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Craiova, Oct 17 /Agerpres/ - Hisham Tageldin Mohamed Osman is a 43 year-old Sudanese man who became a family physician in the village of Fratila, part of the commune of Bulzesti, Dolj County, the birthplace of renowned Romanian writer Marin Sorescu. The Sudanese doctor with a name that is too complicated for the locals of Bulzesti to pronounce has got to work at Fratila because no other doctor would come to work there. In the beginning, he had to work in just one room, with no waiting room, no equipment, in a place unattractive to patients, buy now the village has the only 24/7 medical centre in the county that has an ambulance and serves more than 8,000 people in the area.
The doctor feels here like home, especially because in 1995 he married a nurse from the commune of Mischii, where they are living, and they have a son, Iosif, 15, who wants to become a surgeon. He says he is one of the foreigners in love with Romania and that he would not leave Romania for more than one and a half month to raise money to bring more equipment for the medical centre. Yet, he has not forgotten about his birthplace. He would like to work in a poor area of the Sudan, where to set up a similar medical centre, before retiring.
A talented storyteller, resembling a character out of the pages of Marin Sorescu's poems, Dr Hisham Tageldin tells AGERPRES about how he arrived in Romania in 1988, how he moved from Iasi to Craiova, where the weather was warmer, how hard it was to him in the first years here when he was not allowed to communicate with any Romanian, and also how he got to treat the people of Bulzesti.
'I arrived in Romania in the old times, in the communist era. The Sudan back then was also led by a communist and military regime and both countries had treaties and scholarships for students. I passed the Baccalaureate examination and I was considering studying Medicine somewhere, so I decided to come and study it in Romania as a Sudanese student. (...) That is how I arrived in Romania in November 1988. I studied Romanian language for one year. In the beginning, everything was hard: the climate was harsh, the language was hard; everything was very hard, especially because back then there was no freedom, there were no products in the stores and we were not allowed to talk to Romanian citizens. There were restrictions and automatically everything was hard - you were not allowed to talk to a Romanian and no Romanian was allowed to talk to you. We were just eyeing each other and that was all. My communication would end with the end of Romanian classes. I was talking only to the Romanian teacher. My first stop in Romania was in Suceava. The campus and the language institute were in the same yard. I would leave the campus on foot and in three minutes I would get to the classroom,' the doctor says.
His story continues. 'Little by little, I started learning Romanian (...) After a preparatory year, I took the language test and opted for a first year of Medicine in Iasi. I stayed there for one year. There, I was part of a larger group, of 10-11 students, both boys and girls, but our relations would end with the end of classes. That was mandatory. I remember very clearly that I became friends with a boy named Cristi because he would help me a lot, since despite my one year of Romanian language, I was still not fast to write the entire course. Attendance was mandatory. We became friends in that he would communicate with me in class and let me copy from him. And that is how hardships started because I once was caught with him in the streets, once I visited him at home and he was fined, I was fined as well, that was a difficult regime to us. He did not need me in the least, but I needed him because he helped me. Instead of having to open a dictionary to look up a word, I would ask him fast. (...) I completed my first year in Iasi, but to us winter was very harsh there. From the Committee of Sudanese Students I found out that if you did not want that cold area, there were warmer places in the south, where there was also a university centre where Sudanese students were studying, and if you went and filed a transfer request you might be accepted for transfer. The south would be even closer to Bucharest City, where we had to go each month to pick up our grants. Because it was warmer there and closer to the capital city so that I may run quicker to get the grant, I moved to Craiova a second year student. Craiova would also be full of foreign students. In the Sudan, there is quite a solid percentage of doctors who graduated from medicine universities in Romania. In one hospital of the Sudan, all doctors speak Romanian, especially when they do not want the patient to understand what "these guys are talking about" [he laughs]. About ten in 13 doctors on duty have graduated in Romania,' Dr Hisham Tageldin Mohamed Osman tells us as his landline phone rings continuously.
He graduated from the Medicine Faculty of Craiova in 1995 and decided to return to his home country, but because of the regime there and war, he returned to Romania.
'When I got in the 3rd year, the communist regime had already ended and we started befriending families of Romanians, boys and girls, and we had quite a large group. You could now go to the barber's shop without any worry, because previously you would go and had to have a quick haircut and say no word. Now, the restrictions were no more. I met a girl and I promised to marry her. But after I graduated from the Medicine Faculty, I realised that I had no chance to find a job. I was Sudanese and I had no clue about how the Romanian healthcare system was operating. I knew the steps to becoming a doctor in the Sudan, but the steps in Romania I did not know them. And I left for the Sudan after concluding my marriage. I told my wife: I will leave now to see how things work and come back to bring you with me. Unfortunately, in the meantime I had become accustomed to democracy in Romania, for in the four years after the anticommunist revolution of 1989 the country opened up. There were various opportunities, you would easily find whatever you needed, there was freedom and pleasant things. I was young, it was not about having fun, but you could walk the streets without a problem, without being asked what you were doing. If you wanted fast food you would get it, if you wanted a soft drink you would get it, so nothing compared to what had been previously,' he says.
When he returned to Sudan, he found his home country the same as Romania used to be before 1989: under a military regime; his first step he had to take would have been to join the army, because nobody would give a damn about his university diploma.
'There was war between the north and the south and they would send doctors there, especially European graduates to teach them how to become men. They would say 'you are too weak from the good life you found there, so you go to war first.' Some accepted and some guys I knew died in the war. Then my parents told me that I had not studied Medicine just to let myself be killed by a bullet. On the other hand, I could not start up my medical career without having undergone military training. And it was then that I decided to leave Sudan again. I stayed there in 995-1996, and in 1996 I returned to Romania based on my marriage certificate, because nobody would have granted me the visa otherwise. They kept me waiting for three months to check the documents, and in the end they let me return to Romania,' the doctor remembers.
In the beginning it wasn't easy for him in Romania either, because he didn't have Romanian citizenship, and he had to wait for days on end at the doors of the Ministry of Health.
'I said that I'll do the work voluntarily if it is necessary, but they said there is no volunteering regime, if you enter the system you get a work card, a salary. In the end I managed to work as an intern in 1996-1997 in the Craiova Hospital. When I started working there with dr. Maria Homeag I liked it. Even if I had my internship in another place, when I finished my work I would quickly go down to the emergency room. And I liked it. And I started getting ambitious, I started having rounds that I would do without having to wake up Ms. Doctor at all', he says.
In 1996 he submitted a request for obtaining the Romanian citizenship and waited for an answer for three years. When he finally received his citizenship, he took the Official Journal and went straight to the Sanitation Department and the College of Physicians.
'Both doctors Bondari (e.n. - Andrei Bondari, the head of the Dolj Public Health Directorate - DSP, at that time) and Dobrescu (e.n. - Doru Dobrescu, chairman of the College of Physicians at the time) will never forget me, because I gave them quite a headache. They had sent me to work in Mischii as a general practitioner, in an unlicensed office that had no amenities. And then, together with the mayor, we took action and built a true doctor's office and naturally people stopped going to the dispensary, because they would prefer to come to that doctor's office. (...) In 1999 they were new jobs made available for doctors and they sent me to another commune - Dranic-Padea, where the doctors waited me with a bat in his hand, for he said that I was 'coming to replace me.' That happened especially because the insurance law was about to come into force and they didn't want another doctor with them in the village. I went back to professor Bondari: Professor, I almost got beaten up!' And then he asked me: Where do you live?'. I live in Mischii', I replied, and he said 'Well, take the straight road from there until you find a place called Fratila, where no doctors wants to stay. Just go and see'. And that's how I arrived here. It was a disaster. No doctors would have stayed here', Hisham Tageldin says.
He slowly he integrated with the people in Fratila, later on getting his Medical Doctor degree, and in 2003 he started specialising in family medicine.
'There was a single room, the medical centre was in fact in Bulzesti, where the doctors were too, while in Fratila the doctor would come very rarely. The insurance law had already come into force by that time, so that the doctor in Bulzesti remained at his doctor's office there and I stayed in Fratila, establishing my own doctor's office here. We couldn't step on each other's bounds. The main problem is that there were only 300 people who were used to come here, while the rest went to Bulzesti. And with 300 people I wasn't allowed to conclude a contract with the Insurance Office. And then I said let's split the territory. The doctor in Bulzesti wanted to split the territory, but the patient didn't like that, for they didn't want to be treated in a single room, instead of going to a place that was fully furnished and where he/she could get quality services. We started doing measly renovations and the Health Inspection came with some observations and then they let us function. And it was like this that we developed from one room to two and a waiting room. We got lucky and the Commune Hall came with a proposal that they had some money and wanted to renovate the building. And in 2005-2006 they renovated the building and I said I'll open up a credit for medical equipment and furniture. We also started collaborating with some specialists, an internist, a cardiologist and then the people gained confidence knowing that if they come to us we will be able to actually treat them. Seeing that they receive other services as well here the people started departing from Bulzesti and this became the main core. Now most patients come here and it's the most frequented place. In December 2008 we introduced the permanency system, a 24/7 service and an ambulance system. In 2009 we brought in equipment - an oxygen tubing, a defibrillator, a birthing table if necessary and since then we are running properly, in the service of the people', the doctor says.
The 24/7 medical centre in Fratila, with 6 doctors and 6 nurses, now serves the Ghioroiu - Stirbesti (Valcea) commune, the entire Bulzesti areas, some villages in Motoci and Dobretu in Olt County, nearly 8,000 people. As a family doctor, he has on his list around 2,400 persons with health insurance from Bulzesti, Fratila and Mischii and because the medical centre has no legal forms, his own doctor's office has 20 employees, being the family medicine office with the highest number of employees in the county.
While the office sees no problems, due to most cases addressed to the family doctor being people with chronic illnesses who come after prescriptions on time, and the percentage of acute cases is small, the 24/7 centre has to keep up, through its staff and equipment, with the needs of the people, the only ones who can give value to the medical unit.
'I work with a team that wishes it could work more. In emergency medicine the doctor cannot choose the case, and anyone may come here. (...) We need more equipment and that means money. 24/7 centres work the same way from a financing point of view, because it doesn't matter what activity they have and that's a mistake, in my opinion. (...) If somebody tells us give us the ambulance back, we will do so, but we'll also lock up because we have worked for six months with no ambulance and we saw how useful it is to have one and how it is without one', he says.
And while the financial problems regarding equipment can't be fully solved by himself, even if he took out a 65,000 lei bank loan for equipment in the name of the office, Dr. Hisham Tageldin Mohamed Osman has started a program for the professional development of his employees.
The doctor says that people in the area - most of them old, without very high material possibilities and not much medical knowledge, but bona fide and helpful - are worth all the effort, and for him there is no greater satisfaction than to be useful to them.
'The distances between houses are large, the people are old. We go through 112 (e.n. - the emergency number and dispatch) but going costs money, you can't go with a stethoscope and a blood pressure metre, you go and make an EKG, you take his blood sugar level. In Craiova if you want to go to the hospital and don't have a car you call a cab and they take you from your apartment. I was actually thinking that instead of one car we need two, but this means to double the staff. These people may be poor, with little medical knowledge, but when the situation gets tough they don't leave you, if the car breaks down they won't leave you. If you get stuck in the snow you mustn't be afraid. And I was never afraid if my car broke down that I wouldn't be able to find any help. The people have a lot of common sense and they deserve the effort. The greatest satisfaction is being useful to others. I believe we all feel proud when someone asks us for help and we manage to do it and then we see the result of our hand given. That is we see that person getting better', says the doctor.
Most people don't know his name, but they call him doctor Black: 'I went to doctor Black and he treated me very well.' They have his phone number that they pass from hand to hand and when they call the doctor's office they just say that they want to speak with doctor Black. They won't know his real name. The doctor, whom everybody stands up to salute when he passes by on the street, knows that this nickname has nothing to do with racism and he remembers all kinds of funny situations he was faced with because of the colour of his skin since he became a doctor in Romania.
'In the city, whenever the young people meet a black person they tend to see it like some kind of an obstacle. Instead, for those who live in the country area seeing a black persons it is very shocking at first, the very moment when they enter the doctor's office and they see that he is black they are very shocked. There were many funny situations during my career because of the colour of my skin. For instance, I was once seeing an old lady and she kept touching my hands trying to wipe the colour off. And when I asked her: 'What is it that you are trying to do, Misses? 'Well, I'm just trying to see if sees colour could be wiped off.' Another time, early this January, I was working on the ambulance, for they told me: 'We need doctors on the ambulance and doctors to make consultations at the patient's home, would you do it, if we pay you?' And I said yes. And they sent me to a patient in Craiova, who was living in an apartment block. They said he can't breath. And so I took my bag and my oxygen tubing and I went to the man's house to check for his state and there I was able to tell at just once glance that he suffered from chronic bronchitis, for he was breathing really hard. And his wife were also very old, even if she seemed to be still in good strength. However, when he saw me entering, big, black and dressed like a paramedic, he started to pull his wife's dress and she was pushing him back and trying to make him keep his mouth shut. But in the end he said: 'Could be that this is death who came to take me away?' And then I told him: 'Mr, you want to know who I am?' 'No,' he said. 'I am a doctor.' And then I checked his state, I gave him miophilin, hemisuccinat, and when the man was finally able to breath again, I told him: 'Grandpa', who told you that death is black, for I thought it was white. Funny things like that happen,' said the Sudanese doctor.
Once in two years he goes to Sudan. His most recent visit there took place in August last year. He has two brothers and two sister, two of them still living in Sudan, one of his sisters lives in the USA and one of his brothers lives in the Arab Emirates.
The doctor is worried that in the next 10-15 years the Romanian villages will remain empty, unless the state makes them more appealing for the young people, through building roads, running water and water sewerage systems for them. He has witnessed no less than 60 deaths and just two birth since the beginning of the year, which is quite dramatic.
'There are no jobs available in the city, the same as there are no jobs here. However they could turn to practicing agriculture, if they benefited from proper conditions at home, such at hot water, heating, for the people are accustomed to a certain life standard. The number of deaths is very high. I had 60 deaths and 2 birth from the beginning of the year. And they die because of age, at 80 or 90. The most severe problem here is that the population gets old. There is need of serious projects,' he said.
Before retiring doctor Hisahn Tageldin Mohamed Osman wants to work in a poor area in Sudan where he wants to settle a healthcare centre the same as the one in Fratila. 'I sincerely want to work in a poor area in Sudan to help the Sudanese population, at least for 3-4 years before retiring. Before finishing my career, I want to establish place like that in Sudan,' he added.
Standing by the entrance of the 24/7 medical centre, the doctor saw a man around 50 years old passing by with his hand swollen and tied to his neck. 'Your hand doesn't look good at all. These bones are like beads [...] Come on in to see what is the problem...,' he told the man, and that's how the doctor took his patient in his care. AGERPRES
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