I have never blogged before. I struggle enough sharing my inner most feelings with those that are closest to me so blogging terrifies me. I am not interested in writing for the sake of writing but to tell a story, paint a picture so those who read what I write have a sense of what I am experiencing. This may help explain why I am a terrible facebook friend and rarely email…or never email…I find that my words are clumsy and can misrepresent what I truly want to say. I want to capture how amazing this clinical experience has been for me but am afraid I will fall short. Although there have been many tears, I realize that my presence here has made a difference. A difference in the lives of patients, families and the nurses I have worked with. I have learnt so much about the human spirit and how resilient people can be. How much people can endure and still have hope. Hearing about HIV/AIDS in Africa is not comparable to seeing how it has torn apart families. Children should not be burying their parents and grandparents should not be burying their grandchildren.
HIV/AIDS is everywhere but poverty is what resonates within my soul. Poverty encompasses everything; it is the root of most problems as far as I can see.
Poverty is two boys sharing a pair of oversized sandals so they are able to jog with us down the road. Poverty is the 11 year girl down the street in the baby blue party dress that may have fit her two years ago that is so covered in dirt that I can’t imagine any amount of cleaning will ever return it to it’s original shade. Poverty is being unable to provide enough food for your family, having to bring your child to the hospital because they are so ill with malnutrition it is amazing they are still breathing. Poverty is the man who walks eight hours every two weeks to the feeding clinic to pick up four containers of formula for his 9-month-old twins. Poverty is a man hunched over a pothole, splashing handfuls of muddy rainwater over his naked body on the side of the road. Poverty is being unable to send your children to school because the school fees, books and uniforms are beyond your means. Poverty is here. It surrounds us. It overwhelms us. Despite what may appear to be a desperate situation, there is hope. Hope in the eyes of those we encounter and smiles that would melt your heart.
Pediatrics is my passion, yet the Lewanika Maternity Ward took my breath away. The strength of the women that come into the Maternity ward put me to shame. In the week I spent there I did not hear anything louder than a soft moan. There is no pain control whatsoever. It is not unusual to find a woman in the birthing room by herself minutes away from giving birth. I spent the week giving women back massages, cool cloths, words of encouragement, breathing with them, teaching them about caring for their babies. I delivered twins with Lana, which still brings tears to my eyes. I held the hand of a woman as she struggled to deliver her full term baby who would not be able to join us in this life. I fought back tears everyday and sometimes the pain and sadness was too much to contain. I sat on the floor of the hospital and cried with a woman who had just lost her 27 year old sister to AIDS, who lay motionless under the blanket, so thin you could hardly see her outline. I have learnt that touch transcends the spoken word and although we were unable to communicate verbally we were able to relate on different levels.
The room where patients have been referred to get testing is a small room with an old wooden desk. It is 0900 and there are people lined up waiting to be tested. We are out of reagent, which mean the tests cannot be done. I am left in the room to look around. The walls are covered in posters about family planning, condom use, encouragement about getting tested and decreasing the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. The registry of patients sits open on the bed behind the desk. A total from January reads out 76 tested, 5 non reactive. Five out of 76 tested negative. The odds aren’t great when people come in. The reagent was found after all and the first patient comes in, a child and their mother. The nurse is speaking in Lozi and slips into English to introduce me. I clearly have not mastered the local language so I sit in the room and watch for any non-verbal cues that will give me a clue as to what is going on. The child sits there as the nurse pricks their finger. Certain words- like CD4, HIV, AIDS stand out among the Lozi. There are no tears or smiles when the test is over so I must wait until the nurse informs me. The child is negative.
The hospital is not only short on supplies like the reagent, but medications, glucometers, blood pressure cuffs, staff, water, …the list could go on. These are basic supplies that hospitals require. Last week, as I was leaving the hospital, three physicians were standing outside the Administration Building in their lab coats, each with an x-ray held up to the sunlight. This is Africa. Where they may not have all the equipment that we take for granted but they make due with what they have and are extraordinarily innovative and adaptable.
I have met so many amazing people, people who have committed years of their lives to help those that are less fortunate; I only hope I am capable of such selflessness. They are so inspirational. I am also grateful to have traveled with such an amazing group, each with their own strengths and gifts. I have learnt, I have taught, I have laughed, I have cried, and most important, I have changed.
I will be back.