This week Liona and I (Johanna) were working in the ART Clinic, which stands for Antiretroviral Treatment Clinic. We had a busy, eye-opening, and amazing week. Our role ranged from entertaining kids as they waited all day for their appointments to counseling and teaching clients about HIV. The staff were incredible and worked hard to not only make us feel welcome but teach us how to help them work in the clinic. Due to the sheer volume of the clinic-they receive up to 700 clients per day-we tried to be of help wherever we could. Sometimes this meant basically tossing out top-up meds to clients in order to meet demand.
In order to gain perspective, Liona and I went through the diagnostic process that clients go through when they come into the clinic. This was a surprisingly nerve-wracking event...a lot of thoughts go through your mind awaiting those results. You start to run through every situation in your head that MIGHT have given you the virus and then the "what if's" begin. You start making hypothetical plans for that positive result. "Ok, so what am I going to tell my boyfriend or parents?" "Will I need to go home?" "What will I say to my classmates later??" Fortunately for us, these "what if's" were unnecessary but that was not the case for many clients coming through the clinic. We both witnessed many clients given the diagnosis of "reactive" which means positive. Liona even had to counsel and diagnose one client with a reactive result...although she did an amazing job she says it wasn't easy and the nerves gave her immediate heartburn.
The hardest day but definitely the best day for us was the paediatric day. Seeing that many little humans living with HIV was incredibly hard but being able to make them smile was that much more rewarding. We blew bubbles and handed out stickers, much to the confusion of the kids... a lot of them had never seen these things! Even though we're in a completely different culture and caring for kids with a fatal virus, kids are kids, and they find so much joy in small things like bubbles and stickers.
Our week would not have been as rewarding and beneficial as it was without the help of the staff! They were patient with our questions, diligent in finding opportunities for us, and genuinely happy to have us there. We will never forget our first clinical experience in Zambia working with these people!
- Jo and Liona