I’m late on this one but hey, better late than never…
The year was 2014. I was interning at RMH (Rwanda Military Hospital). We (the interns) are introduced to a bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, which infects almost half of the world’s population and is now considered to be the most prevalent infectious disease known to occur in humans. But I had never heard of it before.
For as long as I could remember, my Dad had suffered from ulcers. So, I always wanted to do some research about gastric pathologies, though I didn’t know which in particular (cause I hadn’t quite understand his condition). And since there’s also a history of ulcers in the family, the bacterium caught my attention. When I finally learned about the bacterium, I talked to him about it. He told me some doctor had requested he get tested for it, and the result came out positive. The doctor then prescribed some antibiotics and that was it. I also realized that it had been years since I last saw him take his meds at night. I was relieved but still interested in the bacterium and learning more about it.
Fast forward to 2016, as a student in my final year, I had to present a research project before I graduated. From the very first time I’d heard of it, I knew that my dissertation was going to be about the bacterium. Hence, picking a research topic wasn’t hard because I’d already found one. I also was unhappy with what I saw on campus (precisely our department) as a growing number of theses were increasingly focusing on the same area, Parasitology (intestinal worms, to be precise). I wanted to do something different from everyone else’s.
For data collection, I applied for permission to collect the data at this institution that I won’t name. Initially, I was told that it would take 3 weeks to get clearance to carry out my research study (after ethics committee reviewed my proposal). After 3 weeks, I was told to wait another 3 weeks. 3 more weeks later, still there was no response. Carrying out a research study demands lots and lots of patience. I finally got clearance after a delay of 4 months (yeah, I’m very patient). You should have seen me exiting the office with the clearance letter.
I immediately went to the pathology department to present the clearance letter. The head of the lab, a woman who wasn’t helpful at all, suggested I come back the following Monday. The following Monday I was there, very early, with my lab coat and PC, very ready to begin my study. But she bounced me back. And for weeks, instead of helping me get what I wanted she kept giving me excuses…“This week is accreditation week, come back next Monday”, “We are very busy right now, come back next Monday”, one Monday morning while walking to her office she saw me sitting in the waiting room and immediately said to me “Not today, come back next Monday”. The world is full of excuses not to help someone (if you are interested), and she was excellent at finding them.
So, I was hammered with endless and pathetic excuses, but I wasn’t going to give up. Everytime she saw me enter her office, I swear she wanted to punch a hole in her desk. Hehe. I couldn’t understand why she kept tossing me around like a tennis ball. She’d asked for a confidentiality agreement and I’d written, signed and handed it over to her. I had a recommendation letter from my supervisor, a doctor (*and knows with confidentiality). Besides that, I’d clearance from the institution’s ethics committee. What else did she want? Blood of a virgin?! Or did I look like someone coming straight from a deep & isolated village with no Biomedical background at all?! Or maybe I seemed lousy to her, like I’d no notion of medical ethics. Like I would hold a meeting to discuss the data (read: patient records) with all my neighbors. Hehe.
Or maybe it seemed to her like she would be giving me the country’s top secret files or nuclear weapons launch codes. Haha. We are also bound by medical ethics, mama! I thought that with the clearance, she had no choice but to give me the data. But I was wrong.
After 4 extra months of more excuses and kissing ass, I was running out of time. My supervisor was constantly calling asking for my draft. It was clear to me that I wasn’t going to get the data to complete my thesis. I had no choice but to change the topic and go for another. A much simpler and easier one, since time was catching up with me. I was very discouraged. On a positive note though, I graduated and with decent grades.
Moral of the story: At some point you’ll encounter sadistic mean people. Have the wisdom to know when to fight and when to take a flight.