It’s hard to believe that it’s already been 6 weeks since I’ve been back from Ghana! My life has been a whirlwind since I have been home and it’s only been recently that I’ve been able to sit down and reflect on my experiences in Saboba.
I’ll be the first to admit that leaving for Ghana a little over 6 weeks ago, I was pretty nervous. I had been so excited when INMED accepted me into their program and was encouraged as I was able to see all of the preparations falling into place in the weeks before my departure. However, as I sat alone in the airport terminal in St. Louis I was definitely anxious. I had no idea what I would be stepping off the plane into. Was I prepared? Could I do this? I wasn’t even sure I could handle all of the travel details, let alone the work. So, as I sat there, I journaled my thoughts, said a few prayers, and boarded the plane.
I am SO glad that I got on that plane (not that I had ever considered not getting on the plane). The next four weeks of my life were filled with experiences that I will never forget. I was so blessed to meet some amazing people that are dedicated to the support and survival of their community. I was faced with challenges so much greater than anything I’ve ever seen in the states, yet the people facing them still managed to do it with a joy for life that was inspiring. Through the adjustment to a different way of life I found myself growing personally and in my care for patients.
I’ll try to share some of the most special moments and events during my time in Ghana below:
- As evidenced by my several posts about her, one of the experiences that touched my heart the most was caring for the tiny malnourished baby. This baby was the picture of kwashiorkor when she arrived at the hospital–stick-thin arms, swollen abdomen, and lethargic. She was also severely dehydrated and her fontanel as well as her eyes were deeply sunken in. From the first minute that I saw this child, my heart was broken. Here was a young girl who had every reason to be healthy, but mainly because of social issues was stuck in a cycle of chronic malnutrition. Through aggressive treatment, rehydration, nutrition and most importantly education of her caretakers, I hope and pray that we were able to make a permanent change for the better in this little girl’s life. I recently heard from Dr. Jean that the baby had been discharged from the hospital and was to come back for weekly weighings. I still think about and pray for this girl that she will continue to grow stronger and more healthy each day.
- Diseases of poverty: this was actually the title of one of my sections in my pre-trip course. It was interesting to read about all of the diseases that can be directly linked to poverty–tuberculosis, malaria, typhoid, kwashiorkor, etc– and then see them transfer from the pages into real life my first week in Ghana. All around me were men, women, and children, many of whom were suffering from diseases that are rarely if ever seen in the states and were much more severe than they needed to be simply due to lack of access to healthcare and the lack of resources to pay for such treatments. Many of the patients were poorly educated on how they could prevent water and foodborne diseases and many did not know basic precautions against preventing malaria. Even if we were able to teach them basic hygiene and how to combat the mosquito that causes malaria, this was only half the battle. Most patients did not realize the early symptoms of common diseases such as malaria, typhoid, dehydration, upper respiratory infections which led to late diagnoses and more severe complications. Also thwarting our efforts at improving their health were the many home remedies that were tried for days to weeks before finally bringing the patient to the hospital. Oftentimes, by the time they reached our door, they were septic, dehydrated, and on the brink of death due to long periods without adequate medical treatment. I saw several snake bites that were first treated with home pastes and remedies that could contain anything from animal excrement, to soil, to who knows what else. Infections complicated the treatment of many wounds because of these practices. I felt that more of my time was spent educating than actually delivering medical care. I suppose though that this is the best type of treatment that we can give though…education aimed at preventing future illness. What made the education even harder was the fact that most was usually done through an informal translator into the local dialects so I was never quite sure what message was actually reaching the patient and their families. I feel that I learned more about communication and different ways to educate people in the month I was there than I may have been able to communicate to them!
- Throughout all of my experiences there were a lot of difficulties. It took me a while to adapt to the heat, the new culture, the constantly changing environment, and a thousand other things. However, the experiences I had in Ghana will last me a lifetime. I fell in love with the people of northeastern Ghana. They are a hardworking, gracious group of beautiful people that I will never forget. It amazed me that every day I get up and take so many things for granted…the fact that I can just reach in the fridge and find something to eat, or the fact that I can drink water from the tap without fear of getting sick, or a thousand other things….these people get up each day and work incredibly hard to provide food and some form of shelter for their families and hopefully a better life for their children. They have much less to work with than most of us here in the United States, but most still go about their daily lives with a smile on their face and a kind word when you meet them. I was so blessed to be able to work alongside these people for my short stay in Ghana.
There are still so many needs in Saboba. The hospital has just been informed that they will have a separate children’s ward built which is a huge blessing! This way the men’s and children’s wards can be separated and more patients can be taken care of in this region which desparately needs it! The hospital still needs another physician. Currently Dr. Jean is the only physician at SMC. This means that she is on call 24/7 and her only time away is when she has to leave town for medical meetings or other events. She is constantly operating, seeing patients, and being woken up in the middle of the night with emergencies. One person can’t take all of this stress and this schedule! Pray that someone else will see the need in Saboba and fall in love with the community and dedicate their lives to serving here as well. They also do not have much imaging capabilities at SMC. A bedside ultrasound machine was just donated which is incredibly helpful. However, the hospital does not even have a basic x-ray unit. When we would get trauma victims in, all we had to rely on was our physical exam and bedrest. Being uncertain whether a patient has a spinal fracture, hip fracture, or a variety of other pathologies makes treatment difficult. An x-ray unit would greatly help in diagnosis and management/transfer of patients to other facilities.
There are many other needs and I wouldn’t be able to name them all here. I am so grateful for the time I had in Saboba. I was speaking with my mom about the trip, and she asked if the trip was what I thought it would be. The best way I can describe my time in Ghana is “It’s not the trip I expected, but it was the trip I needed.” I grew and was stretched in so many ways. My eyes were opened to the living conditions and problems of those halfway across the world. My heart was broken for children growing up in such conditions, not really knowing how old they might live to be. I was reminded of how blessed I am to have been able to get an education, have access to healthcare, and other basic things that we take for granted every single day. My heart was changed….I know I’ll travel again. I don’t know where God might lead me. I may find myself in Ghana again, or some other location around the world, but I realize that there is a huge need in the world that I can have a small role in filling. I have been blessed with an education and a love for medicine…now I have the opportunity to use that gift to help others around me, which in my mind, is the only logical thing to do.
Thank you to all of you that supported me through prayer, financially and through encouragment before I went, while I was there, and now that I am home. I have been so blessed by each of you and this experience would not have been possible without all of you. I love you and am so blessed to have each one of you in my life!
Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.–Jude 2
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.–Luke 12:48b