary, death-bed hospitals.

I arrived around 2130 to lines and lines of people waiting, open triage areas, flickering yellow lights, and the occasional puddle of blood on the ground. No joke.

I walked to the front of the waiting area to meet a Cuban surgeon, asked for two sutures, and he said he’d be with me in 5 minutes. I asked if I should join the line; he ushered me to a seat towards the front of the line.

I was convinced I’d be waiting for at least an hour.

Lo and behold, 5 minutes later, he called me into a room, occupied by a man with bandages all over once side of his head and a nurse attending to him. I had unknowingly stepped on some diluted splatters of blood on the ground following this surgeon, Dr. Solano.

“It was just a car accident,” he said, as I waited awkwardly in this stranger’s, well, essentially, operating room.

After Dr. Solano grabbed some tools, he ushered me into another room, laid down one of those sterile blue pads on the slightly slanted, very stained examination table, and boosted me up to sit on it.

He gave me two stitches with ‘sterile’ instruments and sent me on my way with an antibiotic and some ibuprofen. He’d ask for my medical passport, of which I know nothing about, so he shrugged and let me go.

No questions asked. No payments given.

I was in and out of the emergency room in less than 15 minutes.

In what world in the states is anything hospital / medical related ever that efficient and easy? Yet.. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t and never will be that efficient and easy for the 60+ people in line that I had passed.

I very obviously cut at least 60 people in line. Now, I’m not sure what kind of treatment they were waiting for, but if my experience wasn’t preferential treatment, I don’t know what is.

Today, I came back to get the stitches removed. I arrived a bit past 0900 and was out by 0923. If I was overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and abundance of bodies when I came in last, I was aghast today. Every waiting seat was taken; those without seats occupied the floor, some lying down and sprawled out in walkways. As I nudged my way through the desk where I met Dr. Solano last, I was overcome by a mixture of smells that made me queasy, a combination of awful body odor, rust, and alcohol.

By the end of my walk through the waiting area, I felt nauseous – that’s how unsanitary it smelled.

When I reached the front desk and couldn’t find Dr. Solano, I sent him a text, and within 5 minutes, he’d arrived.

He cut my stitches, and sent me on my way. In and out.

Part of me is very grateful that he was so accommodating and kind. We greeted each other with a hug despite only briefly meeting last weekend. Another part of me feels somewhat strange; I’m pretty sure I was given preferential treatment, whether it was because he felt we had more in common, we were both foreigners in a host country, I spoke better English, whatever it was.

There were people waiting there probably since dawn, and yet, I sauntered in and was seen almost immediately.

Something didn’t sit right, and still doesn’t, but what to do?

And, you know what these experiences reminded me of? White privilege.

It exists, whether you want to believe it or not. I can’t speak to the black disadvantage, but I know that exists, too.

I don’t worry about wearing a hoodie, or driving, or being perceived as threatening or dangerous, simply by my existence.

Being Asian-American, I experience a different kind of racism. The “wow, your English is really good” racism, the “you’re not really American – what are you really?” racism, the “you must be so good at math”, “teach me Chinese. Ching chang chong – what did I just say?”, “racist? But everyone loves Asians, they’re the model minority” racism.

That’s been my reality my entire life. Yet, today, I experienced something I can’t say I’ve ever experienced before, or maybe I have, and I just didn’t know it. Perhaps I shouldn’t call it ‘white privilege’, but it was some kind of privilege, and as much as I don’t want it to be true, I know it is. It’s having things a bit easier simply because of who you are, easier than what others have to go through.

I waited, oh, 5 minutes. Everyone else? Well, indefinitely.

A solution to my uneasiness? I’m not sure. I joined the line, I was willing to wait (even though I didn’t want to – a very slippery slope, methinks); I was told to leave the line, that I didn’t have to wait (yay!).

So, I’m talking about it and sharing it with you, whether you agree with my reflections and thoughts not. I think talking about it is a good first step, no? Acknowledging that something is off in the first place is important, right?

Friends of all colors, if you don’t know how to act in a certain situation, talk about it. I’ve found it’s helped me a lot in navigating social situations not just in the States, but in this very foreign place that also won’t accept me as American. It’s a conversation that gets tiring, sure, but a conversation that has proved fruitful in so many instances.

Long story short – slicing your hand open and lead to very interesting revelations about race. Lawls.

Some links for your perusal:

k, that’s all. Happy April!

-kv

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4 Comments

  1. Remi Coker says

    Thank you for your story Kimmi! It indeed does smack of “White privilege,” or more perhaps closer to what was going on, classicism. I think that’s kind of the unifying concept….that there are a multitude of ways in which you may have been perceived that resulted in preferential treatment, because you were clearly of a different class (and race) than those around you. It’s an icky, twisted feeling.

  2. Kofi Babone says

    Also feeling this and appreciating your thoughtfulness about it. My experiences as a Ghana PCV were much less dramatic than your story (yikes!), but yeah. I remember being offered the much-to-be-desired front seat of a taxi, only to realize the guy who’d have to give it up was about seven feet tall. ‘Sir, please sit back down.’ Nowadays, I do get teeny chances to pay it back a little when I meet Ghanaians here in the States. I love the photo of your swearing-in. It brought back waves of nostalgia. That’s so much how it felt to me, although our photos from those days weren’t quite so crystal-clear. I know it can be tough – stay strong. Good luck.

  3. Yes..you experienced privilege…it isn’t color based but social status based in most countries. Americans seem to have the market on race-based privilege.
    We experienced it in Guatemala at a hotel waiting for a taxi. People ahead of us in line had to wait while they tried to get my husband and me into the first one. I said NO and stood in the line where I felt I belonged. Sometimes, like with your hand, it can be a good thing. I mean, if I were waiting in a hospital and wasn’t obviously having heart failure or bleeding out, I wouldn’t mind should someone “classier” than I go first if they are bleeding. That is triage, not privilege. You can figure that if it makes you uncomfortable when it happens, it is being done for the wrong reasons.At that point you have the choice to not go along with it or to just go with the flow. I always choose to point it out, gently if possible, and refuse to go along with it. Until everyone is treated the same, no one is free.

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