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Published: March 16th 2012
This is Africa. A place where a lot of our patients are HIV positive, where medical supplies and facilities are limited , and where we have blackouts almost every other night, but yet I have found the people here to be incredibly welcoming and unbelievably strong. At St. Joseph's Mission Hospital I have had the opportunity to witness all these things as a volunteer through Medics to Africa. For two months now I have lived in a rural town in Kenya, Migori, and have had the most amazing and unique experience of my life so far.
Overall, I have been able to do so much more than I would have dreamed of doing in the US. Yes okay, the ward rounds are pretty boring usually since I don't actually know how to treat patients, but I have learned a lot from them. Our day starts at 8 am with a meeting with all the doctors and clinical officers to give an update on number of patients in each ward as well as any deaths or special reports. Then ward rounds are from about 9 until 10:45 or12 depending on the day, number of patients, and the ward. Lunch break is from 12-2 although, again, depending on the day sometimes we get back to the house by 10:30 and sometimes we stay at the hospital until 1 or 1:30. Then we can work again in the afternoon from 2-4, but there is usually not much to do since the doctor's orders were done in the mornings after rounds. So we stay at the house a lot of afternoons, but we go back if we are called for a surgery or a delivery or if we have patients we want to check up on. We have a lot of freedom with hours at the hospital and so we have a lot of down time too, but like I said, overall I have done so much I wouldn't have dreamed of doing at this age and with my limited training.
Each day we can choose which ward we want to go to for rounds - Maternity, Medical, Surgical, or Paediatric. I have to say that Medical ward is my least favorite and I have only gone there like 3 or 4 times because it takes forever and basically everyone has TB or malaria. Although, I have also gotten to see a lot of interesting cases there, including what someone looks like with a CD4 count of 1. For the most part I have spent my time in Maternity ward and I love it. I have inserted catheters, changed IV fluids, prepared patients for surgery, assisted on an evacuation, resuscitated babies after c sections (highlight of my time here! Thanks EMT training!), second assisted in a surgery to remove an abdominal mass, and observed and assisted in delivering 2 placentas! I have also taken tons of vitals, weighed babies, changed dressings, and of course, run lab requests to the lab, patients to ultrasound and x-ray, files to the records and revenue desks, and folded gauze. (I was EMT certified in Alaska and so learned many of these skills and had a tiny bit of certification to allow me to participate more in the medical tasks at the hospital.)
Besides the medical opportunities I have had here, possibly more memorable are the people I have met. I have gotten to know most of the nurses and hospital social workers, as well as the long-term patients in maternity ward and those who were discharged and are stuck there because they can't pay. These women have anywhere from 1 to 10 children and range from age 16 to 40, but the one thing they all have in common is their strength. The culture is still very present here and it is expected to have many children and most of the women are house wives. Despite all of their struggles every patient and hospital staff member I have met is immediately among the sweetest, and most inspiring people I have known. Outside of my friends in the hospital I have also made friends with the local kids who come to play soccer in our backyard every night. Kenyan kids are so adorable that I might end up with one or two of them in my backpack when I leave. Kids here are either terrified of white people and wont respond when you say hi or they will constantly shout at you saying, 'Mzungu, how are you!"
We of course had to visit the Masai Mara National Park one weekend and it was stunning! The game drives were gorgeous and we saw 4 of the big 5 (buffalo, rhino, lion, and elephant), we were only missing the leopard. But we also saw a cheetah and cub which was very cute, tons of giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, ostriches, antelopes, gazelles, etc. My first safari, and I have to say it was pretty darn good. We also took a day to visit the town Isebania at the Tanzanian border and another day to visit Lake Victoria on Rusinga Island.
Two months initially seemed like ages, but now that the time has come to leave it has gone by way too fast. Today is my last day and I will have to say goodbye to the people and the town I have come to love. But, it is off to more adventures and who knows, maybe I will come back some day when I am actually a qualified doctor.
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