June 2017

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June 2017

June 26th – Hoima hospital

For the past two days, six of us visited the children’s wards in Hoima Hospital including the neonatal intensive care unit. Sam, Rachel and I decided to stay on the general paediatric ward, while the others chose to work on NICU. I was both excited and anxious waiting for the matron to come and take us around. By now we have all learnt about the Ugandan concept of time and punctuality, so we were not surprised in the slightest, when she slowly toddled up to us a good 40 mins late. She was full of smiles and we were of course most welcome, which somewhat prepared me to embrace whatever the day had in store for us.

My initial positive thinking however quickly disappeared the moment we stepped inside the room full of sick children. Everywhere I looked I saw something wrong. All of a sudden I realised that this time I wasn’t watching the news or some kind of documentary from my comfy arm chair about children suffering in Africa. I was living the experience right there and then.  I shook myself and found my “get over it” switch and I kept using it over and over again as I went through my imaginary list of horrible things: children of all ages, gender and diagnosis crammed in one open area with no privacy regardless of infections, their physical state or the severity of their medical condition. The lucky ones had a rusty old bed, others were left with a mattress on the concrete floor. No running water in the building, not for drinking, not for washing hands. The odour was crushing, a stench of sweat, urine and vomit that took some time to get used to although I can still smell it a little just thinking about it. “It’s OK, we have nurses to guide us, it’s is safe, it is a hospital” I kept assuring myself until reality hit again. There were no nurses in plural but only one person trying to attend to nearly 50 children, of whom most were severely distressed from anaemia as a result of Malaria. There were little or no resources to tackle seemingly straight forward problems. For example inserting a cannula would never be an issue back in the UK. Basic things that we take for granted such as gloves, syringes, needles were not available when needed. A simple blood test enabling patients to have a potentially life saving transfusion was often a privilege and children without it were sentenced to death.

Despite all of the horrors, everything seemed to be tolerated in silence as if it is the norm for both staff (doctors, nurses and students) and parents. There was not a single complaint or moan about medication that was overdue or missed, about being forced to sit on the floor or not having a bite of food in 48 hours. These are conditions that are unimaginable to people living in developed countries like England.

Sadly, I found my greatest disappointment in the attitude of people working in the hospital. They didn’t appear to have any sense of urgency, awareness of prioritising their workload or what we know as basic nursing values like compassion, commitment, courage or even care. Have they given up? Have they stopped caring or did they even have the means to help at the beginning? Would I be the same if I had to work in such a “hopeless” environment on a daily basis? These are questions I don’t know the answers to. Here is what I know however; with the right attitude there are no limits to what I can achieve and I don’t ever want to stop believing that I have the power to change the world or the world of some people. This experience has been one of the toughest I have ever had to face in my life yet I treasure every minute of it and wouldn’t change a thing.

Mariann

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