Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Struggle for Life

Sept. 22, 2007

Friday, the little girl who had the truck fall on her became my personal responsibility. I haven't really been working in a certain area since I'm still learning everything and watching other nurses.

So when James did his rounds and checked on her, he told me it would be my job to watch her for the day. Already earlier that morning she's had trouble breathing through the trach tube. Every time she started to come out of unconsciousness, she'd start to panic, breathing shallowly and bringing up mucous that would get caught and hinder her breathing. I sat next to her, checking vitals every 10 min. and helping her when she needed to get mucous out by suctioning until I had no breath left.

We had a couple close calls throughout the day, and when I got off work, she was too tired to breathe adequately by herself, so Sarah & Liz taught the family how to bag her through the night. She was constantly on my mind that evening & today at church. I had watched her for so long that her little face was imprinted on my mind and I could hear her labored breathing. She was doing well earlier today, and I think we were all thinking optimistically that if she just would wake up, it would be ok. The surgery had gone well and we kept telling the other little boy in the ward that soon he would have a new playmate.

Later today, Liz, Sonja, and I went on a walk and decided to stop by to see how she was doing. James was there and told us that her Oxygen sat. was still fine with the family bagging air into her, but he had noticed that her pupils were now fixed and dilated...meaning she was brain dead. I watched silently as he approached the family at her bedside and explained with someone translating in Nangere. He detached the bag and I quickly left, not wanting to see the life ebb out of her. I tried to control myself as I still had to smile at people and choke out greetings as we left the hospital.

The three of us walked out into the fields and rice paddies to watch the sunset and I cried for the young life that was so quickly gone. Some people say that I will become used to it and not be so emotionally attached, but I hope that never happens. Tears are cleansing and I will cry all year for these people because I love them. I will feel for them and just pray that God helps me to still give them the best care that I can with my limited abilities.

I stayed out with Sonja and Liz until it was dark, singing, praying, and talking. I had been praying and hoping before I came to Chad that I would get along well with them and I found out that they had been praying much the same about me. God answered our prayers even more than I had hoped. They are both filled with the same adventurous spirit as me and have an openness to God that is refreshing. We are going to have an amazing year together.

I am sitting on my cot right now, writing this as crickets chirp loudly and mosquitoes buzz on the other side of my netting. The drums and singing nearby has started to die down so that I can finally fall asleep...

Saturday, September 22, 2007


September 20, 2007

It has been a long day. I worked in the pediatrics ward today with Liz and we got to discharge 2 boys this morning, leaving a lot better than they came. They were very excited, especially the one that had been there over a month, but I will miss their smiles, laughter, and playing tic-tac-toe with bottlecaps.

Our main concern to watch over today was an 8 yr.-old girl who had just gotten out of surgery the day before. A truck had fallen on her breaking her right femur and left tibia. She looked so tiny with the huge cast splinted with a brook handle and big sandbag providing traction on her femur. The best part of my day was when she opened and blinked her eyes for a few moments. I hope she makes it; last night she stopped breathing and James had to do an emergency tracheotomy on her.

Right before I left the hospital, I got to watch James drain a huge abscess on the eye of a 4-wk.-old baby. I am learning and seeing so much here!

After work, I found out that the locals were going to play soccer behind the hospital. I was so excited, I practically ran home to change. My mere made me eat first like any good mother, and smiled as I ran off yelling “Je vair football!” I wasn’t sure if they would mind having girls play, but they just seemed a little surprised and motioned for Liz and I to join a team. It wasn’t much different than playing at Milo with all guys, and the kids thought it was hilarious to watch us run. I guess they don’t see women in their culture run, with the long skirts they wear. There were big cows with horns in the field that made me a little nervous, but everyone just ran around them with the ball. It was so wonderful being able to do something without having to speak French and we played until the sun set beautifully across the fields…

In Bere

September 18, 2007

I arrived at the hospital yesterday morning with Andre. We rode with the same moto drivers as the night before. Sonja, another student missionary here doing social work projects, welcomed me warmly and helped me move my bags to my hut. My African family lives very close to the hospital and they gave me a big hut to live in by myself! They have 5 kids who are very cute and Anatole, my African dad, works as a lab tech at the hospital. He is going next June to a medical equip. tech. program in western Africa and says that God sent me to him so that he can learn English well before he goes. It will be difficult for him because all his training and books will be in English.

Sonja took me to see the hospital after that and meet everyone. Soon I was running back to put on scrubs, grab my stethoscope, and start taking vitals as they admitted patients. The hospital is very primitive and they were very glad to see the supplies I brought, especially the casting and diabetic lancets to take blood tests. They had run out and were poking people with the same needles! James is the only doctor and he has to constantly operate even though he never studied to be a surgeon.

This morning I shadowed the nurses in the med-surg ward and maternity ward. I helped them change bandages, drain infections, and record medications. I wish I knew more French so I could talk to the patients more. Many of them are in a lot of pain and all I can do is somehow communicate that I am there to help them. When the babies see any of us with white skin, they cry! I guess we scare them. Liz, another SM who is doing nursing like me, came to get me this morning to see and help with a delivery. The mother was younger than me, about 15, and her pelvis was too small for the baby to fit through. James had to cut her to make a bigger opening. As I watched, I was doing my best to just keep thinking medically…giving James things as he asked for them and watching everything to learn as much as I could, but finally the other thoughts broke through. James kept suctioning the head to pull the baby out, but it still couldn’t fit, so he started cutting more where he hadn’t put anesthesia, trying to get the baby out quickly because it’s heartbeat had stopped. All I could think about was the mother yelling in pain as he cut, she was so young, and the baby that was probably already dead. I felt a tingly feeling creeping over me and knew that I had to get out of there fast. I excused myself and practically ran out to the little nurses room where there was a little bed to lay down on. As I tried to keep myself from passing out, tears ran down my face at the injustice of it all. Most of the people I had attended to all morning had serious problems, yet hardly adequate supplies to treat them. In the US, when people just have a simple sore throat, they go to see the doctor in an amazing clean facility where the doctors and nurses all have gloves and uniforms with nice music playing in the background. In Bere, the old beds have sticks tied to the corners to hold up mosquito netting, patients have to pay for each step of their care, including the bandages that the nurses put on them. Their families have to live outside the hospital to take care of them and feed them. When we change a dressing, someone has to stand over the wound and fan it to keep the dirty flies off of it. We use the same equipment for everyone and only wear gloves when we are in direct contact with a lot of blood…something my fellow EMTs would probably shudder at. I’ve forgotten all about BSI precautions J.

I had better get back to my hut for the night. I feel so incredibly blessed for where I’m staying. My hut has concrete instead of mud and a tin roof instead of thatching and it is big! My African mother warms water in a bucket for me to wash with every day even though I try to explain that I am fine with cold water…especially in this heat! This evening I ate a delicious meal of rice with mashed cassava leaves and I drink good water from a well. Life is good. And I must remember my blessings every night or I fear that I will become quickly overwhelmed by the poverty here.

What I’ve Learned from One Week in Africa

The art of tucking my mosquito netting in properly so that I don’t get the surprise of a cockroach stuck inside it…kind of an unpleasant night experience.
Saying “Lapia” and “Ce va” covers everything.
Everyone has malaria
Be careful around roosters
Check shoes before putting feet in them
There is no such thing as personal space…especially on a moto or bus
Chew carefully when eating to avoid breaking your jaw when you come across a few rocks
Guavas are the best thing created on God’s green earth!
The greatest honor you can bestow on someone is just to sit with or eat with them.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

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In Chad…on a crazy moto ride

September 16, 2007
I have finally arrived in Chad! It has been a long and interesting trip. After almost missing my flight to Paris and getting near to lost in the airports, I arrived in the capital, Ndjamena, on Thursday. Job, a pastor of one of the Adventist churches, picked me up and took me to his home to stay until I left for Beré. My bags never made it from France, so I had to wait for them. I was nervous at first, after being warned about a few things having to do with Pastor Job, but I am glad now that I had the chance to rest up in Ndjamena and see the city. I learned a lot in those few days about the people and culture that helped me be a lot more comfortable when traveling to Beré. I went to the markets and even got to visit Cameroon one day!

On Sunday, André, the administrator at the hospital, picked me up early to start our trip to the hospital. We went to catch a bus out of Ndjamena, and ended up waiting a couple hours because the bus drivers won’t leave until the bus is completely full. It was funny to watch all the bus drivers practically fight over each passenger as they came. They try to trick people into paying for their bus by stuffing a bunch of fake bags and strapping them on top to look like the bus is almost full. I felt very lucky, getting to sit in the front squished between the driver and André because the back was crammed with people. It was a 7-hr. trip to Kelo with a few stops along the way including government road blocks where they would try to get me to give them my passport. André was very stubborn about only giving them my copies to look at in his verrrrry slow methodical way. He said that they would make me pay them to get my passport back if I gave it to them.

When we finally made it to Kelo, it was too late to find a car to take us to Beré. André spent a whole hour negotiating and arguing with some moto (motorcycle taxis) drivers about taking us. They wanted more than the usual fare because it was late and the roads were really bad from all the rain. He kept refusing and I picked up a little bit of the French where he was trying to tell them I was a nurse for the hospital and had to get there that night to help people J A crowd gathered all around us to listen and stare at the white girl and interject their own advice. I kept trying to tell him that it didn’t matter, I would just pay it or we could go find a place to stay the night, but I’ve been learning that you can’t rush Africans. They take everything in their own time and will negotiate prices and such for ever! Finally he decided we would find a place to stay in Kelo because the roads were too bad and before I knew it, he jumped on one of the motos and motioned for me to do the same on a different one. I didn’t have time to say I’d never ridden on a motorcycle before and a few moments later I was crazily trying to keep my balance seated behind the driver holding onto my laptop, camera, and water bottle with one of my bags jammed on behind me.

It was dark by now and I started getting nervous about the thought that I was on this moto with some stranger who could easily take off in whatever direction he wanted. Just as I was telling myself that this was just another adventure, the headlight quit and the moto started puttering to a stop. André and his driver never noticed because they were ahead of us and soon they were out of sight. I guess the moto was running out of gas and my driver started walking it down the road looking for gas. We stopped next to a bunch of men smoking and he made me get off while he turned his moto upside down and shook it. I don’t know how that worked, but when he got back on it started again. We took off again, this time barely seeing people and goats in time to swerve around them since the headlight still didn’t work. He was going slower and looking down all the streets which gave me the feeling he didn’t know where we were supposed to go. I was getting more nervous and wishing I could speak French just for a minute to communicate with him since I might be lost in the town with him for awhile. Feeling very helpless, I happened to look up and was greeted by a sky brimming with stars and the moon. It was beautiful and somehow comforted me. I continued to look at them while we weaved through the dark town and thought of the verse in Psalms where David writes, “When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”

Before I knew it, the other moto miraculously found us and we found our way to a room for the night. I’m sitting there right now writing this, feeling incredibly cared for and loved by God…and all because of a few stars!

Tomorrow morning I will be in Beré (I hope) and I can post this as soon as I figure out how the internet works. Thank you for all the prayers while I traveled!

Friday, September 7, 2007

The date is set

My plane ticket is bought ~ I leave next Wednesday, the 12th at 1:20 PM! I can hardly wait, but I also have so much to do in just a few days...I have to pack, take 20 min. hot showers to make up for a whole year without them, cram some more French into my brain, take my EMT national registry test on Tuesday, hang out with a few more friends who I won't see for a long time, finish writing back to a bunch of my campers from this summer, and stock up on important foods like chocolate and dried cranberries :) Hopefully everything will fall together. Today I'm visiting all my grandparents one last time and saying for the millionth time, "No Grandma, I'm not going to get lost over there...yes, I'll eat a lot of good food..."