Tuesday, February 7, 2012


 Cross-posted from Joel in Zambia


All nurses know what this acronym means. Transient Ischemic Attack. It's that time Grandpa Joe started having trouble forming words and suddenly couldn't see out of his right eye. Off he went to the hospital but, before you knew it, his symptoms subsided and he was as good as new. A TIA is a narrowing or blockage of a blood vessel in the brain that comes to pass without causing sustained damage.

On this side of the world, however, TIA means something entirely different.

TIA. This is Africa.

Before we had even left Canada, we were already hearing the phrase "TIA". When a prof couldn't satisfyingly answer a question about Zambia, the answer would often be "TIA". When we wondered why TD debit cards wouldn't work in Zambia, we would hear "TIA".

But when I actually arrived in Africa, I stopped hearing the phrase. Zambia was this wonderful, new, exciting, green, humid, sunny wonderland and the differences exhilarated me. I wondered, why do people get so caught up with TIA? Things are just funny and quirky here!

Fast forward a few weeks. Things are less funny and quirky. "I need to charge my camera but the power is out!"... TIA. "Since when is mayo a pizza sauce?"... TIA. "Why are we so caught up in protocols when we need to act fast in the hospital?"... TIA. "How can a clinic that serves over 15,000 people only have three RNs on staff?"...TIA.

TIA was seeming less like a catchy phrase and more like a catch-all excuse. I became upset. Instead of those silly letters, I wanted answers. Seriously now, why does the hospital run this way? Why are there so few staff? Why is nobody responding to the emergencies? Why isn't this more like home?

And that's when it hit me. This isn't home. It's not Canada, it's not British Columbia, and it's not Kelowna. This is Africa. And to imply that it is not as good as home is to be about as ethnocentric as a tourist can be.
Zambia is not Canada and the problems that arise cannot be addressed from an international standpoint. In the hospital, for example, there are some donated pieces of cutting-edge technology that are gathering dust. Why? Because there isn't the staffing required to take advantage of it. And the staff that are there do not necessarily have the training needed. The issues that have surfaced cannot be solved with quick and dirty fixes. Everything here is multifaceted. A fancy infant warmer is a fabulous donation but if the staff aren't trained in its use then it will fall by the wayside.

As I have gained more insight into this country and, more specifically, this hospital, I have gotten a better idea of what TIA actually means. It isn't a catch-all excuse. It's a change of perception. Drop your preconceptions and look around you. This isn't Canada. This is Africa.

Transient Ischemic Attack. This is Africa. They aren't terribly dissimilar, in fact. A temporary blockage in the brain that affects how you act and how you perceive. In time, it passes and you regain your function. My actions and perceptions have been clouded with how things are done in Canada but, for now, this blockage is coming to pass.

Afterall, TIA.

- Joel

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