Waking up early has never been my thing. Much as I love watching the orange sun rays pierce through the fog that blankets the swamps bordering the Northern Bypass on my way to work, I often hit the road long after the mist has evaporated into the air and all that is left is honking cars and swerving Boda-bodas. “Wake up at 5:30am everyday” has been on my To-do list every year since I read 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People 9 years ago, but somehow this one habit still eludes me. I do have good weeks here and there, where I am up doing a few sit ups and squats by the time the alarm rings, feeling on top of the world, but the next morning comes and washes progress away. This was one of those days. I successfully snoozed my alarm clock 16 times until it was 6:45 o’clock. My friend always tells me to leave alarm clocks alone.
“Alarm clocks don’t work… you can always reach out and snooze or switch it off,” she says.
“Yeah?” I say.
“Yeah, you have to train your mind to wake up a certain time. That way your body gets used to it, soon it becomes part of you,” she says.
I have put vaccinating against Hepatitis B off so long, but since the year is wrapping up soon, I thought to tick one thing off the To-do list. I got to Norvik hospital in Wandegeya at 8:15 a.m. I was one of their first 7 visitors that day and by the time I left at 10:00am, I felt like we were all family. Like I knew these people. I could tell that the front desk officer was exhausted from saying the same thing to 100 different people, but she was still trying to keep her cool, throwing a smile back and remembering her courtesies, the cashier in that little booth whose only interaction with the outside world was through the little box window made for exchanging money and receipts. I could tell she was a light hearted person. The kind that could not keep a grudge. The lab attendant, who I coincidentally knew from another life, another clinic, reminded me of Whitney’s song, I’m Every Woman. She is a perfect picture of a beautiful woman in her 40s, even if the lines across her forehead, the graying hair on her head, the slight hunch of her back and the creases on corners of her eyes suggest that she is well beyond 40. An elegant and poised woman. The walls felt familiar, the peeling blue paint and the chipped tiles felt like home.
I did not think much of it before she drew my blood and asked me to wait in the corridor for 15 minutes. It is standard procedure, get screened for the virus, then take the shot. But when she said, “Okay, wait for your results, if they are negative, you will go back to the cashier and pay for the vaccine” the possibility of having Hep B occurred to me. It wasn’t going to be just 15 minutes, then results, It could potentially be the beginning of a totally twisted reality.
First, I thought of all the possible ways I could have contracted it. All the taxis I had taken with particularly sweaty neighbors, all the hugs, the swimming pools, the handshakes, the queues at the market with people who had no knowledge of personal space. Then I went to all the times I had put off getting it done in the past, how I could have saved my life if I hadn’t procrastinated.
In the 6th minute, I thought the impact positive results would have on me. Daily medication, dietary restrictions and that thing that looms over your head when you are carrying a virus in your body.
My paranoia had taken the wheel by the 10th minute. Could all this be a hoax? Something engineered by a pharmaceutical industry somewhere in America to sell medicine and mint dollars from unsuspecting Africans? Could I be falling into someone’s trap right now? What had prompted me to get tested anyway? You can say that precaution is better than cure, that it is in everyone’s best interests to get vaccinated against Hepatitis B, but jabs still hurts all the same.
Twelve minutes later I realized that I had held my novel open for the duration of the wait without actually reading it… I hate when I do that, cart around a large book and keep it open to one page with my finger and not reading it. It makes me feel showy. I keep telling myself to stop. Do not carry the book around if you won’t read it, but hey! I work all day, sleep all night and traverse Kampala all weekend, when else am I going to find knowledge if not for stolen moments?
I was observing the patients in the hospital during the 14th minute when I saw this Indian guy who looked really ill. His movements were slow and contemplated. It looked as though he calculated the distance his right foot would afford him and how closer it made him to his destination, to the laboratory. He clutched his stomach with little effort, not like he had much left in him. When he got closer, I noticed the cracks on his lips and the redness of his eyes. He wore sandals that revealed pale brown legs whose toes were generously donned with both white and black hair. I hoped it was not Hep B that had left him this powerless. That it was a random fever or food poisoning that that leeched the life out of him. Nothing an antibacterial kit couldn’t fix. He disappeared into the lab and his image was replaced by the nursing mother who had taken a seat right opposite me. Her baby had an bandage tied to its left hand. Hers got replaced by the portly young woman who was now standing at the cashier’s booth. Maroon braids, red jeans and large black sun glasses. Another and another. The character of hospitals, everything else stays the same but the people. There were over 20 patients in the tiny corridor and all the white metallic chairs were occupied by now. I had long forgotten about Hep B when the lab technician handed me my results. I sighed then quickly flipped the sheet over to reveal the printed side.
Something about hospitals that makes them both familiar and indifferent.