Ghana Health Team 2017 Update - Highly Beyond Imagination

by Dr. Jennifer Wilson

There are moments during every mission when I realize afresh that the beautiful people of Ghana are no different that you and I. I realize that sounds like an odd statement. However, when you are dealing with a culture that is so different from ours and when poverty is staring you in the face, I am embarrassed to say that it happens.

There were two moments when this reminder hit me so hard today that I had to pause and regroup myself. The first came when I received a visitor. Evans was a little boy we saw last year who was born with a stump for a right leg. With funds left over from last year's mission we were able to arrange for him to be fitted for a prosthetic leg. He and his mom made the journey to Nyamboi to thank us for giving him his life and the mom started to brag about his football skills. An incredible story on many levels, but it was her bragging about her little boy that reminded me that she is no different from any mom who loves to tell of her kids' accomplishments.

The second reminder came to me when I had three very sick kids with malaria who were so scared of my white face. My clinic nurses back at home, Jill and Kelly, snuck some big Paw Patrol stickers in my bag before I left. The moment those three kids saw those smiling animal faces, they were the happiest kids in the world and would let me do anything.

 Paw Patrol goes to Ghana

Paw Patrol goes to Ghana

A proud mamma. A child with a sticker. These parents and these kids are no different than yours or mine, except that they were born in Northern Ghana.

Wednesday was rich. It was wonderful. It was challenging. It required every ounce of teamwork we could muster to manage to care for the large numbers of people and the challenges that arose throughout the day both in the village and in the OR. It is humbling work and flexibility and adaptability and teamwork skills must be applied moment to moment.

When we arrived this morning the crowd was under incredible control due to the arrival of our hard-working Ghanaian volunteers, who were on sight as early at 4:00 am. The clinic began immediately and three of our surgical team colleagues -- Dr David, Ted and nurse Mel -- enjoyed their first African village experience. Their help was really needed. I was greeted immediately by Letichia, the village nurse. This dear woman is the only nurse midwife in the community. She is on call 24/7 with no back up. She was absolutely dancing with joy with the health care being delivered in her community. She has been through two of the “Helping Babies Breathe” neonatal resuscitation training programs that we ran with the Leyaata team and is now a master trainer. As she shared stories with me about babies successfully resuscitated, she once again was jumping for joy.

Taking off on Ashley’s “Team Awesome” title, Abraham and our logistics team decided to play a game with all of us today. As they visited each station and asked how they were doing, the first word they said was to become their team name. Giggling away, he announced our new names: Weights and Temps: Team Great; Triage: Team Beautiful, Diagnostics: Team Wonder; Nursing Treatment: Team Busy, Physicians: Team Perfect, Pharmacy: Team Happy Feet (Sherry was doing another happy dance at the time); Dental: Tooth Thieves. Abraham is saving the registration, logistics and eye team for tomorrow!

Team Great! (Weights and Temperature station: Amelia, Rita, Kaitlin, Pastor Emmanuel.)

Dr. Bill had a very sick 5 month-old with malaria and sepsis and worked with the nurses all day to stabilize the child. I have no idea how Joan found a vein in the tiny, dehydrated foot, but life-giving fluids and medicine were running through it. Bill confessed he would not have slept a wink worrying about this baby surviving the night if she went home (that's how much we care for these patients). Although she improved a great deal, we felt she would be best to continue treatment in the local hospital due to her young age. Arrangements were made. Bill shared with me that their plan was to walk to the next village, and get a motorbike to take mom and baby to hospital. Bill noted the injustice that in our shop, an ORNGE ambulance with the Sick Kids team would be landing right now. Instead they will travel 2 hours on a motorbike on a dangerous road as it is getting dark. Nelson Mandela said, “How we walk with the broken speaks louder than how we sit with the great. Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity. It is an act of justice." Bill lived out that quote today.

Our team Pediatrian, Anne, shared about her special patient and special teamwork moment involving a child drifting in and out of unconsciousness from severe malaria and hypoglycaemia. Anne said it was just the most incredible sight to enter our nursing treatment area and have the diagnostic team (led by Tracey), and the nurses on duty in the station (Joan, Kathleen, Nicole, Leslie and Val) descended on the child and in minutes the IV glucose, antimalarials were running. An hour later Anne came back to find the child sitting up drinking and she was ready to go home by the end of the clinic.

Our clinic ended with the Chief of Nyamboi presenting our team with a large pile of yams and a beautiful ram. His parting words were that our delivery of health services to his village was highly beyond their imagination. The ram rode home in the back of the eye team truck (with all of their very valuable equipment). Apparently that didn’t go over too well with our optometrists!

Our ram in the optometry truck.

Our surgical team had a fantastic day full of challenges that were overcome with team work, and our Ghanaian anaesthetist shared how he was left in charge of a case when Perry was called out for an emergency. Eric felt his courage slip as Perry left but quickly realized that “when you are trained by master trainers, you will be ready to overcome." The team had the privilege of operating on one of David Mensah's family members. No pressure!

Dinner was waiting when we returned. I know some family members back home were worried about what their loved ones might be eating in Africa so I thought I’d give you our dinner menu from last night: pumpkin and ginger soup, fresh bread, rice garnished with corn and peas, rice sauce, roast beef with BBQ sauce, salad with fresh vegetables and eggs, yam fritters (made with Lucy’s yams) and fresh watermelon, grapes and pineapple. Needless to say we may not lose any weight in Ghana!

Our special dinner guest tonight was Dr. Mensah himself, and he updated us on some world news and weather reports from home. He gave touching words to us all on behalf of his people, reminding us that many of them have never sat in front of a nurse or a doctor in their lives. He prepped us for Yaara, his village — a village where health is returning due to the consistent efforts of the medical team. Unfortunately a crew of our people missed his speech (Dr. Carlye, Lisa, Bill, Val and Joan) as a medical emergency arrived during dinner time.

We thought our day was finally over but as we walked back to our residence a hysterical mother brought her daughter to the gate who they thought had been bitten by a snake. Thankfully it was “JUST a scorpion bite” and we were able to send her home with some pain medication.

As this day closes, I must say that it is the chief’s final words to us that are ringing in my ears. What occurred today in the village of Nyamboi and in the operating theatres and the eye laser room in Carpenter was highly beyond anything any of us could have asked for or imagined. These words come from one of my favourite Bible verses. For those of you praying for the team, your prayers are being heard.

On to Yaara we go!