The Fear Of Getting Sick In Cairo

“Getting treated at the hospital is how you are going to die.”

Being constantly sick in Cairo

Out of the 7 weeks I spent in Egypt, I was sick for 4 weeks. Half of the time I didn’t even know why I was sick. A logical assumption would be the food. My stomach hurt all the time, I was puking, having diarrhoea and fever. Several times I was so dehydrated that I couldn’t get out of bed for the whole day.

Getting sick in a foreign country is scary. You are not familiar with the healthcare system nor the charges. Thankfully I was with a dozen of Egyptian friends. So many nights I was having a fever, they brought me soup and medicines from pharmacies and stayed with me the whole night.

However, no matter how many times I asked them to take me to the hospital as no one should be puking and having a fever for 2 weeks, they refused every single time. Frustrated, I still chose to trust them, the ones who grew up here in Cairo.

Why is everyone afraid of the hospitals in Cairo?

One night, my friend brought over lentil soup and breadsticks. Too sick to even stand up or speak, he looked at me and said,

“I know you want to go to the hospital. But you will die if you go.”

Confused by a sentence I never thought I’d hear. He kept talking. A decade ago his 13-year-old cousin had a fever from a flu. Thinking it was the seasonal flu, his family took him to the hospital for meds.

“He never made it out alive and no one told us what went wrong.”

He didn’t want to take me to the hospital because he once lost his beloved family member in the very same place that was supposed to save him from a regular flu.

It wasn’t a singular unfortunate event as I thought it was. Some days later I felt better and went for a ride with another friend from Giza. On our ride, I told him I was close to going to the hospital but a friend stopped me.

“They killed my sister there. Nobody goes to the hospital when they are sick”

His sister had an asthma attack 10 years ago. Ran out of inhalers, she called the ambulance herself and was seemingly fine before leaving with her help. The medics failed to do their job in time to save her, according to him.

Fuelled by anger, he burnt down part of the hospital and got into trouble for that. Time didn’t seem to ease his rage either, he was still as emotional when he told the story to me after 10 years.

An unexpected visit to the hospital in Hurghada

Sensing a similar pattern, most Egyptians in Cairo I met had a fear of going to the hospitals. Everyone had a story of someone dying in the hospital over something seemingly manageable if sent in on time.

What killed them? That’s a mystery of it all. In every story, it only ended with,

“Oh, they just died.”

No one got an answer. Maybe that’s what fuelling the hate and fear for the hospitals. They never knew what happened on the fateful night that changed their lives.

Empathising with their fear, I abandoned my thoughts to pay a visit to the hospital, although curious with the situation there. It wasn’t until in Hurghada when our friend dislocated his shoulder that we had to go to the hospital with him.

A nice experience, friendly and professional staff. They fixed my friend up real quick and charged him the local price.

Taking this up to my Egyptian friends, they only smiled and shrugged their shoulders,

“Yeah, because it’s not Cairo.”

How did this happen?

What makes the hospitals in the capital so infamous that locals would rather take their chances at home? That’s a question I would be willing to find out. Sadly I was sick the whole time in Cairo that I never had the energy to find out more.

Reading up on the news and stories from friends, the main factors are the hospitals being grotesquely underfunded, staff not receiving proper training on both practical and ethical issues, equipment are outdated and rarely get replaced….The worst of all, in general, Cairo just isn’t the cleanest place.

I don’t know the exact factors contributing to a lot of the incidents without checking the place myself so I’m very willing to be proved wrong.

Everyone should have access to healthcare facilities and feel safe doing so. Healthcare shouldn’t be a luxury. It’s been a decade since most of the incidents I heard happened. I should hope those unfortunate events in the past will stay in the past and one day my friends will tell me the normal thing to do when you are sick is to pay a visit to the hospital.

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