Week one of our DukeEngage adventure in Egypt came to a close tonight eating a wonderful dinner with Judge Ayman Fouad and some American University in Cairo students. The past week has been a whirlwind of novel views, smells, and a constant bombardment of street noise. Cairo is nothing of what I expected before I left the United States. An earthy color palette, mixed with exhaust from the overcrowded streets, an array of architectural styles, and a steady (merciless) amount of sunshine gives the city a look that I love.
My own personal “you’re not in Kansas anymore” moment occurred on our third night after an encounter with a Yemeni restaurant that resulted in an unfortunate case of food poisoning. Along with four other DukeEngagers, I spent the next day in bed. Though uncomfortable, this experience allowed me a unique glimpse into Egypt’s healthcare system. I think being sick in a foreign country caused me to be unnecessarily anxious, and so I decided to visit a local clinic. My first impression in my half-delirious, half-nauseous state was that the dust that is prevalent all over the city even makes its way into healthcare facilities. The building itself was old but well built. As I was led into an examination room, certain details, such as a lack of that overall “sterilization feeling” that I was used to at home, only added to my anxiety. The doctor who saw me was a friendly man who informed me that I was “100% American” whereas he was “50% American, 50% Egyptian.” After he poked my stomach for a bit and listened to my breathing, he told me I had “gastroenteritis,” the technical name for traveler’s stomach as I later learned from Wikipedia. He then told me I had three options: take medication, receive three injections plus a round of medication, or be admitted to the hospital to receive IV fluids since I could not keep food in my system. He advised me to choose the second option because the shots would allow me to keep food in my system long enough for the medicine to start working. I was prescribed four medications, “only four because I know Americans do not like taking too many medications,” and was sent on my way.
I hope to enter medical school after Duke, and one of the main reasons for my decision to enter into medicine is the conviction that the world will always be in need of more doctors. The differences in the practice of medicine between countries are something I hadn’t given much thought to previously. Working with our nonprofit partner here, Ana al-Misry, has led to further reflection on this topic. While playing with some of the younger children today, we were told not to touch one of the little girls because she has some form of skin disease that the employees are unsure as to whether it may be contagious. I began thinking about whether the kids at the organization receive routine check-ups at the doctor’s office, but when I inquired about the issue one woman told me the children see a doctor only when they are injured. This disheartening news threw more issues into sharp perspective for me, most of which I have not yet begun processing. I do know that with each day I spend in Cairo I realize the huge amount of luck I had in being born in the United States, a thought I had believed but not really known until now. Eventually I will decide where I want to practice medicine (inshaAllah), and these experiences have pushed me to consider a destination perhaps not so far from Cairo.