Storytime -The accident prone traveller

So this story has been told to a lot of my close friends who have all laughed and wished I’d taken more pictures of the whole experience. Today’s blog post is the story of how I dislocated my shoulder in Tanzania!

In order to set the scene, I was on a 10 week ICS project in rural Tanzania in a group of 7 UK volunteers and 7 Tanzanian volunteers. We were doing a Raleigh livelihoods project (which I will do another blog post about) in a village that had maybe 2000 inhabitants. We had been living in homestays with different families around the village and living very basic lives. We had to collect our water and purify it, use long drop toilets and live without electricity (and torches after the batteries ran out in mine and I dropped the other down the toilet when I had sunstroke).

We were 3 or so weeks into our time in the village and things were going well. I’d had a minor head bump that made me worry I had concussion and sunstroke but other than that I had relatively little contact with the charity medics. Until the day I woke up with my shoulder in agony! I had previously dislocated and subluxated my shoulder on a few occasions over the past few years. However this pain just felt different, not like I’d pulled my muscles but an entirely different feeling.

I was adamant it was not dislocated, anyone who has met me would understand I am very stubborn and spent a lot of time in hospitals due to being very accident prone. I just couldn’t work it out though as I had just been sleeping and then I woke up with the pain. Initially, it was dismissed as me sleeping on it weirdly but by the afternoon and after some ibuprofen the medics decided I needed something stronger.

I was told to try Diazepan (commonly known as Valium) as it would relax my muscles and maybe it would roll or just get better. I took the tablet and within an hour I was asleep and very dazed. People came around to see me and I have no memory of speaking to them but I do remember thinking my shoulder was still uncomfortable and hurting.

Our in country medics spoke to the charity medics in the UK who decided I needed to have an x ray. The following morning when I said there had been no change, I was told I would be going to the local town of Vwawa (about 30 minutes away). My Tanzanian counterpart was told she would be coming with me to speak Swahili but when the taxi arrived my Team Leader got in and the taxi driver told me we would be going to Mbozi.

I had a lunch box of peanuts, biscuits and mandazi and I was given a painkiller for the journey. I think we set off about 12 noon and we thought it wouldn’t be a long time there. The first 45 minutes of the journey was along a rough road with a car with limited suspension and no seatbelts – thank god for the painkiller. I still think I cried in the car because it was painful and just so uncomfortable.

We arrived at the hospital and it was more run down than I expected. I’m not a diva and didn’t expect the UK standards but less blood on the floor and glass in the windows might have been more hygienic. We paid for my x-ray and waited for me to be called and it to be taken. After an hour a man in jeans and a t-shirt came and called me into a small room where we had my x-ray taken. After 5 minutes we were handed it in an envelope and we were told to wait for a doctor.

The taxi driver bought us some lunch which was the speciality street food of a chip omelette and I have never been so hungry as I was then. By now I could feel the pain medication wearing off and I was struggling to sit and stand. I was also struggling with the hoards of patients, doctors and nurses coming to stare at the ‘muzungu’ in the hospital. (white person) We had looked at my x ray and had joked that it looked like a shoulder and we were only waiting for a doctor to come and say that it looked fine.

Ironic really that after an 2 hours I was finally seen by a doctor, who upon seeing my x ray started shaking his head really fast and saying it was dislocated. However this was no normal dislocation, it was a posterior dislocation – normally sustained from electric shocks and affecting 2% of dislocations. It was pulled downwards rather than forwards or backwards.

So we were sent to another doctor for assessment, whilst we rang the medics and told them the ‘great’ news. After another hour, we were seen by this doctor who told me I would need to stay overnight and have a general anesthetic to reset my shoulder. Now I knew the drugs were long out my system and I was now in a lot of pain, but I did not want to spent the night in the hospital. So while my team leader was telling the medics, I was arguing with the doctor, until he finally gave in and accepted he would put my shoulder back in place that day with no pain relief. 

By this point it was coming up to 4pm and the charity wouldn’t let us drive at night (after around 6-7pm) so we were struggling with time. After only 25 minutes, the doctor came back with a milk bottle, took my very painful arm and popped it back in around the bottle. The pain was bad and shot through my arm and I was sent to the original doctor who checked it felt okay before finally sending us on our way. We did have to pay before we were allowed to leave but I think it cost about £5 and I was happy I got to keep my x-ray.

I desperately wanted chocolate and we stopped in a few places but didn’t manage to find any. I did however get some cake so it wasn’t all bad but I did have one of the scariest experiences in my life sat alone in the taxi. We then drove the 90 minutes home and I was relieved to get back into bed (although there’s less than 1 comfortable position with a dislocated shoulder)  after the crazy day I’d had. Almost 6 hours in a Tanzanian hospital, most of it in pain and when I’m trying to distract myself I will chatter constantly! Poor Team leader – I am sorry!

I ended up spending my 19th birthday with my arm in a sling. I also reluctantly messaged my family in the UK to tell them what had happened rather than them worry about the charity ringing them! (Sorry mum)


My 19th Birthday ice cream with the dreaded sling!

After all that, I spent 2 weeks resting it before my fatal mistake of using it again – meaning when I got back to the UK it popped again although hopefully for the last time with all my physio. Throughout those 2 weeks, I felt hopeless. Other people had to help me get dressed, fill up my water, wash my hair (in a bucket) cut my food up and even put toothpaste on my toothbrush. For me, it was one of the hardest times I’ve had and I’m thankfully for everyone around me who helped ‘el bandito’ through that time.

I hope this made some of you laugh. It certainly makes me laugh now and I have a whole host of other accident prone travelling stories for you to enjoy. For now please don’t make the same mistakes I did – like dislocating my shoulder in my sleep!!


One thought on “Storytime -The accident prone traveller

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s