A crucial aspect of health responsibility is the early identification and reporting of changes and symptoms to a medical provider. Over the course of this year, through the relationships I have formed with Rwandans colleagues and students, I have learned that Rwandan people may not always be eager to report headaches, fevers, chills, or other suspicious changes right away. Many people I have known try to deal with it – to be strong – to remain quiet and take care of it on their own. But here is the thing: You may need medical attention right away and it is not worth risking your life or health because of the worry that others might think less of you. The longer you wait, you may be placing yourself in danger and causing unnecessary pain and discomfort.
I’ll give you two examples. I was once at a large presentation in Kigali. The leader of the program was sitting in the back of the room shivering, looking miserable and uncomfortable. At the end, he got to the front of the room and announced that he was not feeling well, that he had a headache and fever, but that he was stronger than those symptoms. The audience applauded him. He had been experiencing such complaints since the previous day. It later turned out he had malaria. Although he had won the respect of his colleagues because he was “strong”, he had also created substantial difficulty for himself, having to be hospitalized and facing a deeply uncomfortable trajectory. His malaria could have been treated much quicker and easier had he reported for medical attention for screening at his earliest symptom.
Another example happens worldwide and has to do with patients who have contracted HIV. Several months after unprotected sex, taking drugs with dirty needles, or any other behaviors that expose a person to the virus, they go through a process called seroconversion. This may involved swollen lymph nodes and “flu-like” symptoms including fever and chills. Because people may be ashamed of their behavior, or unknowledgeable that they have put themselves at risk for HIV, they do their best to deal with it alone and it make it through without having to report the symptoms. Little do they know that they are wasting time, not best tested and treated at a pivotal time in the disease process, which could improve their long-term outcomes and quality of life.
Taking health responsibility is about realizing that it is not all about you; it is about your family, community, friends, co-workers, children, parents, brothers, sisters, and so on. The people who love you and depend on you deserve your full attention to your own health. This means that when you make the choice not to receive medical attention in a timely manner, you put not only yourself at risk, but also their well-being. It doesn’t mean you’re weak – it means your smart. It won’t endanger you – it will protect you. And most of all, it will empower you to take action and protect yourself.
Billy Rosa is a Registered Nurse, Integrative Nurse Coach Visiting Faculty, University of Rwanda