Uganda Love This

Amy Scheel

Month: September 2015

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.


Hands down the best food we’ve have in Uganda


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.




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. 


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.


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….


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.





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. 


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!

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