I did not go hungry

May 6th, 2015 by Racquel
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Hello! I am safely back in the US for a week now. I am already missing some of the amazing food that I was able to eat in Cameroon. The area of Cameroon where I was is a very fertile land. Crops grow and they grow abundantly. During the dry season there are some challenges and crops can start to suffer if the dry season persists too long. However, in my time there I did not see any children or adults literally starving to death, as is the case in many other parts of Africa. I am very thankful for the abundance of food God has provided His people.


I did not expect to have such amazing food before I arrived. On the initial trek to the hospital from the large city our driver pulled over to a roadside stand. There we ate pineapple, small papaya, and mango. I am not exaggerating when I say it was the most delicious tasting fruit I had ever had. The fruits were truly ripe, having been ripened on the plant, and the difference was clear in the flavor. We have some good fruit in America, and I have had the pleasure of tasting several fruits and vegetables in South and Central America. Honestly, none of those compared in the sweetness, juiciness, and richness of taste to these fruits. What a delight!


Later on in the drive we stopped again for some bananas. Once again, I was completely taken aback. I did not think bananas could taste better than they already do. I took one bite of this Cameroonian banana and I was hit almost like an avalanche of richness and of flavor. I could not believe that this is what a banana ought to taste like. Such buttery, sweet, almost nutty flavors filling each bite. I knew at that point that I was not going to be going hungry for lack of good food here.


One final fruit/vegetable that I must speak of. The avocado of Cameroon, I imagine, is the avocado that God grows in Heaven. They are large avocados, some weighing almost a pound alone, and they have a brighter green skin than Haas avocados. The flesh is a pure delicacy. Completely ripe, no part too ripe, beautiful creamy green, with a flavor that lulls you into bite after bite after bite. I could certainly live off of Cameroonian avocados for the rest of my life. A friend at the hospital actually gave me 3 of his avocados that grow from the tree his wife and he own and those 3 were more delicious than even the fresh ones from the local market.


At the rest home where I stayed there are three woman that run the home, keep it clean, and cook the meals. Rose is the head “inn keeper”, then Jenesia and Magdalene. Philip also helps keep the rest home clean and functioning. These women are wonderful and they became my family. They are also amazing cooks and prepared so many delicious meals for me, both traditional African food and Western food. My favorite dish of all of them is called “foo foo corn and djama-djama” (I don’t know the proper spelling). The foo foo is similar to polenta. It is made of corn meal and the finished consistency carries a shape but is malleable in one’s hands (which is how they eat it). The djama-djama is a green leafy vegetable that is cooked in onions, tomatoes, and spices. It is similar to baby spinach but has a softer consistency and different flavor. On top of it goes a tomato sauce, which is made of stewed tomatoes and spices that are blended into a gravy-like liquid. Learning to eat it all with my hands was interesting and much harder than perhaps would be expected but I started to get better by the end of my time there.


My second favorite meal is a cabbage dish with “igusee”, which is boiled pumpkin seeds blended into a paste. The cabbage is sliced and sauteed with spices and then other vegetables are added before the igusee is added at last. Once again, the cabbage has a delicious flavor, and the dish as a whole has some unique and exciting qualities. The remaining traditional dish that I had is called “Ndole”. This is another green vegetable that they call “bitter leaf” made with peanuts. The leaves are boiled down and then have all of the water squeezed out of them. The peanuts are boiled and then blended before being added to the leaves. When it is finished it is like creamed spinach but with no extra fluid. It is typically served with boiled plantains and has a flavor that is quite different to Western flavors, but which I enjoyed.


Please forgive my lack of pictures. I am having some technical difficulties with that. I could go on and on about the food, but I hope this gives you a taste of the dishes I was able to enjoy while there.   ~Racquel

Some of my day-to-day

April 17th, 2015 by Racquel
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Hello everyone! I think it’s probably time to describe a little bit of what I have been doing in the hospital for the past couple of weeks. On April 1 I switched from out-patient into in-patient care. For the first week and a half I was rounding with the doctors on Women’s Ward. This is where all of the non-pregnant women are admitted to in the hospital. There are about 30 beds lining a long room that make up the ward and for the first week it was pretty much full. Sometimes they will even add a cot between others to make more space. So I was seeing a patient in bed “extra 17” for several days. It’s really amazing what they can do with what they have. The doctors have daily lectures after chapel until about 8 AM. Then we head to our respective wards. Once on the wards, we go through and see every patient until they’ve all been evaluated and had the necessary orders place.


By the end of my time on Women’s Ward I was seeing about 7 patients. I had several interesting cases. About 50-70% of the patients at any given time are HIV positive. Many of them have very low white blood counts and are susceptible to what we call “opportunistic infections”, or infections that most healthy people would never get. I was helping care for a woman who was HIV positive, who had recently been diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis and was on treatment for that, and came to the hospital feeling very sick and we discovered a urinary tract infection, kidney stone with swollen kidney, mildly inflamed hepatitis and peripheral neuropathy from some of her medications. Certainly not the kind of case I’ve seen often in the States! Many people, sadly, do not present until late in their diseases. I’ve seen more cases of likely cancer diagnoses than I’d like to. However, the patients here are mostly very grateful and appreciate that we’re taking the best care of them that we know how even when the prognosis may not be great. I had several sweet older patients who got rather mad at me when they heard I was leaving soon and would not be here to see them for follow-up. Of course that is a rewarding feeling and certainly patient satisfaction is not the end-all-be-all but it is an encouragement when someone you’ve been taking care of in the hospital wants to see you again.


This past Monday I switched to the Maternity ward. This includes pregnant but sick women, labor and delivery, post-partum, and the “preterm room”, which is the closest thing they have to a neonatal ward. Again, it is a large room with bed after bed of mother and baby and we walk from bed to bed seeing each one. I have enjoyed the week so far. Today I had a rewarding experience (probably especially because I don’t have kids yet and was proud of myself for figuring this out). A mom told me that her baby was crying anytime she was touched. So, I diligently undressed the little girl (which is a rather large task because they all wrap the babies in about 3-4 layers including knitted sweaters and blankets) and started to examine her. Yes, it was true – as soon as I touched her she was screaming loudly. However, when I tried to find some place where she might be hurting or look for any signs of infection I couldn’t find any! So, I asked mom if she had fed her recently and had mom try breastfeeding her. As soon as the little girl could she was sucking away! All the nurses then were “yelling” to put back on some of her layers, so I diligently obeyed them and as soon as I took her from her breakfast she started screaming again. So, I explained to mom, your baby is fine she is just hungry! Feed her every hour until tonight and then go to every 2 hours. I guess the mom’s milk hadn’t come in well the day before, but she hadn’t really tried again and now her milk was there. Anyway, problem solved – she’s hungry!! My med student brain was starting to think of all the problems that can happen in the digestive tract or infections in the body, but my Family Medicine (and probably woman) brain told me to start with the basics and it worked! This afternoon, when I came around to see her again the baby was much happier, as was the mom. Sorry for the long story, but as I said, it was rewarding.


I was also privileged to assist a Cesarean section delivery several days ago. I knew they saved and reused a lot of things here, but I didn’t realize to what extent until I got to experience the Operating Room. Basically, the only things that we threw out were our gloves and masks, used needles, and used suture needles. Everything else, surgical gowns, surgical towels and drapes, surgical “sponges” (laps), and more are thoroughly cleaned and then put into the autoclave and sterilized. It’s quite incredible when compared to how much gets thrown out after surgery in the US. It’s also great to see how talented the surgeons and doctors are here, as well as the surgical techs, who do more than in the States.


Finally, when I am finished rounding with the doctors I have been going to a place they call the procedure room. The workers in this room are the ones who carry out any procedure a doctor orders for inpatient or outpatient. For instance, if someone needs a spinal tap to look for infection in their spinal column the procedure room is the one to do it. So, I’ve been getting to learn how to do spinal taps, lung taps, abdominal taps, IV starts, and other things like that. I’ve really enjoyed working there with them.


This past Wednesday I prepared a presentation on seizure management for the lecture time in the mornings for the doctors. It went well and seems to have been well-received. With such limited access to the Internet I was thanking God that I had brought some actual books with me as well as had saved some documents onto my computer. Truly, the lack of access has been one of the hardest adjustments to make here, but God has been gracious and has allowed me to have access at just the times when I’ve really needed it. That is just one small example of the many ways God has been showing me that He is taking care of me here.


Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. I am enjoying my time here and am learning so much. God bless! Racquel

Happy Easter!

April 9th, 2015 by Racquel
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Happy Easter! The LORD is risen, He is risen indeed!


My Easter weekend was very eventful and a fun weekend. Here in Cameroon Good Friday is a national holiday. So, we didn’t have to go to work! Instead, we went to church at 7:30 and were there until almost 11:30! The church affiliated with the hospital and where most of the employees go is directly across from where I live and it is a large Baptist church that is still under construction. There are 4 choirs in the church, 3 from various ethnic groups in this area and one that leads worship in English. On Good Friday service this year there was a baby dedication for one of the main pastor’s baby! So he and his wife were dressed in their Sunday best and it was a large celebration. Something very strange (to me at least!) happened toward the end. It was time for bringing offerings which we all process to bring to the front. Then, there was a time of special offerings, and suddenly, I saw people carrying a chicken down the aisle, leading a young goat down, and carrying large baskets of grain and vegetables. That isn’t so strange, because sometimes that is was someone has available to give in an agrarian community! However, then one of the ushers started auctioning off these gifts to church members. An auction in the middle of church! The money raised from the auction is then what was given as an offering in cash form, not breathing form. Certainly was a new experience for me.


That evening for dinner I and two other Americans here for about the same length as me were privileged to be invited to the house of our main housekeeper and cook, Rose. Rose is an amazing cook and had prepared a feast for us! Her husband was there to welcome us, as well as a close family friend. Rose and Mr. Suliy have 5 children plus 4 that they’ve taken in, a current total of 5 that are living at home, who we also were able to meet. Rose made us some of it seemed like every traditional dish and it was all so delicious! I wanted to keep eating but I was so full and very satisfied. As an unexpected surprise, two of their daughters performed 2 songs for us after supper was finished before we left for home. The whole evening was so wonderful and I feel so blessed to have been invited to their home. On the topic of food, let me just say it is all delicious. I will have to write an entire entry on the food, but suffice it to say that I am not losing any weight here!


Saturday was a normal work day at the hospital. However, after work, one of the nurses had agreed to take me and one of the other women to the open market to purchase some African cloth. How beautiful and colorful the cloth is! We only went into 2 stores for times’ sake, so I certainly plan to return and just wander around the fabric section and try not to buy more than I can carry home.


Sunday morning began early, very early. I grew up going to sunrise service on Easter (Dad had to drag us in the beginning, now I enjoy it), however their idea of sunrise service is a bit different. We congregated around the church at 3 AM and there were young men playing drums rather loudly (if you had any intention of sleeping!). At 3:30 we all started processing and climbing up the road and then up a steep mountain path. It took us an hour to reach the top of the mountain where the youth had prepared a site of us. There were probably 200-300 people there! Once we got there they lit a giant bonfire (15 ft at the apex) of brush and wood. Once again, that was certainly a new experience! I’ve never been to an early morning bonfire as part of Easter Sunday. There was some singing and dancing and then the pastor gave a sermon. At about 5:45 we prayed and started processing back down. This time, everyone grabbed a branch of some tree and we waved them as we marched down the road back toward the church. After a quick breakfast and changing into my only African dress, I and the 2 women headed into the church for the normal Easter service, which included several special song and dance performances before the sermon and another brief auction afterwards.


In addition to a long Sunday morning, I had joined the hospital choir and our concert was Easter Sunday evening! So, I took a quick nap and then headed up to prepare for the concert. We had also invited 2 other local choirs to join us and share some pieces with us. It was a lovely concert and people certainly seemed to enjoy it. There was a lot of laughing when we were singing our second song and suddenly all of the lights went out! Most of us kept singing but we were mumbling the words since we didn’t have them all memorized. Thankfully, it only lasted about 5 seconds and the lights flickered back on and we kept right on singing.


As I said, it was an eventful and busy Easter weekend. It is not one I will be forgetting any time soon! God bless, Racquel


April 2nd, 2015 by Racquel
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Cameroonians are very kind, generous, polite, and friendly people. They greet you when they cross paths with you and if you stop in to see someone, even a nurse at the nurses station or someone in the administrators office they ask how you slept and how your day is going and sometimes how your family is doing. We shake hands often here, and when someone is going out of their way to show respect or honor they hold their own forearm while they shake your hand. I enjoy this tradition. Strangely, when I was in Vietnam I experienced something very similar. When people there give you something, even if it’s just a receipt, they often touch their forearm or hand as they give it to you. How amazing that Vietnam and Cameroon developed a very similar tradition of respect and yet are so far away!


The Cameroonians in general are also very laughter-filled people. They love joking and laughing and smiling. One of the nurses even commented the other day and said, “Doctor Racquel, you are very serious today!” as I was examining a chart and focusing intently. I love that about the people here and I am trying to let that habit rub off on me. There are certainly things about the way daily schedules and other things that I prefer the “American way”, but I think true laughter would help fix a lot of the problems we have in the States.


Monday through Friday we have daily chapel with all of the staff which is one of my favorite times. This is a Baptist hospital and that is more than just a history – it affects daily happenings. We arrive to chapel at 6:40 and sing a song, have a message from one of the chaplains, hear announcements for the hospital happenings, and are sent onto our days. The music is so lovely! We don’t have any instruments other than bongos and a shaker and of course the human voice! With every single song we sing, often without lyrics/music, the whole room erupts into 4 part harmony. My soul is made happy. So happy, in fact, that I joined the choir and we have a concert on Easter Sunday evening!


On my first day in Banso (last Tuesday) I was introduced to whole staff during chapel. I am called “Doctor Ree-Kal” because that’s how my name gets pronounced when they try to read it. Occasionally, I have also been called “white man!” by very young children on the roadsides.


I have felt so welcome by everyone here and so highly respected. I am grateful to be learning from them and being invited to share life with them.


March 30th, 2015 by Racquel
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Welcome to my blog! I haven’t written anything yet because I haven’t known where to start. I still don’t know where to start, but I will just try to begin and see where it all leads.


It’s been 1 full week since I said good-bye to my husband and got on a plane in Wichita, Kansas to begin the journey to Cameroon. I flew from Wichita to O’Hara in Chicago to Brussels, Belgium to Yaunde, Cameroon, to Duoala, Cameroon. Twenty-six hours including lay-overs. A driver met me at the airport and took me to a rest house (similar to a hostel but this one run by a Catholic church) for the night. In the morning we loaded up the pick-up truck and began the drive to Bamenda. Little did I expect what was in store. The drive turned out to be about 6 hours, not because the distance is that great, but because you can’t often go more than 30-45 mph due to the condition of the roads. To say there are many pot-holes is a great misspeak – there are many “pot-trenches” and sometimes just inconvenient pieces of paved road. Additionally, there are giant speed bumps every 1-2 miles it seems. The final 1.5 hours of the drive were over dirt road which is extremely uneven and bumpy. To my surprise, once we reached Bamenda we still had another 2 hour drive over similar or worse roads to bring me to my final destination. Needless to say, I was very tired and very relieved to reach the rest home (guest house) where I am staying for the duration of my rotation here. Even my short time in the country has helped me to appreciate our highway system in the US that I usually just take for granted. However, the Cameroonian government has made large strides in getting highways paved and it certainly could have been worse.


This first week I have been working in the out-patient department of the hospital. The building is a rather new building and is very nice. It houses several rooms in which to see patients, a small emergency department, the outpatient pharmacy and lab, the pay station, and the admission offices when one is being admitted to inpatient. There is also a PT department that does outpatient and inpatient but is in another location.


It is hard to describe the hospital because it is so different than what I am accustomed to. Behind the outpatient building there are a series of one-story buildings connected by covered walk-ways. Each building is labeled with which ward it is. There is a Men’s Ward, Women’s Ward, Pediatric Ward, Maternity Ward, Observation Ward, Private Ward, Surgical Ward, and 1 or 2 others. These essentially are the different units. However, upon entering the wards there really are no divisions of the patient beds except by a mosquito net/curtain, which are all pulled up during the day. Another thing that is very different is that every admitted patient must have a family member who does the bedside care for that patient. The family member must provide meals for the patient, must wash the patient’s clothes, must help use the bathroom if help is needed, and many other things. The nurses are responsible for many other things but not bedside care. So, upon entering each ward, you encounter many people at once, especially if it raining outside and all of the family members are stuck inside.


In outpatient we have been seeing similar concerns to what we see in the US. Hypertension, diabetes, headache, UTI, etc. There is a lot of HIV here, but there is a separate department called the Treatment Center that handles HIV follow-up so I haven’t been working with that as of yet. I have been working with Mr. Boniface who is a nurse-practitioner here and is an extremely qualified practitioner. He is passionate about patient education and I have really enjoyed working with him. He is also passionate about questioning patients about their life after death and if they are confident about where they will spend eternity. I have really appreciated his commitment to quality medical care and genuine spiritual care as well.


I am in the English-speaking part of Cameroon, which has allowed me to communicate with patients more freely. However, what I didn’t expect is that many of the people speak what they call “Pigeon”. This is a language that is loosely based on English but is certainly a dialect of its own. Mr. Boniface speaks very clear Pigeon so I have been able to pick up a few words and syntax that have helped me communicate with those who only speak Pigeon, but I still require translation with those patients. Additionally, there is a local language called Lanso which is completely foreign to me. Thankfully, many of the patients bring a family member to help translate.


There is so much more to tell, but I am out of time for now. Thanks for your prayers and your thoughts and your patience! May God bless you and keep you, Racquel

My First INMED Blog Post

March 24th, 2015 by INMED
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stucky-racquelHello! My name is Racquel Stucky. I am a medical student at Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, and I’m starting my INMED service-learning experience at Banso Baptist Hospital in Cameroon, beginning on March 21.