PROFFESIONAL STIGMA – A DOCTORS STORY
Dr MM is no ordinary doctor; she combines well brains and beauty and is the doctor in charge of the districts level 2 and 3 health facilities of Makueni District Hospital where over 1000 TB patients are treated every year. It is not usual to see a doctor or medical personnel come out to speak out about their experience with any ailment and most of them prefer to keep silent. Thus it was surprising and shocking to hear the Doctor speak of her experience with Tuberculosis, especially the stigma she faced from her co-workers.
“Before being posted to Makueni, I was a general physician at Chuka District Hospital and I suspect it is here that I was exposed to the Tuberculosis germs from patients that I diagnosed. With my experience as a Doctor I at first had a general idea of what I was suffering from and I was convinced it was pneumonia or some other bacterial infection. Tuberculosis though was the last thing on my mind and this is when I realized that denial is not confined to non-professionals.”
“The symptoms before me were so obvious yet I deliberately ignored them, I was having night sweats, fever and of course eating was a problem because I had lost my appetite and to make it worse I was coughing heavily. I diagnosed myself with bronchitis” The Doctor sadly reflects.
After continuously taking antibiotics for a number of weeks without improvement .Dr MM decided reluctantly to go for the TB clinic where she was referred by another doctor
The diagnosis came as a shock and disbelief.
“To be honest, I was stigmatized. All kinds of thoughts crossed my mind and even now after being cured, I do not find it easy to reveal that I had suffered from TB apart from for a few friends. I went through the treatment religiously not because I wanted to but because of my professional background and the knowledge I had about drug resistance. The side-effects which include nausea, numbness of legs and sight problems were devastating and humiliating.”
“I remembered one day I went visiting and ran out of drugs and had to lie to the DTLC that a friend needed a dose just for the night .Being a doctor, I had no problem getting that dose but it showed how I was too stigmatized to accept my state.”
“I chose to be picking my drugs from another district hospital more than an hour away from my station because the nurse working in that particular clinic really mishandled me at a time when I was really down before she learnt that I was a doctor. She was very quick to look at my HIV status results because of the misconception that when you have TB then you automatically have the HIV virus. Actually from my experience I suppose we health workers are actually the biggest hindrance to the fight against stigma I learnt,” she laments.
“After disclosing to my fellow Doctors here at Makueni that I had Tuberculosis, I received a lot of support from them and they would pass through my house just to make sure that I had eaten and taken my drugs. Some people are lucky that God will always provide some nice people to look after them and I had that luck”.
Today Dr Maina is glad that she finished her treatment and is fully cured. Time does not allow her to be full-time TB advocate but having suffered from TB she has a soft spot for any patient who is having or is suffering from TB suffered.
After her experience with Tuberculosis, is she afraid of working with TB patients or in a TB setup?
“I don’t mind because I am not afraid of Tb anymore.” She concluded.