It was after sunset, when we headed downtown, pass the Presidential Palace to the ‘Hopital Principal de Dakar’. It was founded in 1890 and received generous funding by the French government at the time. It belongs to the network of Great Colonial Hospitals built by the French in their former colonies. It started out as a military hospital for French citizens living in Senegal. There was a guard at the entrance who raised the boom to let us in and we turned right and continued along the circular driveway.
I was on my way to visit my friend’s father, Mr. C who was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I was dreading the visit, as hospitals can be depressing places.
Here, it was quiet and there weren’t many people around. It had a calm, peaceful, serene atmosphere. The first building was a two-storey building, a corridor on the ground floor with a balcony framed with colonial arches on the upper floor. It reminded me of a colonial style hotel in the Caribbean. As we drove around the circular road, we saw tropical gardens with gently, swaying palm trees and concrete white benches, which provided lovely areas to sit and relax. The buildings were all painted white and in colonial style with archways, long corridors and French style shuttered doors.
We easily found a place to park and I got ready to enter the ward. We climbed a few stairs and walked along the ‘Allee d’Iles des Madeleine’. This open corridor was named after a group of islands off the west coast of Dakar – Iles de la Madeleine (Isles of Madeleine). Due to their barren nature, they are rumoured to harbour evil spirits. In spite of that they are good for hikes and walks for nature lovers. It is also on the waiting list to become a UNESCO Heritage site.
Impressive that the corridors had names, so even if you collapsed you would be able to say exactly where you were and be found really quickly. In order to get the room we needed, we turned right at wooden, green box with “Boite des Idees” written in white capital letters. It was the equivalent of a Suggestion Box. Out of curiosity, I opened it to see if anyone had left any suggestions. It was full of cobwebs from the last century…. perhaps. Maybe that’s why the hospital seemed in order, they had already read the suggestions and acted upon them.
Passing the main nurse’s station we shook hands, greeted the male nurse, as is typical Senegalese fashion. We walked along the clean and tidy corridor and went right through some large, wooden formica doors. It was a room for two male patients, but each part was like a rectangular cove so each had a modicum of privacy. The walls were a crème with proper ceiling fans and furnished with a a simple bedside table. Mr. C was in the second half of the double room. He was seated on the edge of the bed dressed in black silk pyjamas. The last time I had seen him was at Mont Rolland, for his mother’s funeral. She was the woman who converted to Catholicism very late in life. His wife was seated next to him, dressed in a white cotton Senegalese long dress and head wrap. She was looking a little tired but Mr. C seemed in good spirits. We could hear his roommate’s radio playing. There was no curtain or door separating the two coves. He was listening to the latest Senegalese wrestling match. It was the season for that. This sparked animated conversation with Mr. C explaining the Senegalese wrestling scene to me, which always reminded me Sumo wrestling -african style.
Mr C, my friend and I decided to go for a stroll so that he could stretch his legs. It was a daily ritual with a father and his son. He was able to get up and walk on his own. I was impressed and heard it was the first time he was actually able to do it on his own without any help. We strolled along the corridor called “Allee d’Ile de Goree”. Goree Island is another island off the coast of Dakar. This one is inhabited, much bigger and a UNESCO heritage site. It served as the point of no return for slaves being transported to the West Indies. It is now a well-visited tourist site for those passing through Dakar. It is a 15 minute ferry ride from downtown Dakar.
Our stroll was short but pleasant and a reminder that there are some good hospitals in Dakar and this is one of them. I discovered that it was also well equipped and renown in Dakar for being a good public hospital, particularly for emergency medicine. Here’s hoping Mr. C keeps getting better.