Uganda Love This

Amy Scheel

Author: Amy (page 3 of 8)

Get well soon Pam!

This week has been like most weeks I have had in Uganda-filled with many ups and downs. I returned to Gulu to a house without power and my room ransacked by our (ex) cleaning lady. Mentally preparing myself for the week ahead on Sunday afternoon, my roommates and I got the worst possible news. The type of news that just makes your stomach drop. Pam, a friend who recently moved to Lira with the Peace Corp, was sleeping when 3 burglars broke into her house and stabbed her and her roommate multiple times before stealing all of their electronics. They were both air transported to South Africa where they underwent multiple life-saving surgeries. Pam was extubated yesterday and although she has a long way to go, she is stable for now. I have mentioned this before but I have not once felt unsafe in this country or that my life was at risk. Sure I have been uncomfortable but that’s a part of traveling and experiencing a new place and new culture. You hear of something like this happening every now and then but it doesn’t really hit home until it’s someone that you are close to and in contact with. Am I scared now? No. Am I being overly cautious and aware of my surroundings at all times? Absolutely. All I can do now is pray for her to have a speedy recovery so that she can get back to the US where she’ll be surrounded by her supportive family and friends.

 

On Monday I headed to the hospital to catch up with the nurses and go over everything that they have been up to since I have been gone. Somehow seeing them always puts me at ease. They were able to track down 7 more of our patients who were in need of follow up, which I was really happy about. It may not seem like much but these are the kids that had changed schools and had no phone numbers. The nurses went to practically every school in the district looking for these children.

 

On Monday night Carolina and I performed our weekly workouts in the front yard, using textbooks as weights, before heading over to Brandon’s for dinner. Luckily for us Brandon is currently finding his “inner chef” and wants to experiment by cooking us dinner whenever he has time. I can honestly say I have absolutely no problem with this. In addition, as easy as it is to just curl up at the end of the day, it is so nice to share a meal with others and talk about your day.

 

On Tuesday we dealt with some rather unhappy patients who came to the hospital to see Twalib. We had tried to contact them to let them know that he would no longer be around and that we would need to reschedule their appointments but most of them did not provide phone numbers. The roughly 15 patients we had scheduled for Tuesday were then piled onto the 20 patients that were already scheduled for Wednesday. On Tuesday night all of us headed to Comboni’s, the local Italian pizza place, to celebrate Carolina’s 26th Birthday! Carolina is probably one of the sweetest people I have met while living here and she is the best roommate I could ask for. Her sense of adventure and love for life always brightens my day and everyone else’s around her.

 

As you probably already guessed, Wednesday was an extremely busy day. We saw patients from 8:15-4:30 straight, trying to account for the backlog that accumulated while Twalib and I were away. One of these patients was Opio, which as always, made me the happiest girl in the world. Every time I see him he looks better and better with an even bigger smile on his face. This time he walked right in the room and practically leaped onto the echo bed without any assistance. Before it was a process to even get him on the bed due to all of his abdominal swelling. As usual his biggest problem right now is that he is bored but he is fully preparing to start 4th grade in January by reading all of his siblings school materials.

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This morning I met with the nurses to go over everything for next week since I will be away working in Lira. They are more than capable of handling everything in my absence but I wanted to make sure that they are prepared to help Twalib as much as they can since he has roughly 25 patients scheduled each clinic day next week. We have all been working together long enough that what we have going just works and I feel horrible leaving them. At the same time working in the clinic is not the main reason I am here and the Lira project launch next week will keep me plenty busy.

 

Tonight I will be heading to Kampala with my roommates. From there we will head to Jinja for the weekend before I head to Lira with Twalib on Sunday afternoon. With everything that happened with Pam, I think we are all on edge and just want to get away for the weekend. In addition, tomorrow is Ugandan Independence Day so everyone has the day off. The National celebration is being held in Gulu this year, which means there are already 1000’s of soldiers lining the street in preparation for the President’s arrival tomorrow morning. In other words, it’s time to get the heck out of dodge.

Trip of a lifetime

Hello everyone!

I am officially back in Uganda after the most amazing vacation with my mom. Our vacation started out in typical Amy/Janet fashion with my mom missing her flight, me leaving my passport on the plane, having no money for my visa because my mom had US dollars and the immigration office holding all of my belongings as collateral until I left the airport and found an ATM…minus these minor and later comical mishaps, everything about this trip was perfect. I do not think I can do the trip justice so I will just include some photos of our favorite parts/memories from the trip! We started out in Serengeti National Park and then headed over to Zanzibar for a few days to soak up the sun. If you are thinking about coming to Africa to Safari, of all the places I have been, the Serengeti takes the cake!

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daily lunch view 

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Sunset at camp

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wildebeest migration! one of the coolest things I have ever seen

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beautiful Zanzibar!

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IMG_3218Thanks for everything mom! I love you!

I have been working in Kampala since Tuesday and will be heading back to Gulu tomorrow morning. Never thought I would say this but I cant wait! I’m so excited to see all of my roommates and get back into a routine. I hope everyone has had a great week!

 

 

 

 

Ready for a vacation

This past week started out amazing and unfortunately took a turn for the sad and heartbreaking. On Monday we were able to locate 30+ school children that had missed their follow up appointments and had them come to clinic. Most of the kids have not been seen in almost two years and I am still stunned that we were able to even find them. I think the biggest factor surrounding these children not returning to the clinic is a lack of understanding. Most of the children we were searching for have borderline disease meaning that they do not need monthly injections, however we need to follow up with them every year to make sure the disease has not progressed. Once they hear “you don’t need medication” it appears that they tune out the rest of the conversation. We started giving them scheduled appointments for next year so hopefully the turn out  will be much more positive come next September.

 

On Tuesday we continued to see more patients, one of which was a 7th month old boy with Truncus Arteriosus. This condition would be corrected within the first few weeks of life in the US with a relatively high survival rate. The fact that this child wasn’t even brought to a cardiologist until he was 7months old just reminded me why I am here and why our next project is centered on increasing the availability of cardiac services in Uganda. The surgery to correct this abnormality is complex and cannot be performed in Uganda currently. There is an organization that sponsors children with Truncus to go abroad for surgery however they usually take newborns because the survival rate is much higher. This family, like most families in Gulu, simply does not have the thousands of dollars necessary to apply for passports and fly to another country for the operation unsponsored. Being placed with this organization would have been their only hope however it is too late at this point. This is this mother’s only child and she was sent home with a few cardiac drugs and no hope.

 

On Wednesday, we held our routine children’s clinic and enrolled a few patients into the RHD registry. We were getting ready to head to a local school, when Rose came running into the outpatient cardiac room to tell us that one of our patients had passed out shortly after receiving her penicillin injection. At first, with the way Rose described it, I thought she simply passed out because of the needle (which I may or may not have done before). I was 100% unprepared for what I saw when I walked into the room. Jennifer, a 14 yr old RHD patient, was unconscious and not breathing on the floor. I put my CPR certification to use and started bagging her while Twalib did compressions and the nurses administered all of the drugs that Twalib was rapidly calling out. Despite our efforts we were unfortunately unable to resuscitate her. Even typing this story makes me feel sick to my stomach. Every time I experience something like this I tell myself that it can’t get any worse but somehow it always does. This was by far the most heartbreaking experience I have had to date and something I will never forget for as long as I live. Jennifer has been in care in Gulu for over a year and I have known her since March when I met her at an appointment. She was from a very poor family in a village far away, which definitely hindered her ability to get the care she needed. Her mother informed us that she had not urinated in over 3 days, which was most likely due to kidney failure. During times like these a lot of what ifs go through your head-what if Twalib had been in the room when it happened? What if I had scheduled her appointment a week earlier? None of which can change the outcome of the situation however it is simply human nature to think like this. When her mother came into the room she collapsed on the floor calling out her name and crying. My nurses then explained to me that she was crying over the fact that she could not afford to pay for the body to be brought back to the village not because her daughter was dead. With everything that happened on Wednesday this may have been the hardest to stomach. Her mother was not supportive of her condition or care, and clearly viewed the situation as a burden. As easy as it is to judge this woman I have to remind myself that life here is extremely different and challenging. I have no way of knowing what their family life was like at home and what hardships they faced. Death is treated as “voodoo” here and finding someone to transport a dead body is not an easy task. We all chipped in to have the hospital ambulance transport the mother and body back to Paicho, a village about an hour away from Gulu. Two of our nurses ended up accompanying the mother while Twalib and I packed up and headed out the school we were scheduled to visit.

 

We visited St. Mauritz, one of the school screening sites, to follow up on 10 children we were able to locate. Although I had a hard time focusing on anything, the day had to go on. Twalib knew how hard I was taking Jennifer’s death and tried to distract me by letting me echo these kids. Whenever we have time Twalib lets me echo children in the clinic and teaches me as I go. He knew that letting me do this would take my mind off what happened for a while and well, he was right. We ended up finishing our day around 6pm at which point I was practically ready for bed.

 

The rest of our week was much more mellow which I was extremely thankful for. We saw a few patients on Thursday, enrolled a few into the registry and called it a relatively early day.

 

I spent Friday morning with the nurses planning for the next two weeks and then headed home to pack my things. I left Gulu to head to Kampala on the Saturday morning bus and met up with one of my roomates who was down here for work. We met our friend Christine for dinner at the popular Mediterranean restaurant in the city and ended up talking for hours. On Sunday we enjoyed some amazing food at a local café (nothing like this exists in Gulu) and then met a few friends at BAYIMBA, a music festival that took place in Kampala for the last 4 days. They had artists from all over Uganda and multiple craft vendors. It is definitely very different going to a festival where you have never heard of anyone that is featured. We were able to see the ever popular “MC twitch” from Gulu, creator of the song “I’ve Got Swagger”. The lyrics consisted of and I quote “ I’ve got swagger, yea yea, I’ve got swagger, yea” on repeat. It was very interesting to say the least.

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Hands down the best food we’ve have in Uganda

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I am currently still in Kampala anxiously awaiting my ride to the airport. Tonight I am flying out to meet my mom in Tanzania!! I couldn’t think of a more perfect time for her to be coming and I am so grateful for the opportunity to travel with her. We will be heading to the Serengeti for 3 days before heading to Zanzibar to relax on the beach. It has been over 3 months since I have seen her and I simply cannot wait!

 

Hope everyone has a great week!

Happy 2008!

Hey everyone!

As I’m sure you have discovered, I will probably keep my posts to once a week. This way I will be able to keep things stimulating for the both of us. I feel like so much has happened over the past week so I’ll jump right in.

On Tuesday morning I got the best surprise I could have possibly received. The clinic was extremely crowded and I was outside our room trying to organize patients for Twalib when I heard a small voice calling my name. I turned around to find Opio standing behind me with a big smile on his face. He gave me a huge hug, even though he is always embarrassed by this. He looks absolutely wonderful and I am so excited with how everything has turned out thus far. He says he is not in any pain and that he feels 10x better already. The plan is for him to start school in January and I simply can’t wait for him to get back to a normal childhood.

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On Wednesday we held the monthly injection clinic and ended up enrolling 13+ patients into the registry, brining us up to 139! We are still in the process of tracking down all of the children that have not returned for their follow up visits and had a few of them return on Wednesday as well. We are roughly half way through finding them but as I have mentioned before, it is definitely a challenging and time consuming process.

 

On Thursday we continued to follow up with these children and then visited 5 different schools trying to locate more. Unfortunately most of their original screening dates were from 2013, which means they have changed schools, or even moved away from Gulu. When we visit a school with a list of 15 children we usually end up finding roughly 5-6. While this isn’t the outcome I would have hoped for it is certainly better than nothing.

 

On Thursday night, we had a Spanish night at our friend Travis’s house. One of my roommates is fluent and there are a bunch of us that have had experience in Spanish speaking countries. We have decided to make a biweekly or monthly (haven’t decided yet) dinner where we can practice our Spanish skills and of course, enjoy some good food. We made some excellent tacos this week and ended the evening by watching The Emperor’s New Groove in Spanish. I simply love the Spanish language and am so excited by the opportunity to practice it here. I have not been able to really use my skills since living in Peru, but I am always shocked with how quickly it comes back. Spain is next on my travel “dream list” so it is good practice for when I will hopefully, one day, make it to Barcelona.

 

On Friday, I spent the morning with the nurses calling as many follow up patients as we could find valid phone numbers for and then visited the remaining schools. The biggest challenge we have faced thus far is the low attendance during the first few weeks of school. Unlike in the US where the first day of school is considered crucial, most students don’t end up showing up for school until around the 3rd week in the term. Twalib and I will both be away starting next week so we are really crossing our fingers that we have a great turnout this week.

 

In the afternoon I ended up shadowing Victoria, one of the Peace Corp doctors that I met last month. She is absolutely wonderful and has already taught me so much. She works in the OB/GYN department and performs surgical procedures on Wednesdays and Fridays. She let me go to the OR with her in the afternoon and I was able to watch a C-section, cervical cancer screening and biopsy, and a hysterectomy. As I have mentioned before, the resources are few and far between at the Regional hospital I work at, so I was actually quite surprised with the personnel and supplies available in the OR (or so I thought). I ended up having to leave halfway through the hysterectomy and Victoria informed me the following day that the power went out halfway through the procedure and she had to finish using a headlamp since it was already getting dark when I left. Luckily everything went okay and the patient is doing fine.

 

When I arrived home, I had the most amazing package waiting for me from my second family. Thank you Kleins! The package got stuck in Kampala and they told me that if I couldn’t get it within the week it would be gone. Not exactly sure where…..but someone would have been walking around with a self-portait of Taylor, which makes me laugh just thinking about it. I ended up calling a random taxi driver who then picked up the package from UPS ( they didn’t even check his ID or ask for his name…..) and then he stuck it on a bus headed to Gulu for a whopping $1.25. I still have no idea how this package ended up in my hands BUT it was the best way to end my week. I now officially have enough coffee creamer and hot sauce to last me until Christmas. 

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Picture I received from my roommates to let me know my package arrived!

On Friday night my roommates and I made homemade non-fish sushi with some seaweed that we got from Kampala and then called it an early night. Actually not sure if everyone called it an early night but I can promise you that I was asleep by 10pm.

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Looks pretty good if I do say so myself

 

On Saturday I went to the gym and then we had a bunch of our friends over for a Saturday morning brunch before heading out to Restore. Restore is a secondary school that is missionary run about 20 minutes outside Gulu Town. A few of our friends work with this school and invited us out for their sports complex opening. They have raised enough money to build one of the first indoor basketball courts in Northern Uganda and the facility is beyond amazing. The started the launch by playing an inaugural game of basketball- Mzungus vs. Ugandans. Lets just say the Ugandans were running circles around the Americans….

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On Saturday night we headed to Classic, our favorite Ethiopian restaurant for Ethiopian New Year’s! We frequent there so much that they invited us for a free dinner and they made us literally everything off their menu (including cow stomach….). We were all required to wear white and took part in traditional Ethiopian dancing. According to the Ethiopian Calendar…HAPPY 2008 everyone!

Lick the Wall

Now I have been in Uganda for roughly 7 months and I have to say that very few things surprise me anymore. With that being said, this past week one of our patients provided an answer that pretty much stunned everyone in the room. A new RHD patient came into the clinic so we asked the basic questions-how long have you felt sick? Have you suffered from sore throat? Etc. When we asked his mom about sore throat she goes “ yea he did but we had him lick the wall so we thought he would be cured.” Apparently in some of the surrounding villages a “cure” for sore throat is licking a dirty wall, which only solidifies the need for education in this part of the world. I mean to be honest if I licked a dirty wall I’d probably forget about my sore throat for a while too…

This past week was extremely successful in terms of locating children that had not returned for follow up and I am hopeful that we will be able to find a majority of them. We echoed 20+ children that we were concerned about last year which is great progress, but we still have a lot more work to do. School starts today so we will be visiting each school over the next two weeks to locate these children in need of follow up.

On Wednesday night, Twalib and I continued our movie night tradition by watching the Pianist. We have officially covered Pearl Harbor, 9/11, the Holocaust, the LRA and the apartheid. If anyone has any suggestions for movies based on true events let me know. Twalib just says “surprise me” every Wednesday but I’m slowly running out of ideas….

On Thursday night a bunch of us went out to Ethiopian for a belated birthday celebration for my friend Katie. I was in Kampala for Opio’s surgery during her birthday so I wanted to make it up to her. We had plans to go to quiz night but everyone, including me, was extremely tired. I’m not sure what it is but for some reason I have been exhausted this week. When I returned from dinner and checked my email I received the best surprise. I have officially been granted my first interview! I am extremely excited about this opportunity and the fact that I am one step closer to fulfilling my dream (and the added bonus of being able to go home for a week and see family and friends).

 

On Friday morning I worked with the nurses to compile lists of children at each school that we need to find. After that, the nurses went off to computer class and I headed home to pack up my things. I officially moved out of my house yesterday and needed to clean everything so it is ready for the family that rented it to us when they return.

On Saturday I spent the morning at the gym and then met up with my new roommates to lie by the pool. It was one of their birthdays on Saturday so we spent the day celebrating. By mid afternoon it started to pour so we headed home to shower and get ready for the evening. Our friend Travis decorated his house and constructed an outside bar, so we had a lovely outside cookout under the finally clear sky to celebrate Lily’s 19th (yes 19) birthday.

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On Sunday David helped me drive my belongings over to my new house so I could get situated. I’m the type of person that can’t start my week until things are organized so this definitely helped calm some anxiety. Moving in felt  like when my mom would drop me off at summer camp and help me unpack my things. The 31bits house is very nice but it is set up kind of like a summer camp cabin with small wood framed single beds. It’s been one night so far but I already love living there. Someone is always doing something and there are people to have breakfast and dinner with. Jess and I were on very opposite schedules so we didn’t see each other in the morning. In addition, they just adopted the cutest puppy last week and I think I am already in love. Her name is muffin and she is only 9 weeks old and just jumps up and sits in your lap when you are not looking. I think the only downside is that is about 1.5 miles from the hospital-definitely an easy walk but it means I can’t hit snooze 3x like I’m accustomed to. 

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Meet muffin

Unfortunately there are no Labor Day celebrations in Uganda so today is just a typical working day. I am vicariously living through everyone that is at the beach right now and will be cheering on my Hokies from 7,000 miles away. I hope you all have a great rest of your 3-day weekend!

Surgery Success

Hi everyone, sorry for the delayed post. Friday was an extremely busy day and I think I needed some time to take in everything that has happened over the last few days.

 

I’ll go ahead and jump right to Opio’s surgery because I know that is what everyone is interested in. Opio’s surgery went extremely well and he came out of the OR extubated and was talking within an hour. I was able to watch the entire pericardiectomy standing by his head and I have to say it was an absolutely amazing experience. I have been able to see a couple of heart surgeries over the past few months, however Opio’s was special because I was able to witness it from start to finish. In addition, this is the only heart surgery I have seen where the patient wasn’t put on bypass and the heart beat normally throughout the operation (how cool!).

Morning of surgery-love this kid

Morning of surgery-love this kid

 

Opio has been such a trooper throughout this entire experience that sometimes I have to remind myself that he is only 8 years old. On Friday morning he walked himself into the OR, saw the surgical table, and hopped right up (an image I will never forget). None of the surgeons or nurses in the OR spoke Acholi so he was not able to understand anything they were telling him. My small Acholi vocabulary finally came in handy when they were trying to get him to make a fist to put in a cannula. “Me che matak” means “make a fist” in Acholi and once I said it, he immediately made a fist. I’m not sure who was more surprised that it came out of my mouth-me or him.

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Dr. Tom working on Opio’s heart

As I mentioned before, the surgery went really well and the surgeon did not come across anything unexpected (which is a good sign.) It was amazing to see the heart expand as the fibrous pericardium was removed piece by piece. Post-surgery Opio was suffering from hypoalbuminemia (low albumin), which is common for someone who has been suffering with his condition, but surprise-there was no albumin in the hospital. Twalib and I ran around Kampala for about 90 minutes fighting traffic, trying to find a pharmacy that sold albumin. I realize I’m still in Uganda however it blows my mind that even in a developed, western-supported hospital that there would be a shortage of important medication, especially since right on his chart (which I saw after surgery…) the pre surgery notes clearly state “ at risk for hypoalbuminemia.” I could probably write a whole post about shortages within the Uganda health care system but I’ll save that for another time.

 

On Saturday I spent most of the day with Opio in the ICU so that his father could have a break. When I arrived he looked great, his albumin had increased and his urine output was sufficient (which was another one of the doctors concerns). He spent most of the day sleeping but I was there for whatever he needed, which consisted of water and moving his bed up or down so that he was comfortable. I also divided my time with Mabel, a patient of Twalib’s, whom I met in March when the surgical team was here. She is in congestive heart failure and needs treatment in the US. Luckily she is currently in the process of being adopted by a family in the states who will hopefully arrive this Wednesday. She is such a sweet girl who has been dealt a very crappy hand . She doesn’t have any biological family members to take care of her, which is especially challenging with a serious medical condition. She has been supported by an NGO here in Uganda but what she really needs is constant love and support. She has been admitted to the hospital so many times that I think every time she dreads it even more. Although there wasn’t too much to do, I just sat on her bed and chatted with her for a while. Her face lit up when she started talking about her new family and the necklace they gave her. My fingers are crossed that everything works out because she truly deserves the chance to be happy.

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blowing balloons to get his lungs moving

On Sunday I took advantage of the opportunity to sleep until 9 and then headed to the hospital to check on my kiddo. When I arrived he was sitting up, eating, and looking for something to do. At this point his biggest problem is that he is bored and wants to get out of bed. If that’s the biggest obstacle he is facing right now- I’ll take it. I then went to check on Mabel and was extremely discouraged to find her shivering and dripping in sweat with a fever of 103 degrees. She said she had been trying to get someone to come look at her for over 40 minutes but so far nothing. It’s times like these that I become so frustrated that I do not have a medical degree and that I can’t personally help her on my own. I finally called her pediatrician, who has taken a special interest in her case, and she came to hospital right away. Mabel’s malaria test was negative and she was but on antibiotics to fight whatever infection she is suffering from. When I left last night her fever was already going down and she said her headache was fading. She has gone through more than anyone should have to in one lifetime and my heart simply aches for her. The hope is that she will be in the US within the next 10 days, which would be absolutely amazing.

 

This morning I had plans to take the 8am bus back to Gulu but when I arrived at 7:45am the bus had already left. Now I have been in Uganda for almost 7 months total and I can confidently say that I have never been to a meeting/event that started on time. How this bus managed to leave 15minutes early is beyond me. I got out my phone to see if I had contacts of anyone who might be heading back to Gulu and saw a post on the “Ex-pats in Gulu” facebook page from a contractor who was heading back at 9am. Kind of skeptical, I gave him a call and scoped out the situation. I messaged someone who knew the guy and he reassured me that he was a good guy. So, after 3 of my friends had his name, number, and license plate number (just looking out for myself-you’re welcome mom), Jatu, the 55-year-old Indian man, and I set off for Gulu. I can’t help but laugh when I think about the last 7 hours because I honestly can’t make this stuff up. He speaks very broken English but I was  able to learn about the Hindu religion the entire trip up while listening to classical Indian music. I now know all about traditional Indian foods and how “the cow” is considered the mother of Hindu people. Halfway to Gulu he asked if he could stop to buy some bread for his “friends”. I was kind of confused why he wanted to stop in an extremely small town but then again I thought maybe the bread was really good. 20 minutes later I finally understood as he started opening the packages of bread and chucking pieces at the baboons and monkeys on the side of the road. We then had about 15 baboons running after the car as each of us tossed bread out the window. Apparently by “friends” he meant the primates that he feeds every week when he comes up to Gulu….. He honestly was such a nice guy and it was very sweet of him to give me a ride. Not convinced that I’ll do it again but I’m safely back in Gulu so that is all that matters.

Very excited to see the nurses tomorrow at the hospital. I’ve definitely missed them! Have a great week!

 

xoxo

Emmy

It

Deep down I knew I would experience “it” during my time here and I knew it would be hard. I realize that death is an unfortunate aspect of working in the medical field but that doesn’t make it any easier. Baby Awor was 2 days old when I watched him take his last breath this past Thursday. He was born pre-maturely at 33 weeks, with underdeveloped lungs and multiple other complications. The medical students, who were in charge of running the neonatal ward, brought him to Dr. Aliku as their last hope. Extremely bradycardic, Dr. Aliku was able to get his heart beating at a normal rate but this success was short lived. He passed away about 20 minutes later-an image that will be ingrained in my head forever. I’m not medically educated to say whether I think this child would have survived in a different setting. What I can say is that the lack of available oxygen, medication and personnel did not help his chances. What struck me even more was that medical students were in charge of running a ward completely by themselves and brought the baby to Dr. Aliku simply because they couldn’t get in touch with their superior. They were out of options and knew where to find him. Although some would say that medical students in the U.S have “their hands held” throughout their training, it is safe to say that the students here could use a little more of that.

 

On a less depressing note, Opio successfully arrived in Kampala on Thursday and was admitted to the Uganda Heart Institute on Friday! I will be heading down on Thursday night so that I can be present for his surgery on Friday. Although I am very nervous for this little guy, I am also extremely hopeful.

some kiddos I met on the way home from work

some kiddos I met on the way home from work

 

On Thursday night a big group of us headed to Bjz for Jess’s last quiz night. She will be flying out on Thursday so we decided that we have to do all of our favorite things before she leaves. We ended up having a huge group attend and were extremely confident that we were going to win. The questions were all logos that our team needed to identify. We ended up with a 29/30 but sadly that was not enough. We still had a really great time and met some great people whom we ended up hanging out with for a majority of the weekend.

 

On Friday, our group which consisted of a few of our Ugandan friends, our friend Katie and 3 guys from the US army ( I was not even aware that you could get deployed here) that we met on Thursday continued to check things of Jess’s bucket list by going to the Ethiopian restaurant for dinner. Surprisingly I still can’t get enough of the stuff and will most likely be going one last time before Jess’s departure.

 

On Saturday we all headed to the pool for a gorgeous day. I think every Mzungu in Gulu had the same idea since it ended up being a pool party of about 30 ex-pats from all over the globe. My new roommates were also there and I was able to finally solidify that I will be moving in during the first week of September. I am going to miss Jess so much but I am very excited about the group of people that I am moving in with (and the puppy that they just got last week.)

 

On Saturday night we all headed to BJz for one final hoorah even though it was pouring rain. We figured that since it was raining it would be fairly empty….wrong. It was more packed than I have ever seen it. I think this probably has something to do with the fact that the power was out for about 3 days and Bjz is one of the only places that constantly uses a generator. Nonetheless we all had a great time and just ended up dancing in the rain because it was too packed inside. I know I say this a lot but Saturday was by far my favorite night in Gulu up to this point. I guess it’s a good thing if I say this every weekend, right? Right.

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Improvising for the walk to Bjz

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Me, david and Jess

On Sunday Jess and I lounged around like we do most Sundays and did not do too much else. We went over the events of our weekend and I’m pretty sure that I haven’t laughed that much in a very long time. I am so fortunate that I got to cross paths with such an amazing person and while I am very mad at her for leaving me, I am super excited that she will be in DC only an hour away from me when I’m home. 

 

As for this week, I spent Monday in the office with the nurses trying to organize a list of kids that have not returned for their follow up visits. It is our hope that we will be able to track these children down when school starts up again on September 7th, but we definitely have a lot of work to do. Today was extremely busy and we even enrolled 9 patients into the registry, which brings us up to 97 patients! As I mentioned we had hoped to get to 100 by the end of August and I am confident that I will be able to report that we have surpassed this target come Friday.

 

Tomorrow a team from the UHI will be visiting our clinic in Gulu to search for potential surgical candidates. This does not happen too often so I am very excited that some of our patients will get this opportunity. We often refer our patients to the UHI so that they can have a “first look” appointment to be placed on a list, however most of them cannot afford the transport to Kampala. By having the team come to us, hopefully these patients will successfully be given a surgical slot and will only have to pay for transport once.

That’s all for now. Next update will be with Opio in Kampala!

Creatures

I’ve decided that if we were to merge the American mentality regarding health with the Ugandan mentality, then we would be in a very good place. I feel like Americans tend to worry about every minor thing that is wrong, including the common cold, and jump to the worst conclusions. We go from having a headache to being terminally ill with brain cancer in a matter of seconds thanks to our good friends WebMD and Google. In Uganda they have the exact opposite problem, which is one of the main reasons why RHD is so prevalent. Illnesses such as strep throat and the flu are shrugged off simply because they are not considered severe. On Friday one of our RHD follow-ups came to the clinic for a routine check up. I noticed a large growth on her neck and asked her mom a few questions about it. I realize I am not a doctor, however I have taken a basic anatomy class and thanks to my wonderful professor TGills, I know the ABCD’s to look for. Her mother said that it started very small but has been growing over the past two years (another red flag). She says it doesn’t hurt so they never bothered to have anyone look at it. We sent her to the skin clinic after her appointment and I’m honestly praying that I was wrong.

 

On Friday I started the weekend by going to “fajita night” at a friends house. Everyone was required to bring a food or drink item and we ended up making it a celebration for one of our friends who headed back to the States on Tuesday. She called it her “funeral” and asked us to wear all black. The food was absolutely wonderful and I got to meet a bunch of new people, which is always great. OH- in case you were wondering about the cat-sized rat. Yes, it actually does exist. On my way to fajita night, it ran right in front of me as I was leaving our compound. I’m honestly still in disbelief at how big it was. That and the fact that “bush rat” is a delicacy in some parts of Uganda.

 

On Saturday I finished my LAST secondary application and I feel like a new person. I don’t think I realized how much they were stressing me out until I was done, but I have to say it feels great. On Saturday evening Jess and I went to the Ethiopian restaurant for dinner and then headed home for a quiet night in. Jess leaves in a week so we’ve decided that we have to eat Ethiopian at least 2 more times before she leaves.

 

On Sunday I laid by the pool and read Mountains beyond Mountains. I would tell you what else I did but honestly that’s about it. All in all it was an excellent day. I haven’t been to the pool in Gulu since I arrived in June and it was such a relaxing way to end my weekend.

On Monday, I met up with the nurses to clean up our office and enroll any patients that came for RHD follow up. We threw an alarming number of expired drugs away, organized all the registry files, and even saw a cockroach as big as my hand….not too sure what’s going on but I have seen more “creatures” in the past week than I have in my lifetime. Really hoping this trend doesn’t continue because after the extremely poisonous spider that made itself at home on our front porch, I think I’ll be good for the rest of my time here.

 

On Tuesday and Wednesday we continued to enroll patients into the Registry and had a record high of 9 patients in one day! Not only did we have 9 patients, but the whole process was extremely smooth and efficient and I could not be more happy with how our nurses handled everything. We still have a little ways to go in terms of them filling the forms out correctly 100% of the time but I’m confident in their abilities. In addition to the Registry patients, Opio came for his last visit! The time has finally come for him to head down to Kampala. He will travel tomorrow afternoon and stay with family until he is admitted to the Heart Institute on Friday. I just want to thank everyone who reached out to me about his case and supported his journey. I know they say don’t become emotionally attached to your patients but with Opio it was simply impossible. I care so much for this little boy and I am keeping my fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly next week. As of now my plan is to head to Kampala next Thursday afternoon so I can be there when he goes into surgery on Friday. I will keep you all updated on how everything goes. If you want to read more about his story you can click here.

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Opio and I- we’re still mastering the whole picture thing

 

Lastly, I want to give a huge birthday shout-out to my wonderful grandmother! Happy birthday Mom-mom! Although she may not understand why I voluntarily moved to a place with cold showers,  and “creatures” she has always been nothing but supportive. I wish I were there to celebrate and I hope you have a great day!

Waiting Game

On Monday Dr. Onek, our neighbor, greeted Jess and I and proceeded to ask us if we had seen a rat. Not just any rat- a rat so big that it has been eating their chickens….we are now convinced that there is a cat-sized rat roaming around our compound waiting to attack at any moment. Oh the joys of living in Africa.

We are hoping our “guard dog” will find it and kill it, but in reality Donkey (yes that’s his name) is probably as useful as a 3-day-old kitten. He barks when he sees someone new, then puts his tail between his legs and runs over for them to pet him.

 

On Monday the nurses and I prepared everything for the week and enrolled a few patients into the registry. Wednesday was the scheduled penicillin injection clinic, however many of the students had final exams this week-they all starting showing up at different times on different days, which definitely kept things interesting. On Monday afternoon our nurses went to their first official computer class. The teacher seems great and I am really hoping that they learn a lot. If anything, they are super excited about learning, which is already a positive.

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Rose and Agnes ready for computer class!

 

Tuesday was once again a very personal day for me, but in a good way this time. Opio came in for a visit and he looked the best he ever has since my time here. He was much more stable and you could tell that it is starting to become a reality for him that he will be leaving for the Heart Institute next week. Obviously surgery can be unpredictable, but I am crossing my fingers for this little guy. This week he had his abdomen tapped again so I set him up with “Frozen” on my laptop. He doesn’t know any English but I think it is safe to say that it is probably one of the only movies he has ever seen and he loved it. His surgery is scheduled for the 28th and he will be heading down to Kampala next Friday- please keep him in your thoughts!

 

On Tuesday afternoon Noelle, a 3-year old girl from Gulu, came into the clinic for a checkup after her PDA closure in Kampala. I have seen her in the clinic at least 10 times since I have been here and even once at the Uganda Heart Institute in March. She is one of the few children that are not afraid when they see “the white girl” and always runs up to me to hold my hand. Her mom is such a sweetheart and has been trying to get her sponsored for 2 years! Unfortunately, a lot of charities will not sponsor kids with Down Syndrome because their surgeries are usually high risk. Her moment finally arrived last week when Chain of Hope sponsored the catheterization procedure she needed. Everything went flawlessly and she is as spunky as ever. Getting kids from Gulu sponsored and down to Kampala is definitely a challenge due to how far away we are. I am happy to report that we have already had 2 kids in the past month that have had life-changing surgeries/procedures.

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Super strong after her PDA closure!

On Tuesday night Twalib, Jess and I watched Invictus, a movie about Nelson Mandela and the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa. After watching Life of Pi last week, I have decided that we will be sticking to movies based on historical events from now on. Twalib did not seem too amused by a fictional boy befriending a tiger……He has already requested Pearl Harbor for next week so I am mentally preparing for the 3 hour film.

On Wednesday I helped with the injection clinic and then continued to work on Registry enrollment. We are up to 70 patients already, which is excellent! I am hoping to have 90-100 by the end of the month.

 

On Wednesday night I played volleyball with the regular Wednesday night crew, then went out for Indian food. I never thought I would say this but I think I’m a little tired of Indian and don’t foresee myself going back anytime soon. I guess when there are only 4 food places to choose from this is bound to happen….

 

On Thursday night I finished 2 of my secondaries, leaving only one left! I ended up adding another school last week and just received the secondary on Monday. I honestly think there needs to be a box that says “ I overcame obstacles trying to fill this out in Africa-please take this into consideration.” I honestly never anticipated how stressful this whole process would be but I am very happy that it is pretty much over. Now the waiting game…..

 

Tonight I will be heading over to a friend’s house for fajita night, with the whole crew that was at the Silent Disco last week. Hope everyone has a great weekend!

Secondaries, Syphilis and Silent Discos

On Thursday I spent the morning in the office with our nurses organizing files and rearranging the clinic room. I love getting to spend time with them when we aren’t in clinic with patients because I get to hear about their lives in the villages and it is honestly fascinating. Rose keeps asking me who cooks for me at home. Apparently cereal and peanut butter sandwiches don’t count as cooking so she has decided that when her daughter gets home for break she will send her to come live with me for a few days to teach me the tricks of the trade. I tried explaining that when my mom offers to cook when I’m in Baltimore my dad and I are in the car with our seatbelts fastened within 10 seconds, ready to go virtually anywhere but our own kitchen. Lets just say one Thanksgiving we gave my mom “dessert duty” and she lit the oven on fire…

 

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  Homemade G-nut butter Rose made for me convinced I’m going to starve

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Passion fruits picked from Rose’s tree

 

Rose continued to tell me about a man that has been going around burning grass thatch houses in her village. In Rose’s words “ he had a sugar mama but the village decided it was inappropriate so the woman told him to leave but he refused. She then moved her belongings to different friends houses and the man followed and burned them all.” Unfortunately they do not have the “reliable” justice system we have in the US so if someone denies a crime and they are not caught red handed, there is nothing legally the police can do. I think I’m equally concerned that A. sugar mama is part of the Acholi vocabulary and B. that someone would burn another person’s house for revenge.

 

On Friday I spent the day working on med school secondary applications (I’m sure you’re sick of me saying that) BUT the good news is I am almost done. I gave myself until August 15, which is this Saturday, and I am confident that I will be able to meet this goal. Most of these applications are not hard, they are just extremely time- consuming, especially since I am much more effective when I write small sections at a time. I can only imagine how great it is going to feel when I get to submit my last one.

 

On Friday night I went to Absynnia, the Ethiopian restaurant, with a few friends. As much as I hated Ethiopian food when I first arrived, I have to say that it is definitely growing on me. Fun fact: Abyssinia means syphilis in Acholi…..We spent a majority of the dinner talking about the upcoming elections and what it will mean for us come March. I think the good news is that Gulu is so far removed from the capitol that there shouldn’t be too much resistance or rioting. Luckily I have good friends in the Peace Corps so if they are evacuated I will be getting in the car with them.

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Traditional Ethiopian food

 

On Saturday, I spent the day working on some more applications and then relaxed in the sun with a book. I should have never started a new book while working on these applications but “Mountains beyond Mountains” was a suggestion from a friend and I have to say I love it so far. It is about Paul Farmer, an infectious disease doctor, who works in international health, which is obviously right up my alley.

 

On Saturday night I went to the 31bits house for a much overdue night out. As I have mentioned before, 31bits is a company from the states that empowers local women through jewelry. I am hopefully moving in with them come September when I have to move out of my current house. I love everyone that I have met within the company and it would be great not to have to live alone (fingers crossed).

 

About 20 of us spent the evening playing Scattergories, which was played by candlelight when the power went out. We then proceeded to have a silent disco, which was hysterical. For a silent disco everyone downloads a prearranged playlist onto their phone and listens to it with headphones, so only you know what part of the song you are at. I can’t dance even when the music is loud so I’m positive I embarrassed myself in one way or another. Not pass out on your grandmother while dancing at your cousins wedding embarrassing…. but pretty close.

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Scattergories

 

Hope everyone had a great weekend!

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