Uganda Love This

Amy Scheel

Author: Amy (page 2 of 8)

Amy 24 years, Museveni 30 years (in power)

Hey everyone-

I think everything is finally settling down after the elections and I must say, witnessing them firsthand was eye-opening to say the least. If I had to describe what I’ve witnessed over the last few days I think the only word that truly fits is sad. While I certainly do not know everything there is to know about Ugandan politics, what I do know is that their government, which they claim is a democracy, is anything but that. In short, the current President (Museveni) who has been in power for 30 years was running for his 5th term, after casually changing the previous “3-term limit” law. His main competitor was Kizza Besiyge, who was running against Museveni for the 4th time. Besiyge was clearly the favorite amongst the Ugandan people. To put it in perspective, I’ve asked 40 Ugandans from all over the country who they voted for and every single person but ONE said Besiyge. (Side-note: I knew all of these people prior to elections. I wasn’t just polling random strangers). On election day I watched as voting materials arrived at polling stations up to 6 hours late or not at all. Oh and by the way, their “voting stations” look like a glorified middle school student council election. Each “station” consisted of an area taped off with what appeared to be streamers and each person voted on a piece of paper and placed it in a plastic bin which was completely tamper proof with a few pieces of duck tape….I watched as multiple bins were found with pre-ticked ballots for Museveni, votes from certain areas outnumbered the number of registered voters, and boxes of votes from areas heavily favoring Besiyge “disappeared”. To make matters worse, Museveni shut down all forms of social media to keep people from saying “dishonest” things about him, including “Mobile Money” which is vital to many business operations in Uganda. The cherry on top to all of this is that throughout the process he had Besiyge arrested 4 times. Up until the “final announcement” Besiyge had been leading in almost every single district but Museveni’s home district. When it was announced that Museveni had won with over 60% I watched as people stared in disbelief. The unfortunate side to this is that most people have accepted the fact that there is no way to have a free and fair election here. They know that if they protest, they will be killed. They have given up completely responding with “maybe in 5 years we’ll have better luck”. To add to the corruption I’ve witnessed over the past few days, Besiyge is still in custody, where he will “coincidentally” remain until after the 10-day period granted to candidates to appeal the elections has passed. I know I’m not Ugandan and this isn’t my country, however it is disheartening to witness people who have become my family so frustrated over an election where they were supposed to be given a voice and they weren’t. 

 

On Monday I worked with the nurses in the morning and then headed home to get everything ready for my trip with Paul. On Monday night my entire Gulu family surprised me with a dinner party to celebrate my 24th birthday. I could not be more thankful for the friends that I have made here and for how special each and every one of them made me feel. We had a Mexican feast complete with margaritas, played games and just enjoyed each other’s company. My 2nd African birthday was definitely one to remember! Bring on 24!

I love you people

I love you people

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What birthday is complete without a party hat and people who make you laugh?

Yesterday morning I headed down to the ITW office in Kampala. I will be visiting the ITW pregnancy project sites with Dr. Okello this week before Paul’s arrival on Friday night. I can’t wait to have him here and I am so ready for him to see what my life has been like for the last year. See you soon Paul!

 

The return of Emmy

Hey everyone!

Last week was a really productive and re-energizing week. After the extremely heartbreaking week prior, I must admit, it was much needed. Most of my week was spent in the clinic organizing Registry patients for follow up as well as organizing everything for the 2nd support group. In addition, one of our nurses from Lira was up in Gulu for training so the two of us spent a lot of time using the Vscans to work on our echo skills.

The second support group honestly couldn’t have gone any better and I’m really excited about how everything is playing out. On Saturday my friend Eric dropped a few boxes of supplies at the school at 9:00am and called to tell me that there were already kids waiting. When I arrived at 10:00am over half of the children were already there! All of these children have been out of school since the last week of November and won’t be restarting until after the elections, which are this Thursday. In addition to the super awesome support group I had planned…I think these kids are simply excited about the ability to learn and play with other children their age. After all-isn’t that what being a kid is all about? Over 90% of the participants from the first group attended the second group. In addition we had 4 new children attend, bringing the total up to 50! Never in my wildest dreams would I have anticipated such a positive and receptive response from these children and I am so excited that they love being apart of this group. I am truly inspired by their desire to learn and their thought provoking questions. Let me tell you-these kids are intelligent!

Support group 2!

Support group 2!

 

While the kids definitely walked away with new information about their disease, I think one of the most informative parts of the day came after everyone left and I was waiting for Eric to come help me bring the boxes home. Two of the teachers from Gulu Public (the school where the group is held) came into the classroom I was in and I started telling them all about the support group program. They then asked me my name and I responded with “Amy.” Their response-“Emmy? You’re a boy?” Why I haven’t started making names up is beyond me. Both of these teachers then sat down and watched me as I proceeded to spell out Amy vs Emmy on the blackboard and explain that Amy is in fact a girl’s name in the US. It’s times like these that I wish my parents had actually gone through with naming me Michelle. I’ll blame my Dad for thinking that I would have a Lisp and not wanting me to be the subject of teasing as I struggled to pronounce Michelle Scheel…

Most important lesson of the day..

Most important lesson of the day..

 

On Saturday night my house hosted a Valentine’s Day party, which more or less looked like a Halloween party. A few days before the party we all drew names and were partnered with someone at random. We then had to come up with a partner costume for the party. Arthur and I ended up being Clinton and Trump and I have to say I think we did a pretty great job. In true character, I insulted him all night while he returned the favor. It doesn’t get more realistic than that. I’m not sure how we forgot to take a picture but take my word for it-our costumes were on point.

 

On Sunday John, Brandon and I set out on a day trip to Aruu Falls, a local water fall about an hour away from Gulu. Now if you recall, it was us 3 who were together when we had bike issues on the way to Fort Patico and this trip was no exception. Brandon and I made it about halfway there when his dirt bike decided to die. After waiting under a tree for an hour hoping it would start, we left it at a local shop and called a mechanic from Gulu to come fix it. Determined to make it to the waterfall, we hired two guys in the town of Paicho (where we broke down) to take us the rest of the way. About 5 minutes into that ride, the bike that Brandon was on died so we once again had to wait until we could find him another ride. Finally 3.5 hours after departure from Gulu we arrived at the falls and let me tell you-it was worth the hassle! We spent the entire afternoon swimming and climbing up and down the falls. I couldn’t help but think of Alex throughout the day, as the last time I hiked up a waterfall was with him and Vanessa in Ecuador. It was such a wonderful way to reflect back on his life and all of the memories that we were fortunate enough to share. As a lover of all things outdoors, I know he would have loved it.

Van, me and Alex in Misahuali

Van, me and Alex in Misahuali

After leaving the falls at around 4:30, we arrived in Paicho to find Brandon’s bike fixed (or so we thought). We made it about 5 miles when his bike died again. This time we were nowhere near a town and ended up calling his mechanic, Emmy (oh the irony), from Gulu. We spent the next 1.5 hours on the side of the road talking about life and watching the most amazing sunset. It’s moments like these that you just have to laugh at your misfortune and enjoy the company that you are with. Emmy finally arrived and got the bike to start after 20 minutes. We made it ½ mile down the road when it died again. At this point we were all just laughing because let’s face it, what else can you do? Emmy gave us his bike to drive back and spent what would end up being two hours trying to get Brandon’s bike back to Gulu. He ended up piling it in a cattle truck…..not going to lie, kind of bummed we missed that. After an 11-hour adventure, the 3 of us made it back to Gulu safe and sound.

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John, Brandon and I at Aruu

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Professional roadside sitters

This upcoming week will be a little different than most as the presidential elections will be held on Thursday. Most organizations have mandated that their volunteers not leave their compounds from Thurs-Saturday, so I will be staying at Brandon’s for the end of the week for a very large sleepover with everyone. I wish I could say what I thought was going to happen during these elections but the truth is, I honestly have no idea. I’ll be sure to update you as things begin to unfold.

 

I hope everyone has a great week!

 

Rest easy my friends

Hey everyone-

I’m sure I’m beginning to sound like a broken record BUT sorry for the delay. Since I officially left for Uganda a little over a year ago (what!?), my one-year blog subscription expired and it took some time to get it up again. So much has happened over the last week and a half so I’ll jump right in.

On Saturday the 23rd we had our first support group and I couldn’t be happier with how everything turned out. I arrived at 10am (group starts at noon) to find 8 children already there. EIGHT! And here I was worried that children wouldn’t show up. The children started by checking in and making their nametags, which was a huge hit. Most of their nametags have so many stickers on them that you can’t actually read their names but hey they enjoyed it so that’s all that matters. We officially started the group off with a little “aerobics” taught by my friend Eric and then broke the kids into 3 groups. The first group started by filling out baseline data forms, the second group took a quiz about rheumatic heart disease and then took part in an educational workshop, and the third group performed an obstacle course. The kids rotated through each station over 3 hours. Overall we had 46 kids total attend the first group, all of which seemed eager to return this month. The next group is a week from Saturday so I am already busy trying to solidify all of the details for group 2!

 

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Katie was the final stop of the Obstacle course. The kids had to high-five her puppet monkey to complete the course!

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Obstacle course fun

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The whole gang!

On Saturday afternoon, after the support group, 8 of us headed out to Fort Patico to do a sunset hike. After 2 hours and 2 flat tires later….I finally made it. Brandon, who I had originally been riding with however, did not. He had to ride on his flat tire all the way back to Gulu while our friend John who was on the way picked me up. We made it just in time for sunset and it was such a perfect ending to such a long, amazing and work filled week.

 

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The whole gang at Patico

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Missing you Robbie

On Sunday 15 of us headed to Chobe lodge in Murchison falls to spend the day at the pool for our final day with Robbie before he headed back to the states. Robbie arrived in Gulu the same week I did last year and we have really gotten to know each other over the past couple of months. He is such a kind and genuine person and was always down for an adventure. There is no doubt in my mind that our paths will cross again but right now the entire Gulu community is definitely missing him (no matter how weird or quirky he could be at times).

On Tuesday I headed down to the ITW house in Kampala to prepare for my visit to Nawanyago on Wednesday and Kasambya on Thursday and Friday. Dr. Okello and I left for Nawanyago early Wednesday morning and spent the day with Henriator, our main research nurse there. We addressed a few minor problems but overall I think everything is going extremely well. On Wednesday night I headed to Mubende where I slept before traveling to Kasambya clinic the following morning. I spent the day with Hakim and Olivia and was super impressed with their work ethic and echo skills. They are more than determined to make sure that we get the numbers we need for this study! On Friday I headed back up to Kasambya with Dr. Okello but we had to cut our day short due to the impending arrival of Mbabazi, a presidential candidate for the current election. While I’m sure things would have been fine, none of us were trying to stick around for the crowds and chaos that would immediately follow his arrival.

Carolina, Arthur and Daron ended up coming down from Gulu to Kampala on Friday evening so we enjoyed some good food and drinks over the weekend before heading back on Sunday. With the upcoming elections, most of us will be staying put in Gulu until the results are out. We don’t anticipate anything going wrong but its definitely much safer where we are than in the capital.

In contrast to last week, this week has just been one of those weeks where everything seems to go wrong and each subsequent event is sadder than the previous one. As they say “when it rains, it pours”. On Wednesday morning I walked into the children’s ward to find Regan, one of our RHD patients who was frequently admitted, covered with a sheet. I didn’t have to ask. I knew what that meant but at the same time I couldn’t, and honestly still can’t, process it. I loved that kid and truly thought that we were going to have the chance to get him the life-saving surgery that he needed. He had been stable the day before and even ate his afternoon lollipop with me, a tradition we started back in December. He has been admitted multiple times however he always pulled through. Why was this time different? I’ve experienced this so many times now and I think I fooled myself into thinking it would get easier. Shortly after Regan’s death we were informed that another one of our RHD patients (Barbara who I have written about previously) passed away in December. We had assumed the worst since we had not seen her since her admittance in November but there was still a small chance that we were wrong. After weeks of trying we finally got through to her mother who said she passed away in the village around Christmas time. As if our day hadn’t been devastating enough, our last patient of the day was a 5-year old-boy with newly diagnosed HIV and TB. Like I said, when it rains it pours.

This morning I woke up ready for a new start when I received the worst, most bone chilling news. Alex, my co-worker during my time with Alma Sana, and more importantly friend, passed away this week at the young age of 25. He was without a doubt one of the most impressive and vibrant young people I have ever been around and his desire to change the world through global health interventions was inspiring. He has truly touched the lives of many people, including my own, and the world will not be the same without him. During my time in South America, Alex hosted Vanessa and I for a week and a half in Ecuador, taking us on the trip of a lifetime. I will cherish those memories forever and always remember our long talks about global health and our dreams of changing the world. In my opinion though, he was already doing that. My heart goes out to all of Alex’s friends and family. Rest easy my friend. Te extrañamos mucho.

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Alex, Vanessa and I rafting down the Rio Napo in Ecuador

“Those who are crosseyed”

After receiving messages from both of my parents asking if I’m alive, I figured it was time for a blog post. I apologize for the delay but things have been super busy here with project launches and traveling! Since my last blog post was from the airport, I’ll start there where I left off.

 

With 30+ hours on a plane by myself, I had a lot of time to reflect on this past year but also a lot of time to let my mind wander. After calculating that I have been on 27 airplanes this year (who knows how many hours that adds up to) I thought I’d share some of the lessons I’ve learned as a seasoned airport goer.

 

  1. The last name Scheel has Dutch roots. No matter what I say when going through security in Amsterdam I will always be greeted in Dutch first, followed by a stare from a disappointed security officer when I tell him I can’t understand him and that I have no Dutch ancestors.
  2. Scheel means “those who are cross eyed” in Dutch. Lovely.
  3. You should probably try to get your Visa more than 3 days before departure…..Thanks to everyone who made that happen. Nothing like a little excitement.
  4. Business class is a magical land.
  5. If you have to Google the meaning of items on the dinner menu for the aforementioned business class then you probably don’t belong….
  6. Leaving your passport on the plane and having to go down the up escalator weaving in and out of de-boarding passengers is highly embarrassing.

 

Once arriving in Uganda things took off right from the start. A day and half after arriving we officially launched a study that will assess the impact of RHD on maternal outcomes at two Health Centre III’s in Uganda. We started the week at Kasambya and finished in Nawanyago. Although some of us were a little skeptical at the beginning, I have to say that I don’t think the first week at the sites could have gone much better. The research nurses, whom I will be working with closely over the next few months, have been absolutely wonderful and you can really tell how invested they are in this project. I will be heading down to both of the sites next week and can’t wait to see all of the amazing work they have been doing!

Sunset over the nile after a long day at Nawanyago

Sunset over the nile after a long day at Nawanyago

Allan or Harry Potter?

Allan or Harry Potter?

After officially finishing the launch at both sites on Thursday afternoon, I headed back to Kampala with Dr. Sable to meet the 3 Residents from Children’s (who are absolutely wonderful) that are in Uganda for 3 weeks. On Saturday we screened over 20 children with congenital heart disease with Samaritan’s Purse. A lot of these patients were good surgical candidates and some even made the trek down from Gulu-fingers crossed that these kiddos will be placed for surgery! Unfortunately we did have one kid come in who had severe RHD w/ triple valve involvement, something I have personally never seen before. Although I work with RHD patients daily it still really affects me, especially knowing how preventable it is. It was even harder trying to watch the family understand that this is something that is not going to go away and that the child will need to be on medication for the rest of his life.

            After an amazingly long and productive week, the Residents, Twalib and I headed back to Gulu on Sunday afternoon. I honestly can’t even express how great it felt to be able to have all of my stuff in one place and be back “home” with all of my roommates. I was quickly reminded on Monday morning, however, what being back in Gulu means-unreliable electricity. Our power has been out for over 4 days making it virtually impossible to do anything from home in terms of work. Throw in 2 days of no water and a shower with a bucket of rain water and I truly felt like I was camping.

The whole gang in the cardiac clinic

The whole gang in the cardiac clinic

 

This week I spent a majority of my time with the nurses and Twalib in the cardiac clinic. Although we hadn’t scheduled patients for Monday or Tuesday we still had a lot of walk-ins, which kept us busy. Every afternoon has been devoted to support group training and meetings and I am super excited for our group tomorrow! Things are finally coming together and I really think that this is going to be something special. When we called the kids to remind them yesterday, all of them had remembered the date and said they were looking forward to it, which is always comforting. Now all I have to do is cross my fingers that they show up around the same time. Noon in Uganda means anywhere between 12-3…….I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes! Have a great weekend everybody! PS-Mom and Dad-I’m alive.

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My friend Robbie came for a tour of the hospital and got a little more than he bargained for

Here we go again!

After 3 amazing weeks home with family, friends and people constantly asking me “how’s Africa” and “I thought you were done” (it’s not a prison sentence people), my 170 lbs of luggage and I have officially started our journey back “home”. Seeing as though this journey takes about 30 hours, I have already had a lot of time to reflect back on this past year. I simply cannot believe that it has been a little under a year since I first left for Uganda. Originally leaving for 2.5 months I could have never imagined what was ahead and the amazing people that I would encounter. I have fallen in love with this country and its people and am saddened to think that this may be the last extended trip that I take there for awhile. With that being said I am extremely excited and ready for these last few months and all of things that my team and I hope to accomplish!

On Monday we will officially launch our project to assess the impact of RHD on maternal outcomes in pregnancy at two different village health centers. After personally witnessing two young mothers brought in with severe RHD during pregnancy last month, I am excited by all the promise that this project holds. I truly think that this is going to have an impact on many, many lives. While working on this project I will be splitting my time in Gulu and at health centers in Nawanyago and Kasambya. While I am not the biggest fan of travel in this country for pretty obvious reasons, the teams at both of these locations are well worth the transportation hassle. They are simply some of the most compassionate and motivated people that I have met and I am lucky to be able to be on the ground working with them. In addition to this major project I also have so many other things to look forward to like the support group truly taking off, Opio starting school, my brother visiting Africa, and the return of old friends to Gulu. With my time winding down I am more determined than ever to cherish every moment, every experience and every relationship that I form. The only thing that stands in my way now is 22 more hours of flying. I’m coming for you Uganda!

 

 

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Uganda (not) love this post

As you know, I created this blog so that I could share my experiences abroad in Uganda. I have shared many stories of my adventures ranging from happy to sad, good to bad, and heartwarming to heart wrenching. Life has a way of bringing about unexpected events, both good and bad, and I think I would be doing myself a disservice if I did not write about my experiences last Tuesday. Whether I’ve come to terms with it or not the bus crash that I was in did happen. While this event does not define my time here or taint the love that I have for this country and its people, it is a small part of my story. I’m not writing about this to one day look back and get upset all over again but to instead look back and realize that I experienced something tragic, overcame it, and eventually grew from it.

Last Tuesday started out like most mornings in Gulu during the rainy season- pouring rain and no power. Unlike most mornings however, I was headed to the bus park to catch the bus for Kampala. I was scheduled to be in Kasambya on Wednesday morning to give a health talk on RHD to the Village Health Team in preparation for the launch of our project there in January. I hopped on the bus, choosing a seat towards the back, and proceeded to fall asleep for 2 hours. Yes, my ability to sleep anywhere includes uncomfortable, scratchy bus seats. As the bus rolled to a stop I realized we were at the gas station, which is a traditional stop for all buses going to or from Gulu. I got out, stretched my legs and before I knew it we were on the road again. Flash-forward an hour and I remember the loudest sound I’ve ever heard, then nothing. I am assuming that I came to after being knocked out anywhere between 1-3 minutes, but your guess is as good as mine. I looked to my right to the see the woman next to me bleeding from the head and I looked to my left out the window to see a few bodies on the side of the road, some moving and some not. When I finally looked down the bus aisle I realized that I was not only looking down the aisle of my bus but also into the bus that we had just collided with head on. I’ve heard of shock but personally never experienced it myself until this moment. I felt nothing. I didn’t realize that there was a golf ball sized lump on my eyebrow, that my eye was partially swollen shut or that I had a concussion. Apparently I caught the entire impact on the right side of my body. I remember crawling out of the narrowed door opening stunned to see the true damage when I emerged from the bus. Although this part of the day is very blurry I remember being extremely frustrated with everyone who came up to me “worried about the Mzungu” instead of caring for those that had suffered life threatening injuries, struggling to hold on. Being the only white person in a crowd of roughly 1,000 people, most of which had gathered to observe the wreckage, I remember walking in circles knowing that I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t care where, just not there. Being far away from both Gulu and Kampala, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to have anyone come get me in a timely manner. Option Z was to flag down another bus but at the time nothing sounded worse. I then saw a Mzungu couple stopped in traffic, walked up to the passenger side and asked if I could go with them. Within 10 minutes of crawling out of the bus, I was with Francesco and Jo, headed for Kampala.

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Images from a local paper the day after the crash

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Rose asked me if I got new eye shadow while I was in Kampala…

While this experience was awful, I am truly lucky that I met this couple and that they were so welcoming and understanding of my situation. They gave me water, repeatedly asked if I was okay, and didn’t even mind when I hurled out their window. They dropped me in Kampala where I met a friend and then headed to the ITW office. Within an hour of arriving to ITW, I was on the road to Kasambya.

 

Arriving in Kasambya roughly 7 hours after the event is when I think I truly began to process the severity of the situation. I’ll take this time to apologize to my mom for the shakiest phone call I’ve probably ever made. Thanks for fighting the urge to hop on a plane and get me. Clearly so many what ifs have passed through my head but I can promise you that I am truly grateful to be alive….. and was reminded of that when my coworker woke me up every hour that night to make sure I was still okay. I know how fortunate I am to have come away from that accident relatively unscathed when so many people did not. 

 

On Wednesday Renny, Chris and I headed to Kasambya to give our RHD talk as scheduled. We were without a doubt the moteliest crew to ever give a talk there. Renny was suffering from the flu, Chris with food poisoning and me well…I looked like I had a rough encounter with a gorilla. All things aside I think the workshop was extremely successful and the 19 members that attended seemed very enthusiastic about our project. We couldn’t have asked for a better result.

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Renny, Chris and I with the VHTs

On Thursday I headed back to Gulu, not on a bus. As much as I thought about staying in Kampala for a day or two longer, the thought of being in Gulu was truly comforting. I don’t think I thought through the idea of being on that road again however, and could have probably benefited from a sedative or 10. I ended up working for a half day on Friday and then took it relatively easy for the rest of the weekend. I can’t say that I feel 100% yet but I’m getting there. I am very happy (I think my parents are happier) that I will be headed home next week just so I can regroup, but don’t worry I’ll be back. I am extremely grateful to everyone who reached out to me during this time and equally grateful that my grandmother never invested in a computer to read this.

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Carolina and I donating blood at the Peace Corp blood drive this weekend

 

Thankful and thankful again

This past week has been amazing for so many reasons and in true holiday fashion, reminded me how thankful I am to be living and working in such an incredible place. On Monday and Tuesday Twalib saw patients and I picked up where I left off with my echo training and also acted as his scribe. Twalib and I ended up going to dinner on Monday night because we realized that we have very little time together before I head home. Per usual our topics varied, ranging from me going to med school to if turkey tastes better than chicken. Twalib has a lot on his plate right now since he is taking a MBA course and is also on Faculty at Gulu, which means he has to prepare and administer end of semester exams. Unfortunately this means that he will only be seeing patients 3 days in December.

 

On Tuesday I was probably the happiest girl on the planet when Opio walked in the door. He is doing wonderfully and Twalib couldn’t be more pleased with his progress. He looks like a completely different person and his energy is seriously contagious. He has been living with his Uncle in town since his surgery because life in the village can be rather tough. Our hope is that he will continue to live in Gulu so that we can send him to a school in town, where he will be much better off. I have met with one head teacher already and have another meeting with one this afternoon. I am more than ready for him to be back with kids his own age and can’t wait for him to actually have the opportunity to play-its been almost 3 years!

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Opio looking so good!

 

On Wednesday I spent the day with the nurses organizing patient files from when I was away and working on the logistics of the rheumatic heart disease support group that we will be launching come January. At night I went to dinner with my friend Katie, who is sadly headed home today. She is one of the sweetest and most genuine people I know and she has been instrumental in our search for the RHD children that we lost to follow up. She is a teacher at a local school and not exactly sure how she managed it but she is practically fluent in Acholi. The good news is that she will be coming back in the middle of January and has agreed to help me run the next support group!

 

On Thursday I attended the first annual Gulu 5K Turkey Trot. There were over 90 people who ran the race and it was such a good time. We thought people starred at us before, but a bunch of mzungus doing an organized run, now that is a sight. Every time I go on a run here a boda- boda stops me and goes “you stop that, Ill take you.” The idea of physical exercise is simply foreign to most Acholi people. The person that won however, was a Ugandan marathon runner who ran a sub 15 minute race….I can promise you none of my friends or I were even close to that time BUT we still had an absolute blast. Multiple local vendors ended up coming to the Trot to sell some homemade items so I also got some Christmas shopping done. All of my roommates ended up going into work in the afternoon so I spent a majority of the afternoon hanging out with my friends Brandon, Adam and Robbie. At night we headed to the Iron Donkey for a Thanksgiving feast. Unfortunately we did not have any turkey so local chicken had to take its place. For me (and most people) Thanksgiving is about enjoying time with the people around you and this one was no exception. I do wish that Gulu electricity had cooperated a bit more to allow me to Skype with my family however. Love you guys-sorry it didn’t work out.

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Turkey trot: pictured me, carolina and Goose

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Turkey Trotters

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Goose before….

On Friday the Gulu electricity continued to mess up my plans, so my day of anticipated working was cut short since my computer only lasted about 30 minutes. At night (when power finally came back), 2 of my roommates and I got into the holiday spirit by watching Elf and creating a makeshift fireplace to hang our stockings.

On Saturday 20 of us headed out to a soccer field in the village to play flag football -our very own Turkey bowl. We ended up playing for over 3 hours and we were not ready to stop when we finally called time. The unfortunate side to this is that we all got completely fried by the sun and have nothing to show for our morning of athleticism but weird tan lines and cuts and bruises. On Saturday night we had over 25 people at our house for an epic Friendsgiving. We sacrificed our pet Turkey “Goose” and everyone brought over a dish that reminded him or her of thanksgiving at home. I have to say, given the rather limited food options here, people got pretty creative. Definitely one of my favorites nights thus far and I can’t say it enough-I’m so thankful to be surrounded by such compassionate, passionate and supportive people.

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Goose after….

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Attempted thanksgiving selfie

Tomorrow I will be making the trek down to Mubendi to help run a workshop on RHD for the Village Health Team in Kasaymba. I’m praying that the trip will take less than 10 hours but I won’t hold my breath. Hope you all have a great week!

Planes, puke & reasons I’m not done here yet

Every time I am about to leave Gulu, whether it’s for a vacation with my mom, a work trip or to go home to the States, something major always happens that reinforces that I must return. This time–Barbara. Barbara is a 22-year-old RHD patient who, 3 weeks ago, was struggling to survive. The day before I left in October, our nurses informed me that she had been admitted to the ward. When Twalib and I arrived at her bedside every part of her body was swollen, including her face and neck. Her legs were so large that she could not walk and she was rolling back in forth crying because the pain was too much to bear. To make matters worse, one of the intern doctors sent her for a $7 abdominal ultrasound to check her liver, even though if he had just looked at her medical papers he would have known that this was not necessary. She had not received her injections for the past 3 months because she could not afford the transport to the hospital, let alone a $7 scan. When I checked on her the morning I left Gulu she was begging to be sent home so that she could die there. Her mother hadn’t fed her or given her water in 24 hours because she had “given up on her.” It’s moments like these that my heart actually breaks for the people of Uganda- more specifically the Acholi people suffering from preventable RHD. How can your own mom give up on you? How can something so simple as access to food and water be the reason you don’t want to live anymore? The nurses and I put some money together to ensure that she would be fed throughout her time at the hospital but to be honest, I don’t know what has happened to her while I was away. The part that’s worse- there are hundreds of children in this country in the exact same position as Barbara.

 

My two weeks home were amazing and I had the opportunity to catch up with so many of my friends and family. I also had the chance to interview at some remarkable medical schools and would be honored if I were given the opportunity to attend any one of them. I would be lying, however, if I said I didn’t miss Uganda while I was home. I’m sure there will come a time when I’m ready to be home for good, but I can honestly say that I am very far away from that (sorry Mommom).

 

Getting on the plane I was both anxious for the next 30 hours of travel time, especially with current events, and excited to be back in Uganda. I was hoping to minimalize my jetlag as much as possible and told myself I would sleep on the second plane and keep myself awake for the third. After having dinner and a lovely glass of wine I was all ready for an epic nap, which is totally an art at 36,000 ft by the way, when I heard a huge clunk at my feet. The woman next to me had passed out and then to my dismay began to puke all over the aisle…and my shoes. Mom you keep asking what I want for Christmas well, my shoes have seen better days. To make matters worse she did not speak any English so none of the flight attendants, or myself for that matter, could ask her what she needed from us. It ended up being a horrible case of motion sickness but I can promise you any passenger within smelling range of row 31, did not have an enjoyable flight.

 

I landed in Uganda on Sunday night and immediately met up with the Imaging the World team, whom I adore. We spent the entire week traveling around the country to visit the sites that we will be launching our RHD maternal outcomes project in come January. Trips with ITW are never short of laughs and stories and I was happy to spend the week amongst such great company. The trip definitely gave me a good sense of where we stand in terms of successfully launching the project and I can’t wait to officially get started in less than 2 months.

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Sister Angela and Kristen explaining the importance of ultrasound during pregnancy

On Thursday afternoon I headed back to Gulu and I could not have been more excited. Besides being pulled over for speeding (yes even when I’m not driving they find me…) and a huge thunderstorm, I made it back in one piece. I honestly love the people I live with and the community in Gulu, which is definitely one of the reasons that I am so content here. It was a great feeling being able to unpack some things and not be living out of a suitcase. It didn’t really hit me until I looked at my calendar today how soon I will be “re-returning” to the U.S. 3 weeks from today I will be headed back down to Kampala to get ready for my flight! Very bummed that I will not be home to spend Thanksgiving with my family but I am extremely lucky to have so many amazing people to spend it with here. Remember Dad and Paul-don’t let mom cook ANYTHING.

 

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happy to be back with my Gulu family

Can’t wait to be back in the clinic with Twalib and the nurses tomorrow. Feels like it has been months. Hope everyone has a great week and an amazing Thanksgiving!

Are you blind?

Hey friends,

Long time no talk. Not too much to report from across the globe. The last two weeks have been very routine and mainly consisted of seeing patients in the clinic. We have gotten to the point where we have enrolled most of the children that have known RHD, so our registry enrollment has slowed down tremendously (for now). It will pick back up again in January and February when a lot of these children return for their 6-month follow-up visits. This has fortunately left a lot of time for me to practice my echo skills. Whenever a new pediatric patient comes in, Twalib lets me take all of the pictures (the ones I know how to do) and then comes to review them, critique them and more often than not, take better pictures. I know perfecting this skill won’t happen over night (or even by the time I leave) but I am very blessed to be able to have the opportunity to learn. I have met so many medical students throughout my time here, most of which say they have never performed an echo or even held an echo probe for that matter. The fact that I have the opportunity to learn this skill before I even enter medical school (fingers crossed) is truly amazing.

 

Spending time in the clinic I get to interact with a lot of patients, most of which don’t speak English. I would like to think that one of my strengths is cultural competency and the ability to interact with all different types of people, even if I can’t speak their language. With that being said…I must painfully admit that I don’t think I won any cultural awareness awards last week….last Wednesday an older patient walked through the door, tripped over a bench, and then when he went to shake Twalib’s hand was facing in the complete wrong direction. Assuming (never assume people, never) he didn’t speak English, I turned to Twalib and asked “ Is this guy blind?” The patient then turns in my direction and goes “ Yes dear, I am.” Foot in mouth Amy, foot in mouth. After I picked my jaw back up off the floor, I turned to the man and apologized for my outburst. The funny thing is that if this were to happen in the U.S, I probably would have offended someone so badly that they wouldn’t want me in the room while they were being examined. Here, this man completely laughed it off and said “ why are you apologizing, its true.” Ugandans, especially Acholi’s, are genuinely some of the most open and brutally honest people I have ever met. For example-yesterday on a boda-boda (sorry mom it was about to pour), I was only 2 minutes into my ride when I knew the full name of my driver, his HIV positive status, where to find him at the hospital on certain days of the month, and the name of the clinical trial he was participating in. Like I said, I like to meet new people. There is pretty much nothing in terms of medical care that is kept private and I can promise you there is nothing that resembles a HIPPA law here.

 

Tomorrow, we will be working with Samaritan’s Purse to hopefully match some of our children for surgery. They are currently looking for VSD’s, ASD’s and TOF’s, all under 5 years, which unfortunately excludes a lot of the children we have with congenital heart defects. If we can match even one child and link them to surgery then the day will be considered a success. A lot of these families simply can’t afford the transport down to Kampala ($7) to even be screened, so we are very fortunate that Samaritan’s Purse was willing to make the trek up to Gulu.

 

For those of you that don’t know, my plans recently changed and I will officially be heading home this weekend for medical school interviews! I am very excited to a. be one step closer to my dream and b. see my family and friends! I will only be home for 2 weeks before returning back to Uganda on November 14th. I still can’t believe that I have been here for almost 5 months this time and that it is already time to interview. I’m sure it feels like yesterday that I was complaining about having secondary applications to fill out. That’s all for now. See you soon America!

 

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Most of our crew was out of town this weekend so us stragglers decided to throw our very own “Gulu Homecoming” celebration, in honor of Virginia Tech homecoming this past weekend (wonder whose idea that was…)

 

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Storms have become a regular part of the day in Gulu. I got half way home yesterday when it started to pour so a lovely woman called to me and opened up the back of her small store so I could wait it out. 

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Thanks for the lollipops Milot’s!! The kids love them and I am officially not the “scary white lady” anymore

Raindrops are falling on my head

On Sunday morning I was boldly reminded why I could never live in Uganda long(er) term-public transportation. Now before I left Gulu to spend the weekend in Jinja with 10 of my friends, I knew getting up to Lira on Sunday would be a logistical nightmare. It would require hours on a bus, but I wasn’t about to miss out on a good time. SO on Sunday morning I woke up at 6:30am to hop on a “matatu” headed for Kampala. In my sleepy state I made the very bad decision of sitting in the first row. Even though there were about 8 open seats in the back of the van, I was joined by 5 fellow travelers on a seat made for 3. In addition, the woman sitting next to me was bringing a bag full of fresh fish to family members…As Nemo, Dory and I headed for Kampala, the baby that was sitting on the lap of the mother behind me decided to vomit. Fast forward 1 minute and I had a baby in my lap, clothes that smelled like I had just gone deep-sea fishing and I driver that was honking his horn every 30 seconds looking for additional passengers.

 

After 2.5 hours we arrived in Kampala where I met Twalib at the UHI. To my dismay we hopped back on to a Matatu and headed for the bus park. When we arrived we asked around for buses leaving for Lira and were informed of one leaving at 2pm. It was 10:45am at the time. There is not much to do around the bus park and not exactly where a foreigner wants to be hanging out so Twalib and I bought our tickets and hopped on the bus. I proceeded to sweat out the adult beverages that I had enjoyed the night before while Twalib read me excerpts from his book about Donald Trump. I cannot tell you why but Twalib is simply fascinated by Trump and continues to ask me if the American people are dumb enough to vote for him. I think I’m scared to honestly answer that question. As time went on vendors came onto the bus selling everything from purses and phone chargers to pots and pans. I happened to be the only non-Ugandan on this bus so every time they passed me they first stared and then said “C’mon Mzungu you buy my things.” For those of you into one stop Christmas shopping, the Ugandan bus system definitely has it all.

 

Finally 2pm arrived and we were on our way. About an hour into the trip, the sky turned black and shortly after started to downpour. SURPRISE! My window was jammed. I never thought I would need a rain jacket in a vehicle before but somehow things are starting to surprise me less and less. An hour after this unfortunate occurrence we stopped at a local gas station. At these stops people usually hop off to use the restroom and buy refreshments. Since Twalib and I both had bags we took turns getting off the bus-I went first. When I returned Twalib hopped off and I soon realized the bus was leaving….and he wasn’t on it. I stood up yelling that we forgot someone yet all I received in return were a few stares. I continued yelling until finally about 2 minutes down the road we pulled over to the shoulder. I looked out the window to see Twalib running full speed after the bus in the pouring rain waving his arms. I honestly can’t stop laughing just thinking about it . The rest of the trip was long but compared to the beginning of the trip, thankfully uneventful.

 

We arrived in Lira around 8pm and met up with Steve, a resident from Case Western who came over to help us launch phase 1 of our project. This week has gone very smooth and I think we are both happy with how everything has turned out. In short, this project entails us first mapping the current flow of patients with suspected cardiac disease at Lira Regional Referral Hospital. We then plan to train medical personnel in echocardiography to bring cardiac diagnoses and appropriate treatment to the people of Lira, instead of them being referred to other parts of the country, which is the current protocol. This week has been full of meetings, important discussions and relationship building with the local staff. I am extremely happy with the positive response our presence and this project has received and I am super excited to watch it grow over the next few months. Ready to wrap things up and head back to Gulu tomorrow evening!

 

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honorary members of Lira Rotary Club

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trying to make inventory fun

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hospital selfies

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