Bill here. I thought I’d write about my recent adventures in ophthalmology. First, the quick medical facts: a couple of days ago I had a vitreous hemorrhage associated with posterior vitreous detachment in my right eye. In other words, a blood vessel in my eye broke and the vision in my right eye went blurry. It appears, though, that the retina is OK. Assuming this is the whole story, it means I’ll have some blurriness in that eye for some weeks but it will eventually get back to normal. I can live with that.
Of course, when the blurriness began I had no clue what was going on. The clues came from Google and visits to two doctors in Kigali. The second doctor, whom I saw Tuesday morning at the King Faisal Hospital, used ultrasound to find the source of the hemorrhage. The exam and consultation cost a total of Rwf 20,000, less than $40. But the more interesting story is my visit Monday to the Kigali Eye Clinic, just a half-hour’s walk from where we’re staying.
I called the clinic around 9:15 in the morning and asked if I could have an eye exam sometime that day. The receptionist said I should come in between 9:00 and 10:00. So I hurried over, and found that they operate on a first-come, first-served basis. There were several people ahead of me, so it was about an hour’s wait, not bad for not having an appointment. I sat down in the very pleasant waiting room—a wall of glass and an open sliding glass door looked out on a garden full of flowers.
I was busy using the flowers to compare the vision in my two eyes, when a family with three young boys sat down in the chairs on both sides of me. At first the boys were occupied looking at pictures in the magazines, and possibly reading some of the French, and chatting occasionally in Kinyarwanda. At some point the dad brought me into the conversation by pointing to a picture of Barack Obama, and I said yes, I’m from the USA. He then pointed to various other dignitaries in the magazine, and the youngest boy, maybe six years old, correctly identified, by country, Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Angela Merkel. (He used the English words for the countries—those were the only English words I heard in the waiting room.) The kids also recognized Michelle Obama on another page. Then the dad came across a photo of a certain French writer named Philippe Delerm, with a caption in French about his recent work. He showed the page to the kids and said something in Kinyarwanda, and they all started laughing. I wondered how these kids, who were not speaking any French, knew anything about Philippe Delerm. After a few minutes, I finally figured out that they all thought Philippe Delerm looked exactly like me. The dad was apparently saying something like, “See this guy in the magazine? He’s sitting next to you!” (For the record, Philippe Delerm’s beard is totally gray, not merely graying.) Once I got the joke I laughed too.
Then they got to exploring the whole muzungu thing in more depth. (“Muzungu” means “white person.”) The dad pointed out to the kids that I had hair on my arms—Rwandans have none. They all had to feel the hair. Another dad with a much younger boy in his arms wandered over from across the waiting room just to show his son what a muzungu looked like. This was the scene when the doctor called me in.
Her office was much like the one I go to in Berkshire County, with similar, though less fancy equipment. She did a very thorough exam that cost me less than $20. And she called the doctor at the hospital to set up the ultrasound exam. By the time I was finished—there was a half-hour period of waiting in a separate, dark room, while my pupils were dilating—the family I had been sitting with had apparently seen the doctor and had disappeared.