The experiences, memories and challenges of providing health care to our global neighbours over the past two days could fill a book.
Tuesday was full of firsts as the medical team ran its first clinic in the village of Nyamboi. Doctors had their first cases of severe malaria, tropical ulcers like yaws, and even a scorpion bite. Our dental team dealt with a child who could not open his mouth due to an untreated jaw fracture, while our optometry team had their first cases of trachoma. My daughter Claudia witnessed, for the first time, the appearance of a child near death.
A huge volume of patients were cared for by this unbelievable team effort and a Canadian and Ghanaian logistics team that is second to none. Every single team member worked hand in hand with our Ghanaian friends and colleagues to achieve results that surpassed our expectations.
Back at the compound the hernia team had an extremely busy and productive day and were ready to join us for dinner when yet another emergency arrived. Without a moment’s hesitation they were back in the OR theatre. Around 8:00pm our leaders were debriefing together and planning for the next day with the NEA team leaders when a messenger came running: another patient with a strangulated hernia who would not survive until morning without help.
Our day ended with a little birthday party for our pharmacist Mary. Her teammate Francois presented her with a lovely gift: a shoe box full of treasures from the team, including a tea bag, stickers, protein bar, and some Imodium. Special entertainment involved Leslie singing “Lavatory Man” — an ironic choice considering our growing body of latrine stories and unfortunate mishaps.
Today we were greeted by refreshing temperatures of 18-20 degrees and an NEA security guard wearing a winter coat and hat.
After an early morning bus ride our medical team was back to Nyamboi and hard at work by 8:30am. At 9:08am Leslie, one of our most seasoned triage nurses, came running towards me with a frantic pitch to her voice that I had not heard before. A 16 yr old boy with severe malaria arrived by car and was too sick to even walk. Dr. John and our nursing team of Joan, Val, Jessica and Lissa jumped to action. After IV antimalarials and IV fluid he was sitting up by noon and was discharged from the clinic mid afternoon.
Other highlights today included the start of our laser eye clinic to treat glaucoma. Yesterday Dr. Mai identified a patient who was blind and unable to walk unaided from acute glaucoma. After 24 hours on medication and laser surgery today by Dr. Martin, her vision was completely restored and she walked herself out of the clinic.
At the end of the day the Chief of Nyamboi presented the team with their first ram and a large pile of yams. He thanked us profusely and sent us off wishing us “more grease to your elbows” and a prayer that God would replenish all that we had lost in serving his people.
The last two days have also required incredible flexibility, adaptability and resilience by this team and our leaders as they faced each challenge that came their way. Abraham compared it to the story in the Bible when Jesus was in a boat trying to get to someone needing help when a storm arose. Our storm today involved power challenges. Magdi reminded us that “machines failed but we humans did not.” This was so true as pharmacy kept going despite computers not working for two hours, the surgery team kept operating when their A/C broke. (It got to 35 degrees and even our Ghanaian anaesthetist said it was hot!) When the laser surgery clinic’s laminator went down (needed to provide patients with their official medical record), they simply found an iron and carried on.
After our incredible day of work, Patience prepared a feast including pumpkin ginger soup with fresh bread, roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, pasta, salad and fresh watermelon. We are not suffering and the few pounds some of us were hoping to shed do not seem all that likely!
There is an African proverb that says, “If you wish to move mountains tomorrow, you must start by lifting stones today.” A lot of stones were lifted over these past two days — I wish I could speak of them all — as this group of dedicated volunteers continue to serve NEA and their vision for sustainable health care for all.
Love to all our family and friends back home, who we are missing very much.