A birth!

7/19/12

I am still in shock—today I saw a birth! It was absolutely incredible and has taken me several hours to process. Four hours later and I’m still having trouble believing it. 

Sara and I walked into the maternity ward asking if there were any imminent deliveries, excepting to get the usual answers of “You just missed one” or “not for several hours”. However this time, we were rewarded with a casual “Yes there’s one right now”. And off we went to the delivery room, not really expecting to see anything.

I walked in and was greeted with grunts coming from a woman lying on a hospital cot. She was making so little noise that I was sure her contractions had just started and it would be hours before the baby was delivered.

Not even two minutes later, the baby’s head began to appear! And with a monumental push, the rest of the baby popped out. I just stood there in complete shock, my mouth hanging wide open, trying to process the scene in front of me. I had just witnessed the miracle of life!

The baby was incredibly tiny, but breathing and crying and very much alive. It was such an amazing experience! Although I am definitely scared of childbirth now…

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Cured Lepers Village

7/13/12

This afternoon I finally got to go to the much anticipated cured leprosy village! It was such an amazing, rewarding experience. I thought that it would be really difficult for me to clean the wounds since I’ve been known to be squeamish in the past, but I was actually completely fine. Many of the wounds were quite deep and some were bleeding or pussing. However, none of the people we were treating felt any pain as the bacteria that causes leprosy (mycrobacterium leprae) damages the nerves.

Cleaning my first wound

Many of the people had deformed limbs; hands and feet were the most common misshapen areas as mycrobaterium leprae likes cool areas. (Side note: most of this medical information is coming from Sara, who just finished her first year of med school and is a wealth of information, and George, a nurse who works with Blue-Med and is Richard’s brother). Several of them were scooting themselves across the floor or relied on walking sticks to get from place to place. I was incredibly impressed that they had adapted so well and could manage completely on their own.

There are about 50-60 people living in the leprosy village, 16 of which have unhealed wounds. All of the lepers have been cured by a year-long antibiotic regiment, but they are still rejected from society because of their deformities. There are several kids who live in the village as well, none of whom have had leprosy.

People lined up waiting to get their wounds cleaned

While I was dressing a man’s wound, one of the women started yelling at her teenage daughter. The shouting kept escalating and then the woman rapidly scooted herself over to her daughter, pulled herself up onto a bench and began slapping her daughter across the face repeatedly. I was in total shock. Part of me wanted to jump up and restrain the woman from hitting her sobbing child and the rest of me was completely dumbfounded by the situation. No one else seemed to be bothered by it; those waiting to get their wounds cleaned just watched and the volunteers kept attending to them. The seemingly routine nature of the situation, combined with the fact that I was in the middle of cleaning a rather deep foot wound, refrained me from doing anything besides gawk. The fight ended rather abruptly. After it was over, one of the Blue-Med staff, a man named Bright, lectured the woman about hitting her child.

Once we finished cleaning everyone’s wounds, I approached the children who had congregated at one of the nearby tables. We started playing clapping games, which I’ve learned from my years as a camp counselor are a universal way to break the ice. They taught me a few Ghanaian games and I showed them some American ones. All of us having short attention spans, we quickly moved on to a new set of games: musical chairs. After much shouting and laughing, musical chairs turned into dance lessons. Some of the kids were absolutely incredible dancers. They kept trying to teach me their moves and after many failed attempts I maybe kind of sort of got the hang of it. A little bit. I’m still mind boggled (and a little jealous) as to how even the young kids can move their bodies so well!

All the kids showing off their dance moves and playing king of the hill at the same time. They are such talented dancers!

Getting Excited

7/12/12

Today has been such an amazing day! It started out with the best breakfast that consisted of toast, avocados, mangos and hard boiled eggs. I loved having fresh fruit. After breakfast, Sarah (my awesome roommate) and I went to the municipal hospital to the out patient department (OPD). We took people’s blood pressure and entered their vitals into the computer. At first I was pretty nervous and had trouble with the blood pressure device, but after taking a few people’s BP, I started getting the hang of it.

The outpatient clinic is the first place people go to when they arrive at the hospital. People, old and young, visibly sick and apparently healthy, fill up rows and rows of benches in an outdoor patio. They get called for the temperature, weight and blood pressure to be taken and then go back to their seat and wait again, this time to be seen by a doctor in a consulting room. I personally have yet to see a doctor at the hospital; the majority of staff are nurses or student nurses. Apparently there are usually 1-2 doctors in the consulting rooms and 6 doctors in total at the hospital. Very different than most hospitals in the US…

I sat with a student nurse, Josephine, and took people’s blood pressure while she entered it in the computer. After about an hour, she disappeared and I took over both for a bit before Sarah came to help me. Once I had mastered the blood pressure device, the trickiest part was calling out people’s names.

Adding credit to my cool new Ghanaian phone so I can text Newlove and all the other Ghanaian friends that I hope to make

One of the student nurses, Newlove, helped me out with the pronunciations. (Her name is pretty fitting because she really is my new love; she so sweet). Not only was she helpful in explaining the names and different hospital procedures, but she is also extremely friendly. As Sarah and I were leaving the hospital, we ran into her and exchanged phone numbers. Newlove and I decided to meet up at the market today and are getting our hair done and going dancing tomorrow night. I’m so excited!

I was at OPD from about 8:30-11:30am. It was definitely interesting, and I’m glad I got to experience it. After OPD, we went to pediatrics. My nurse buddy, Dzjohm, was there and it was great to see another friendly and familiar face. He was the one that was really helpful in explaining the different diseases to me last time. He also jokingly proposed to me today, which apparently is very common here.

In the ward today, there was another boy with sickle cell disease, a baby with two different kinds of malnutrition (kwashiorkor and marasmus—protein-energy malnutrition) and lots of kids with malaria.

Rita, the child with protein-energy malnutrition, was especially heartbreaking to see. She was covered in skin lesions and had a big, distended belly. Protruding from her swollen tummy, she had what Dzjohm called an umbilical hernia. Apparently Rita’s energy malnutrition had weakened her muscles to the point where her abdominal muscle tore a bit and her intestines came through it. Apart from her enlarged tummy, Rita was extraordinarily skinny. Dzjohm was saying that her younger brother had taken over breast feeding and so Rita hadn’t gotten enough nutrients. Sara and I were a bit confused by this explanation because Rita was old enough to have stopped breast feeding completely.

Holding a brand new baby–just born a few hours ago!

After going through the pediatrics ward, Djzohm took me and Sara to the maternity and labor ward. I got to see, and even hold (!), the cutest newborn babies! It made me definitely want to go back the maternity ward and hopefully help with a delivery. That would be such an incredible, unbeatable experience.

Around 1pm, we left the hospital and returned to the hostel where we had lunch and got ready for the market. The market was absolutely insane. Since it was market day, it much larger and more crowded than usual. There were stands everywhere with things from dried fish contorted in a circle with their tail in their mouth, to skirts for $1, to live crabs skuttling around, to cell phone chargers, to fruit. People with water bags, nail polish, tomatoes ect. weave in an out of the crowds yelling the price of their goods and trying to entice bystanders to buy them. It was really cool but definitely overwhelming after awhile.

Some of the many delicacies at the market: live crab and dried fish

At the market, I bought some fake hair (for my braids that I’m getting with Newlove, Teresa—the cook at the hostel—and Sara soon!), some mangos, a skirt and some carrots.

Getting Cultured

7/8/12

This morning I went to church with Abi and Alex, two of the British volunteers. It was an incredibly interesting experience. The room was packed with rows of portable folding metal chairs. Everyone was wearing very beautiful colorful dresses and shirts, definitely seemed like their Sunday best. We got there a bit after the service had started because we went to a different church first where the service was just ending. By the time we arrived at Assemblies of God, the minister had brought 5 people from the audience to the front of the room and had them kneeling. It seemed like he was going through each of them one by one and discussing their lives and their sins. I’m not positive though. Although the service was in English and then translated into Ewe, it took me awhile to adjust to the minister’s accent.

After he finished with the five audience members, he preached about the benefits of marriage. He repeated this sermon three times throughout the service, really trying to drive his point home. He kept saying how people in relationships need to validate their union through marriage in the eyes of God and that marriage was not just for young people. He called upon an older couple in the audience who had either recently gotten married or were going to get married soon as an example of older people doing the right thing in God’s eyes. He continued by saying that those who were living together but did not get married would no longer be members of the church.

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The Assemblies of God church, while everyone is still inside

 

The music during the service was absolutely amazing. They only played two songs but both were so beautiful. One was sung by the choir and the other by what seemed to a be a band. The band played this song called “Try to be more like Jesus”, which, although the lyrics were a bit off putting for me, was really inspirational because of the singer’s passion. The band consisted of one lead male singer, several male and female back up singers, a drummer and a guitarist. It was pretty cool. They all had amazing voices.

A man from the audience then gave a long talk about the importance of higher education for Ghanaian youth, which was really fascinating as well. The speech itself was a little tedious and hard to understand but the fact that the minister called upon this 20 something year old man to come up and talk about the benefits of a college education and how important it was for parents to foster their children’s desire to go to school was very interesting and forward thinking.

The minister himself was an intimidating figure. About 6.5 feet tall, very muscular and wearing a fancy suit, he had a very commanding presence. He really knew how to work the crowd, both with his voice and with his gestures. Most of the time, he was yelling at the audience, repeating his most important phrases for emphasis. Throughout his sermon, he used a race metaphor to illustrate people’s life course and goal of entering heaven. It was a very powerful image that he pounded home with slow motion running down the aisle, a loud voice and a variety of examples. At one point, he began preaching about how they should not associate with non-believers because they “will cause the believers to not be admitted to heaven”. He was storming down the aisle as he described how non-believers would taint believers in the eyes of God, and I was legitimately scared for a second that he knew I was not religious and throw me out of the church… Obviously that did not happen, but it was startling to see how many people raised their hands or stood up in agreement with what he was saying.

Throughout the service, people who were very inspired by the minister’s words would show their devotion by either standing or raising their arms or both. The service was much more interactive than the ones I have experienced in the US. Members would not only stand or clap at various occasions, but the minister would also call on audience members to add to the service. At one point, he called out a sleeping women and spent a few minutes discussing the rudeness  and consequences of falling asleep in church.

After sitting their for an hour and a half, we left, although the service had yet to finish. We think that it was wrapping up soon after, but I’m not sure. Overall, it was a really interesting experience and I’m glad I went but I’m not sure if I would want to go to a Ghanian church again. I wish I had been able to take pictures but I didn’t want to whip out my phone in the middle of the service.

Getting Informed

7/6/12

Today has been very informative and interesting so far. I went to the pediatrics ward at the municipal hospital again. Some of the same kids from yesterday were there, and I was able to see how they had progressed from the day before. There were 4 patients in the ward: Perfect, a 9 year old girl who has sickle cell disease, a girl with a leg wound, a girl with malaria, a boy with really severe malaria and possibly typhoid, and the premature newbie with malnutrition. There were also several other kids who had been discharged but were still in the hospital because they did not have money to pay.

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Playing “Inky Binky Bonky” with one of the patients who had a leg wound

Although it’s extremely interesting to witness the symptoms of these different diseases first hand and to see how they are treated in the hospital, it’s still really hard to get used to the lack of resources there.

The majority of the staff are student nurses who are doing their 5 week practical at the municipal hospital. I talked to one of them, Joy (age 20), a lot and learned about her life as a nursing student. There was one male nurse, Djzohm, who has been working in the ward for awhile and was extremely knowledgable about all the different diseases. Exhibiting much patience, he explained the different symptoms of malaria and sickle cell disease to me and Alicia.

Here is what I’ve learned so far:

Malaria: Characterized by high fevers and vomiting. If very severe can go to the brain, causing cerebral malaria. The nine year old boy with severe malaria (i think his name was Abukar) had a consistently really high fever that did not respond to malaria medication. After 2 weeks of a high temperature and malaria medications, the doctor prescribed him with cipro and another antibiotic, thinking that the fever was caused by a bacterial infection such as typhoid. We watched the nurse, Dzijom, give him the antibiotics intraveneously, which was really interesting. The boy was so sweet and so strong. Even when he was shaking from the fever and obviously in pain he never cried.

Sickle cell disease: Characterized by joint pain because the blood cells get stuck in the joints and then cause severe pain. Fatigue. The only way to treat it is to get a bone marrow transplant because the bone marrow is creating defective sickle shaped red blood cells. It’s very expensive and not feasible so they just manage the crises situations by giving medication to relieve the pain and by thinning the blood with IV fluids.

I really enjoy going to the hospital and getting informed. It’s made me realize that I do really want to become a doctor. Hopefully I can get over my squeamishness of blood and needles!

Getting Situated

7/5/12

I just got back from the municipal hospital. Today was short since it was our first day and we’re still getting adjusted to the time difference, the heat, the food… pretty much just being in a developing country on the other side of the world.

Alicia and I spent our time today in the pediatrics ward at the municipal hospital. (There are two hospitals in Ho, the municipal hospital and the regional hospital.) It was surprising at first to see such a stark difference between the hospital here and our hospitals back home. A large portion of the hospital is outdoors, covered merely by an awning. The wards, which are all indoors, held just the bare minimum needed for medical procedures. It was heartbreaking to see the kids just lying there in these beds that look like cages.

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The supply room at the pediatrics ward

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An example of the beds in the pediatrics ward

There was a baby with malnutrition (just born 3 weeks ago) that was so so tiny, I thought it was going to whither away. He was legitimately all skin and bones. At first, he couldnt even cry, but in the few hours we were there, with the help of some calorie rich baby formula and love from his mother, he started getting visibly better.

There weren’t many mothers or kids there that spoke English, but I chatted with one for awhile that did. She was 20 years old and was there with her second kid, a girl that had had malaria but was doing much better now. It was crazy to hear about her life and compare how different our worlds are. I can’t even imagine having 2 kids (one with malaria), no husband, no health insurance and no money to pay the hospital bill. And despite all this, she was happy and full of life.

It’s hard to bond with the patients when we can’t communicate, since many of them don’t speak English. I’ve been practicing a few phrases in the local language, Ewe, and can now say “hi”, “how are you”, “I’m fine”, “what’s your name?”, “how old are you?” and “where does it hurt?”. I’m trying to remember these and to learn more, but I keep butchering the pronunciation!

Coming back to our hostel after the hospital, I’m once again struck by how nice it is. The buildings seem to be only a few years old, and very clean. There is a communal kitchen, common room with wifi (!) and amazing, tiled, large SHOWERS! Alicia and I even have our own room. The area surrounding the hostel is so lush and green. It’s surreal.

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The Blue-Med hostel

There are 15 other volunteers here right now: 14 British college students and 1 American high school student. The Brits leave in about a week and then they’ll just be four of us.

Welcome!

I’ve been alternating between using emails, word documents and scraps of paper to document my time in Ghana so far, so after much insistence from my mom I finally decided to create a blog about my trip. Hopefully my challenges using technology don’t get in the way of updating my eager (and I’m sure numerous) fans.

Once I get the hang of the fabulous blogging phenomenon, I hope to update frequently,  both about my trip to Ghana and any future trips. Crossing my fingers that Gilda really does go global!

I’ll be spending the majority of my time here in Ghana in the town of Ho, the capital of the Volta Region.

It’s about a 2-3 hour tro-tro (the popular form of transport between cities–basically a large van) ride from Accra to Ho. More updates to come very soon!