Stories from Afar & Up Close

Egypt, Umm al-Kafkawiyya...

Saturday morning, at Kasr el Aini hospital in Garden City, Cairo.

(In Arabic) “I would like to see a doctor.” Woman at the door: “3rd floor”.

First two elevators don’t work. Third one around the back does. Long hallways with old, dirty tiles. Follow the red arrow to the Out Patient Clinic. End up in Radiology. Follow the black arrow to Neurology. End up in Out Patient Clinic. See hallways full of people in niqaabs and gallabiyas. Realize that this is probably not the hospital my friend recommended. But I’m here and it hurts, so let’s keep going.

Room with a secretary and eight other people trying to give her paper slips in different colors.

“I would like to see a doctor.” “Room to the left, pay first.” In the room to the left. “I would like to see a doctor.” “What for?” Shit, forgot to look up the word for kidney. Point at my back. “Your back?” “No, inside.” “Your stomach.” “No, the other side.” Why can I only remember the word for liver? Shall I try that? No. Turn around, walk into the hallway. Cry. Receive an sms from a friend; “Everything ok? You need anything?” “Yes, the word for kidney!” “Kelya, plural kela.”

Back to the room to the left. “I would like to see a doctor for my kidneys.” Pay 75 pounds. Get a pink paper on which I have to write my own name in Arabic. Back to the room with the secretary. My name is entered in a big book. A nurse takes me by the hand, walks me to the end of the hallway, sits me down between all the other people and tells me to wait. Many people come and go in the room that says ‘kela’. Forty minutes pass. Lady to my right who smiled at me twice suddenly pushes me through the door when two guys come out. Friendly doctor who speaks English diagnoses a kidney infection. Writes down seven lab tests/ultrasounds she wants me to have done. Prescribes insanely strong antibiotics.

Laboratory is on the 1st floor. Walk down. Find the reception, hand over the paper. Get a white paper. Across the hall to the cashier. Pay 92 pounds. Get a green paper. “Go to the computer.” Guy behind the computer gives me my original paper with some stickers and my name transliterated from Arabic back into English. Across the hall for the sampling room. “We need urine.” Find the toilet, get blocked by cleaning lady. “This is for men. The other door is for women.” Door has a sign that says ‘Way Out.’
Go back to the room across the hall. Get blood samples done.

Back to the 3rd floor for the ultrasounds. Follow the purple arrow, end up in Out Patient Clinic again. Sent to the other side of the building. Told to wait in the waiting room. After 20 minutes, ask a nurse what’s happening. “We don’t do ultrasounds on Saturday. Go to the 8th floor.” Back to the elevators. “These elevators only go to the 7th floor. Go down to 1st, then back up to 8th.” Switch elevators on the 1st floor. Up to the 8th floor, surgery and maternity ward. “Are you fasting?” “No.” “You need to fast for 6 hours or we don’t do an abdominal ultrasound. Go to the 3rd floor, they’ll do it.” No one at the 3rd floor anymore. Go down to the 1st floor, follow black arrow to Exit, end up in Mosque. Turn around, follow arrow to Surgery, find yourself in the main hallway.

Walk out. Get prescription filled at a nearby pharmacy. Go home. Spend the rest of the day in bed dreaming of Kafka.