Wednesday, August 17, 2011

You Know You've Lived in Africa for a Long Time When. . .

.  . . beans and rice is one of your favorite dishes
.  . . seeing two boys holding hands doesn’t even faze you (in Uganda, it is more common to see people of the same sex holding hands than people of opposite sexes. It’s just a cultural way of saying you are friends.)
.  . . you are used to cold showers (and you only shower twice a week. Oh, and forget about shaving regularly!)
.  .  . clothes you would never wear in the States start to look really cute
. . . you are really excited if the power stays on all day and all night
. . . you see a white person and have the uncontrollable urge to yell, “Mzungu!”
. . . waiting for up to an hour for a meeting or a class to begin is normal
. . . your day is made when you poop solid
. . . you find a rock in your food and you keep eating
. . . you see a dead cockroach in your bathroom and you leave it for a few days
. . . you think your clothes are clean when they don’t smell
. . . you start to argue over twenty cents
. . . you cancel your meetings when it rains
. . . you compare your chaco tan lines with others
. . . you think you’re really tan and then you shower and suddenly you’re not as tan as you thought
. . . all your clothes are crunchy because washing by hand you never get all of the soap out
. . . you have to drink all of your soda at the place you bought it because they charge you extra if you take the glass bottle
. . . you’re riding in a taxi and a random African sits in your lap and you’re okay with it because the 14-seater taxi only has 18 people and not 24
. . . you’ve had at least fifteen marriage proposals in the last week
. . . you sit on a motorcycle sideways (if you’re a girl), even when you’re wearing pants
. . . its normal to hold hands with a stranger when you first meet them
. . . you bargain over every price, regardless of what it is

Co-authored by Sarah Blackhurst, Suzanne Whitehead, Whitney Smith, Devin Wengert and Beka Arnesen

Where Death is Just Another Part of Life

Last month I spent three mornings a week (about 12 hours total each week) at Mbale Regional Hospital, volunteering in either the Pediatric Acute Care Unit or the Surgical Theater. There I came to know the dire need that Uganda needs for improved health care. Mbale Regional is a huge hospital, serving millions of people. It is very understaffed and under equipped. The staff who work there, however, are smart and innovative. They are trying their best to help the people who are ill. As you walk through the hospital you will see people lining all the walk ways and sitting everywhere, waiting for a doctor to see them. Pregnant women wait patiently outside a full delivery room until there is a bed available for them to deliver their baby. It is the most hopeless hopeful place I have ever been.
I once saw a mother holding her baby’s hand as the clinical officer drew blood for testing. I knew that if I was with my child in this hospital as it was (under staffed, ill equipped, dirty, and dark), I would be totally hopeless. However, as I watched this woman staring up at the clinician, I saw her eyes were full of HOPE. Compared to the health care we have in the US, Mbale Regional Hospital is the pit of despair, but for people who have never ever had even remote access to health care, it is a beckon of hope.
One sunny day I was in the surgical ward, waiting for an emergency to come up, because there were no scheduled surgeries. Andy and I cleaned and then folded gauze bandages for hours. Finally an emergency came in.  Any medical student loves seeing any kind of surgery and it (almost) excited when an emergency happens. Sometimes I see patients as nothing more than science. I was excited to see what emergency procedure we would be doing, when they carried in a little baby and laid her on the metal surgical bed in the pre-op area.  She was premature and had been badly burned. Her face—nose, eye lids, and lips—and arms were so burned they looked charred, like charcoal. Her little chest moved up and down, barely enough to be noticed. It was shocking—and horrifying. Even the medical staff in the theater was dismayed.  There wasn’t much to be done except try to relieve the pressure caused on the limbs by the burns.  I handed plaster (medical tape) to the clinical officer (a mere intern) as she cut open the burned arms to decrease the pressure and keep the blood flowing.  All I could think of was that this little girl was only a few days old and already was suffering so much hurt. A few days later, when I went back to the hospital I inquired about the baby.  No one knew what had happened to her. I assume she died. There is no way she could eat with her lips burned closed. It is heart wrenching for me to think she could not be saved. It is my first instinct to try to save a life at all costs. But, I do know that she is in a better place and is out of pain.
A few weeks later, in the pediatric ward, a toddler died while on the examination table. His mother walked out crying (Ugandans never cry) and the father held onto the limp body. Eventually they draped a coat over the boy and the father too, left.
Before I came to Uganda I had never seen death, but now I have stared it in the faith. I have watched as faithful nurses and doctors have tried, despite a limited supply of medicine and technology, to save every child who comes across them. I have a new appreciation for the healthcare we have in the US. I am grateful I will not have to have my baby in a mud hut, on a wooden bed. I am grateful that if my child gets sick or hurt, I can instantly get quality care for him. I am grateful health care has been prioritized and that so many people in America want to be doctors.  I will never forget the experiences I had at Mbale Regional Hospital. In fact, they have inspired me. I will come back to this place and do anything I can to improve the quality of healthcare given here. The people have the heart, they just need the road blocks removed.

CURE Hospital

CURE Hospital is one of my favorite places in Mbale. Run by an NGO, called CURE, they specialize in pediatric neurosurgery—mostly spina bifida and hydrocephalus—serving all of East Africa.  You may not know, but my biggest dream (regarding Africa) is to find an underserved population and start a hospital to serve them. So, walking into this hospital was like walking into my dream!
CURE is probably the nicest hospital in Uganda.  It is clean and bright. They have the latest medical technology.  Each patient has their own bed, with clean sheets. They provide support for the family and continually go to the field to find new patients and to check up on old patients. They also have paper-bead-making IGA (income generating activity) for patients, and they sell the necklaces and earrings at the hospital. This is a “charity” hospital, but they do require that patients pay what they can to help pay for the surgery and treatment. Although they do not pay the highest salary, and most of the staff would be making more if they worked at a government facility, they still have a very loyal staff.  These are Ugandans, and other East Africans, who want to make a change and do some good.
In Eastern Africa, especially in the villages, there is a stigma about hydrocephalus and spina bifida. If your child is afflicted with one of these maladies, it is assumed that you (the mother) did something wrong or that the child is bewitched. They become outcasts to society. If left untreated, hydrocephalus causes the brain to swell, resulting in the entire skull expanding, sometimes to grotesque proportions.  Pressure on nerves can cause damage such as blindness. The procedure to fix hydrocephalus is very simple, and the one that CURE uses, is very non-invasive.
I was involved in a project at the hospital it which we volunteers taught nutrition, hygiene and first aid classes to the mothers who were there with their children.  We taught people from Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, and Ethiopia about how to eat a balanced diet, how to wash their hands and why it was important, and what to do if their child fell out of a mango tree. Most of the women were very excited to learn this information and put it to use. I don’t know for sure if every single woman will implement what we taught, but I hope that this knowledge will be a key factor in improving, or even saving, a few lives.
I want to come back to CURE. I don’t know when. Maybe I will do a medical internship there (while we have been here there have been medical interns from the States, Italy, Eastern Europe, and other places).  Or maybe I will just come back to visit. I would love to explore their other hospitals around the world. They are doing a great work and I am grateful for the chance I had to work with them.

A "Somehow Sketchy" Boda

Here in Mbale one of the cheapest, most common forms of transportation is the boda-boda, or boda for short.  A boda is a motorcycle with a long seat. They zoom in and out of traffic and swerve to avoid any obstacle—pot holes, other bodas, cars. Women ride side saddle while men straddle. Boda accidents are quite common but I have been fortunate enough to have avoided getting in an accident for the last three months . . . until last Thursday.
Abby and I on our favorite boda, driven by Habeeb

Sarah Blackhurst and I were on our way to Manafwa High School to help teach an Empowerment class. It had been raining all day and the roads are always a lot more slick after rain—mostly because there is red mud everywhere and the roads are poorly paved. We didn’t really think anything of it. I’ve ridden bodas through torrential rainstorms before and been totally fine—except for getting soaking wet. As we squished on the back of the boda (yes, we ride double) and started up the hill out of Senior Quarters, I became a little worried. I felt like his boda was about to break down or run out of gas. Then we would have to find a new boda. So, I said to Sarah, “This boda is somehow sketchy.” Not more than 2 minutes later, our boda driver tried to swerve onto a bit of paved road to avoid driving in the mud. In what seemed like a slow motion movie we tipped over onto our backs (remember we were riding side saddle, so the boda tipped to the right). Luckily we had backpacks on which protected our heads and most of our backs, but we were still pretty shaken up. I had red mud all down the back of my pink striped dress and my arm was a little sore from landing on the gravel. As I looked at Sarah and saw that she didn’t look much better than me, the hilarity of the situation registered and I burst out laughing! I could not believe how funny we must look! We had the lesson plan for the empowerment class, so we had to continue onward to town. As we got back on bodas (we took two different ones for the rest of the way), I had to bite my lips to keep from laughing.

Ugandans are so nice! Even if something is not their fault, they will apologize. So, for the rest of the day, random Ugandans were asking what happened and then expressing their sincere apologies—“sorry, sorry, sorry.” Although we were probably the laughing stock of Namatala (the biggest slum in Mbale) as we traipsed through the market, we didn’t mind. I may have ruined an entire outfit and had mud soaked through my clothing all the way to my underwear, but it was worth the memories!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

in denial

i leave in 18 days
i have already said good bye to all the kids at Impact
i will be saying many more good byes
i feel like this is not real life
we all know that i hate good byes
here is a list of the people i have to say good bye to:
the babies at Gongama babies home
all the wonderful church members
our guard, David
people at CURE hospital and Mbale Regional
and other random friends
i wish time would slow down a little.

i never expected that 3 1/2 months would go by SO QUICKLY
its really scaring me
there is so much at home that is unknown.
so much here that i know and love
these are the happiest people, the prettiest land, the best feeling i have ever had.

so yes you could say that i am in denial about leaving
but then again, who wouldn't be?

Farewell Impact Primary School

For the last 12 weeks I have been holding a student leadership course at a local primary school- Impact.  This is sort of my "baby" project. I stumbled upon it. I came here thinking I would just be doing health related projects. However, there is a HUGE need to empowerment and life skills to be taught to school age children.

We taught the class to all of P7 (ages 12 and up), as well as the class monitors (sort of like a class president) from all the other classes. There were so many kids who I met there who are just on fire! They are smart and sharp and have big plans for their lives.

As I said good bye to the students, it was surreal. I don't really feel like I am leaving. Do I really only have 18 days left here? AH. That is a little freaky.  I will miss these kids! I loved going and seeing Gerald's smiling face, tickling little Benjamin and Joel, and singing "OH Happy Day"with all of them.

It has been a great experience to work with this school! I hope that all those kids DO follow their dreams and are able to make a change- in their lives and in Uganda!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

just a short clip...

if you wanna see what we have been doing here in Mbale, watch this cool video!!!