Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ramblings from Kenya - Feb 17th, 2013

I left Canada on Feb 5th and arrived in Mikinduri that Friday. Here are some ramblings about that first week. It's long. Sorry! Spending time online is difficult. I have done a few team blogs at:

On Clinics

So far the clinics have been amazing. In past years, we have had throngs of people standing at the gates begging to come in, but we didn’t have enough doctors, so we couldn’t let them. This year, there are a few people standing outside in the morning, but most arrive by the bus we have sent to the surrounding areas to get people who are unable to walk that far distance. We haven’t turned anyone away yet, and have ended the medical clinic by 3 or 4 every day, having seen between 300 and 400 patients! Dental runs until about 430 having seen 150 patients each day, and vision had a long day the first day, but every day since they finished by 4 having seen between 160 and 190 patients!
We have had a few emergencies, a few tragedies, and many great moments. It is great to walk into a waiting room with many people, flash a smile, and have everyone smile back with big toothy grins. This is not the same result you’d get in Canada. People would wonder who the crazy person is smiling at them, hoping that’s not their doctor. We gave away 3 wheelchairs to people who were carried in. Ted had to fix one chair up as the footrests had disappeared for one young man. He was 17 and his father had been carrying him for 5 years since he lost the use of his legs. We refer all of these patients to APDK – Association for People with Disabilities of Kenya, but were also able to help them in the meantime. When Ted raised the boy’s legs off the floor, he smiled from ear to ear! It was beautiful to see!

On Leisure

Some of the doctors and optometrists have been staying in our hotel with us and it has been marvelous to have them. They played a game called ‘ajuaa’ (spelling is probably way off) that’s very similar to mancala. Apparently the old men (mo-zae) sit under a tree and play the game all day very competitively. The game is a long wooden board with circles scooped out that hold little balls made of seeds. The object is to take as many balls as possible. The head MCOH person here in Kenya, Martin, is prepping for his time as a mozae because he and Cheri have been playing non-stop in the evenings. Cheri has won a few more times than Martin would like!

Our rooms must be mentioned. They are constructed with stone and grout to make different patterns. Inside, they are painted a bright blue, a color you would expect in Greece. They are 12 feet by 12 feet, including the bathroom. There is a small sink (12 by 6 inches) with only cold taps. The bathroom is a toilet directly in front of the shower and a spout half way down to clean off your feet. I must say I enjoy the multitasking that can occur in the bathroom. I can relieve myself while washing my feet and sometimes even brushing my teeth or others have boasted they shave as well. There’s a desk to work on, a small shelf mounted to a corner (12 in by 12 in) and a table next to the bed (12 in by 12 in). Very basic furnishings but that seems to be all you need. There are four nails in the wall in lieu of a dressr. There is a bed in the corner that has a 3 inch foam mattress. In past years, I have said the mattress is made of hay. I believe that now to be too kind as the foam has developed major grooves in the middle of the mattress where everyone clearly sleeps. I have found that if I sleep on my side on the right 1 ft of the bed, I cannot feel the wooden slats on my back. These mattresses are now two years old so depreciation is expected, it’s just hilarious to hear about people complaining in the morning that they are ‘rolling’ into the groove in the middle of the night. 

Besides the bed, my least favorite thing about the trip is doing laundry. (Well I dislike it in Canada too, but especially in Kenya). Here you have to wash it by hand. Everything is dirty the first time you wear it, and by that, I mean it’s covered in dirt. So I brush the dirt off and wear it a few more times before resigning myself to cleaning it. I can last until my socks or underwear runs out. I have one pair of socks left….tomorrow is the day. 

A neat thing about the trip is that everyone’s personalities are exaggerated. Living with the same people for 3 weeks, you learn a lot about them. People who are sarcastic seem to become extremely sarcastic in the evenings after a long day of clinics. People who are happy just get happier throughout the day, and the quiet people are still quiet (they have a hard time trying to get a word in edge-wise). It’s a lovely environment to be in with lots of great people that you learn so much about. The time is long enough that you recognize people’s flaws, and they start to get on your nerves, until it turns into an endearing quality. (That was all in the first 10 days….the second half is starting so I’ll let you know as next evolution as it happens). 

On Birth

One day at the clinics, as I was walking to speak with one of the drivers, a Kenyan nurse was standing outside the maternity ward and said there was a birth occurring. Previously team-members witnessed a birth, so I asked I could go in. The nurse poked her head in the room and asked the ‘sister’ (that’s a friendly way of calling someone of a similar age) who was giving birth, and she agreed. Obviously, don’t read on if you do not want to be grossed out. I walked in and on this metal table, there was a girl of around 20 years old who looked 6 months pregnant and you could see something ‘crowning’. I say something not a baby because it was clearly a sac or something. Anyway I’ll spare you the details but it was pretty gross. Cool, neat, but gross. There was blood all over the metal table. The nurse was wearing a disposable apron over her clothes. When the ‘sister’ was pushing, she was instructed to grab her legs and keep her head elevated. Five minutes later, the baby slid out. Sylvia (the ‘sister’) was so strong, she never screamed once and barely uttered a noise. It took two long seconds, but the little girl let out a nice cry. She is a healthy 3.2 kg, Sylvia’s first. The baby has a head of curly black hair and was covered in a thick waxy substance. The nurses didn’t really wash this off, just cleared the face and then swaddled the baby.  The nurse then pushed Sylvia’s stomach to finish the birth and the mom rolled over to rest. The baby was swaddled and laid nearby. When relaying this story later, someone asked me if it was amazing – suddenly something was alive, but honestly it wasn’t that incredible. It seemed like such a mechanical process to the nurse, mom, and even the baby, that it was just a part of life, same as any other procedure. There wasn’t that much joy or excitement, really very little emotion in the room. Plus, if you believe birth begins at conception, the miracle is earlier. It was a relief to hear the baby cry, but I believe it was as much a person only minutes before. Jennifer came in just as the baby was being weighed. I thanked the mom, took a picture of the baby, and Jennifer and I returned later with a nice quilt and stuffed animal for the child. It was a neat experience but not nearly as traumatic as I expected it to be. However, with bodily fluids everywhere, it was as gross as I figured it would be. Funny thing about Kenya, it was somehow ordinary: I went from walking up to talk to driver, to see a new life, to going back to talk to the driver in a span of 10 minutes. Huh.

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