Thursday, April 12, 2012

Home in Africa

 Thursday, March 22, 2012  Day

It’s funny how quickly I’m already learning to adapt to things. Every day when I go to write the date here, I have to think really hard in trying to remember how NOT to write in the British format of day/month/year the way we do for work. I was actually thinking about that earlier. I was beginning to miss home a little and then my train of thought led me to how different and weird things will be after we return. I’m wondering if it will take me less time to forget about Africa than it did to get accustomed to it? I hope not…

I’m so glad that our stay is a full eight weeks. I feel like I am just now starting to catch the hang of things. I can’t imagine if it were half way over already. And to think that two weeks ago when we got here, I was worried that eight weeks may be too long!! It’s starting to feel a little like home already- which was also a strange thought for me, because I realized today that we spent the last few weeks trying to make Point Pleasant feel like home. Than I stopped to ponder the reasoning behind it…what was the point? It dawned on me: I will never be going back to Point Pleasant. No, I realize that and I suppose the reason I did not let that stop me is because I don’t really have anywhere else to make feel like home, so why not here?

I guess that person that said; “home is where the heart is” really knew what they were talking about all along, because my heart is here. I guess I never put much thought into that statement either because I always looked at it the other way around and like every good pessimist/optimist argument there’s always two sides.

I always used to translate that to mean that your home will always hold a special place in you heart and no matter where you physically go, a piece of your heart will always be there. Now as every other outlook I have on life is being challenged in some way, I realize that even my interpretation of meaningless sayings has become more insightful. But, yes, I have found that throughout this year, no matter where I have gone I have tried to put my heart and soul into every place I work, house I live in, life I touch. Therefore where my heart is found there also will be my home and until May 2nd, my home is Africa and I will continue to make the most of it. 


Wednesday, March 21, 2012  Day12

So is the life in Africa that I had to miss a day of writing for fear that I had malaria…

Last week Dr. Karen returned from Freetown with a nasty illness. It was significant enough that she was given a full course of IV fluids, phenergan and malaria treatment. Then on Sunday when we were in the tiny smothering hot church house, Dr. Tom had to excuse himself because of nausea and vomiting. He has not been feeling well since either. So yesterday of course my stomach began to cramp. We were working an eye clinic in Gbendembu and it was so unbearably hot that I could not eat lunch. After we packed everything up and headed out, my achy nauseated stomach had to endure the 2.5h drive down the unpaved, red dirt, washed out Kamakwie Road. To my recollection, I have not properly attempted to describe the conditions of the road and that is primarily because it is just that…INDESCRIBABLE!

But I shall indeed try. It is, if I recall correctly 50 miles of the most rugged terrain that you could ever imagine that a normal car could pass through. It is torturous and eroded- worse than any logging road I have ever seen in the piney woods of Northwest Louisiana! One would think almost that it had been cleared using an army tank or a herd of elephants. There are holes big enough for the truck to fit inside, better referred to as “craters” than potholes. It makes you wonder how Mother Nature could be so cruel to one piece of land, but then again I suppose there is reason in all God’s doing. Anyhow, I digress.

My point in stating all this is that the road alone is enough to make you sick, even if you don’t start out with a belly ache.

By the time we reached Kamakwie, I was really not feeling so great. I tried to not let on at first, thinking it would get better or go away after I ate. I forced down some supper, but things only got worse. Then my head began to feel hot. I went to bed at 8pm with a fever, two ibuprofen, a stomachache, and a prayer for anything but malaria.

I awoke this morning feeling very weak, but the general condition has improved throughout the day. (I’m quite sure now that it is NOT malaria, despite the close call.) So much so that I was able to join the other girls here on my afternoon off to get our hair “planted” as they say. I spent about 40minutes this afternoon with my head and neck being contorted in all different directions by tow of the local girls until finally I am able to say that I am currently sporting a hairstyle unlike any other I’ve ever had. There are more than a dozen braids twisting and twining across the curvature of my scalp until finally they all conjoin into one large gathering in the back center of my head. Each braid sticks through individually, resembling somewhat; I’m sure, the head of Medusa. It is very original and though I can hardly stand the sight of it, the people here really seem to enjoy it. I’m sure on some level they find it amusing and ridiculous, but all the little girls come to us saying how much they like “our style”. It is very entertaining for me as well. If for no other reason than just to watch their expressive responses.

Phillip and I had a very long talk with Bud and Judy tonight about family, growing older and again in general. It’s very interesting too because I am certain their children are all very much older than either of us, each having families of their own; so it is always nice to get their input on raising a family and the differences and changes they have seen with their children and grandchildren. It just makes you stop and think about things a little, especially when you are so far removed from family and everything you once found comfortable.

I’ve learned…NOTHING is comfortable in Africa.

But it is always nice to know that someone else has been in your shoes before… and they’re still walking.

Nothing is Everywhere

Monday, March 19, 2012  Day 10

A little over a week ago I had just returned from one of the richest areas in DC when Phillip’s dad called me about graduation plans for when we return in May. We spent a few moments discussing some details and I could tell there was something unsettling about his voice. He brought up out traveling and asked if I was prepared. I responded with a nervous, “I hope so.”

Then he said something to me. Something that didn’t really mean much to me at that time and something that I have not thought much of since…until now that is.

He said, “It will change your life forever.”

I pulled out my camera tonight to try and pick out a photo to email to my sister. I went trough some of the ones I took from last week and as I did I recalled some of my initial thoughts as I was taking the photos…It amazed me! I was astonished at how quickly my perception of things has changed in just one week!

When we arrived, I was uneasy about so many many things:
1.     The lack of modesty- most women and children go naked here
2.     The lack of medical resources- the hospital is very primal and basic is an overestimate. “Improvise” is often the word of the day.
3.     The housing conditions- most houses have unlevel foundations with cracks in the walls and scraps of tin on the roof.
4.     No electricity- no one has it but some still find ways to maintain luxuries without it.
5.     Lack of transportation- No one has a car, few have motorbikes and every road is LONG and HARD

Those are just a few of the things, I could go on to include water, food, clothes, sanitation- all of the basic necessities useful for sustaining life.

Today, we have walked past those places I took photos of last week at least a dozen times. I do not notice the naked children on the porches anymore because they at least have a porch to stand on, or the cracks in the walls because at least they have walls and don’t live in a hut. I don’t notice the washed out roads that we walk because at least it means they are well worn between neighbors’ homes.  The medical supplies we use are often second hand or not used for the intended purpose, but at least they have a way to make things work when needed.

I began to realize today that my outlook on things had COMPLETELY turned around. His words came back to me, “It will change your life forever”. My chin almost hit the ground. I never realized before how true that statement would be.

When I first heard it I thought, “Yeah, I hope you’re right. I hope I become more grateful for the things I have. I hope it changes the way I practice medicine and the decisions I make in my career. I hope it brings me closer to God. I hope it transforms my relationship with Him. I hope it changes my relationship with Phillip. I hope it makes us appreciate one another more.”

I never really thought about how any of those things would quite transpire. I never dreamed that I would be staring myself in the face screaming, “you fool!”  I never realized that by asking for my relationship with my Savior to be transformed, that I would have His face revealed to me in so many ways. Nor did I realize that I would be the one doing all the transforming!

I’ve never been much of an optimist and don’t think that I don’t still have my moments, but I believe that to place yourself among disparity in the heart of hopelessness, you have to find something to believe in. Without much else to go on besides faith, you grow increasingly dependent upon it, and again you begin to notice that you are grateful for all that you have (and not in that superficial American way of stating it but not FEELING it) because on that same level you are forced to SEE that you could have NOTHING.

Nothing is easy to find here. Just look around…it’s everywhere.

P.S. I am anticipating the discharge of my patient with the febrile seizures tomorrow. He is doing great!!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sunday! Allelujah!

Sunday, March 18, 2012  Day 9

What a beautiful day Sunday can be!! I awoke early this morning and Phillip and I went to what we were told was 8am mass. When we walked the short path over through the woods, we approached a man ringing the church bell out back of the church. (Very much made me think of the old church bell outside of St. Catherine’s in Noble!) We said our hellos and walked passed him to the main entrance of the church. Empty. Not even a sound. The doors were wide open, but no one was around so we walk back to the guy ringing the bell. “8:30,” he says. We decided to walk into town and come back.

We walk down to the swamp that separates Kamakwie I from Kamakwie II and stand on the bridge taking in the beauty of the green all around. We stayed and watched the field workers tend their small crops as the Muslim school children hurried past on their way to class. Finally we decided it was getting close to time for mass to start, so we headed back. 8:30 and a few more people were entering, but still a long way from being even half full. And still no sign of a priest! At some point around 9am the processional began with loud singing and clapping. My best guess is that this church is on African time, which Is perfectly fine with me because you can never be late if you don’t know what time it starts!!

There was a child playing drums and everyone sang in Krio. There was a lot of singing, clapping and dancing. I sincerely enjoyed it! I saw several people that I recognized. Everyone was very well dressed in their Sunday best, and most of all the mass was in English. The church itself was very nice and the priest was African. I very much enjoyed the mass and it made me realize how much I missed not going last week.

After mass, we went with Dr. Karen and Dr. Tom to one of the Wesleyan churches in a nearby village. When we arrived there were people sitting outside the steps to the main entrance. As we got up to the door, people began to usher the “strangers” to the front. We squeezed our way through a mass of people and found a seat. We sat through 2 and ½ hours of preaching, sermons, and collection baskets with people again dancing in the aisles.

It was a very fun and unique experience, but one that I honestly hope that I never have to go through again. It was so insanely hot that several people had to leave. Dr. Tom even got sick. At one point, I felt I might even lose consciousness.

After church and lunch I enjoyed a nap until Phillip came to get me for a walk to the tailor. I am amazed with what fine work he does. I had two skirts made. Plus, he was in church this morning so I’m not sure when he ever sleeps! The work was phenomenal though and both fit just fine. He is making a matching bag for tomorrow. The may be my new favorite thing to do in SL!!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Shooting Stars

March 17, 2012    Day 9

Tonight on our walk home, Phillip and I saw the most amazing shooting star. It is quite impressive how clear the skies have become now that they have stopped the burning. We were admiring how brightly the stars were shining when at the same moment, we noticed a star begin to move. It appeared to be in slow motion, as in a movie, but as it shot out across the dark black sky, something miraculous happened- it curved upward and made a large swooping motion. We both gasped. It was truly breathtaking. I think it was a sign from God that despite how much I struggle every day to accept the things in life that are occurring all around me, all is how it should be in the world. Sometimes I feel like I am that tiny little star shooting wildly out of control, spinning crazily as the rest of the world sits by and watches- not daring to move. It is a difficult feeling.

Today I covered the peds ward again. A new patient came in respiratory distress. He was less than a year old. I was alone on the floor and by the time I got to him he was boiling hot and shaking all over with a rhythmic twitch to his body. He lay there helpless, his temperature was growing closer to 105 degrees. I had to do something, but there was no doctor. I had to be this child's doctor. I spoke to the nurse. We agreed on the medications and dosages and he quickly began giving them. By the time Dr. Tom returned, the child had almost stopped seizing. It was a scary moment, but later we checked on the child again and he was still stable. I hope he knows someday how much he scared me, but even more how much he taught me. You can't be afraid of what you don't know here- This Is Africa- there's no time.

When we went back to check on the patient, we took photos of the different hospital wards. (I figured out a camera is a great way to make friends!) We stopped by the Alpha unit and visited with the children there. They were so tiny and precious. I hope to be able to spend more time there this week. There's a tiny set of twins there and I had an amazing photo shoot with them. I can't wait to visit again.

I found time (after reorganizing the pharmacy) to go down to the tailor with Bud and Judy today. It was alot of fun to go and pick out the fabrics and decide what I wanted, but it blew my mind  that the fabric cost more than the tailor charged to make each skirt! Each skirt cost ~2 US dollars to make!! I was shocked. I told Phillip we will have to make sure to tip him well. I hope they turn out nicely. If so, I plan to go back weekly.

I'm beginning to slowly have more and more fun here as I grow used to the environment. Tonight we had a huge dinner at the Asher's and ended the evening with a game of Monopoly cards. I really love NOT having a TV!!

No Fair Answer

Friday, March 16, 2012  Day 8

One of the craziest days so far...
We started out the morning in the peds ward. It was very empty (compared to previous days this week) with only 6 patients. Phillip and I split the load between us. My 3 patients were doing really well- one even ready for discharge. We quickly write our notes and meet Dr. Tom in the men's ward. After seeing a few patients we begin to hear a loud screaming sound from the direction of the peds ward that struck everyone around us all at once. It seemed like everyone straightened up and started paying attention. Some even glancing at the open windows to see what was going on, however despite all this, it did not seem to come as a surprise to anyone at all. Dr. Tom looks at us. We had not yet given report from the peds ward. "What is going on over there," he says suspiciously. "Nothing," we reply in agreement, just as confused. "Everything was fine when we left." We began to worry. After losing five other patients already this week and witnessing one yesterday, the sound of the wailing still caught me off guard. I hope it is a sound that, unlike the people here, I never get used to. It seems to be just another noise to them, as if it blends with the sounds of the fire crackling in the distance or the leaves of the palm tree rustling in the wind. People continue on about their ways, sometimes not even noticing at first that anything has even happened. Lorena tells us stories of how the children in school stand automatically at the procession of the body being escorted from the hospital through their school yard. I cannot imagine going through school with the distraction of people wailing all throughout the day as I sat waiting and wondering, "Is it someone I know? Is it my family?" 

Twice today we received new patients on the peds ward...and twice today we heard wailing as the mourning mothers made their way through the crowds weeping in sorrow and flailing themselves about. It is quite the expression of the most undesirable and often indescribable sensation. And these people live with it every day. It is so hard for me to face the sorrow from the loss of my grandmother, but to have that repeated many times over is more than I hope I ever have to experience. 

As the day progressed and the work continued on, we saw improvement. We discharged several people. It is always such a delight for me to write discharge orders for a peds patient. To see them go from fighting to breath to playing and laughing is a miracle every day.

I've learned that with medicine in Africa, you only do half the work and most of the time with less than half the resources...God does the rest. It frustrates me greatly to try to figure out how He decides who will go and who will stay. I know I shouldn't, but I always find myself asking, "what if we'd have done this?" or "maybe we should've tried that?" It's such a hard game to play and the only fair answer is- there is no fair answer- it is all written into part of His greater plan.

Today after clinic, we came back to Bud and Judy's house for dinner. Meredith and Lorena joined us again and we spent the evening chatting with them and sharing our day's work with one another. After a short while, the kids began to collect on our front porch as they often do. They began to yell for us through the window until finally Lorena came out and agreed to sing a song with them. We all ended up sitting on the front step in the cool evening breeze and joining along. It was so much fun to see how excited the children became when singing and dancing. It again amazed me at how a nation filled with such grief and despair could also provide children that are so happy and joyful as if they were completely naive to the fact that death surrounded them.