By Dr. Jennifer Wilson
Every morning at 5:45 am, a group of us from Canada, UK and Ghana gather to pray for our mission and our teammates. While it is early for us, the NEA staff have already been up for hours making breakfast, packing lunches, washing buses, and organizing surgical patients. The logistics team leaves at 4:00 am to organize the crowds and set up the clinic prior to our arrival. Dr. Kyle’s translator Moses looked a little sleepy today at the dental station: he had stayed in Yaara all night to guard the building that contained our supplies and medications. The commitment of the NEA staff towards this health program is hard to describe in words. It truly is their program.
Breakfast was extra special as Abraham presented Dr. Magdi with his gift-wrapped personal luggage which finally arrived from London at 3:00 am. Katie and Bex almost missed their breakfast as they discovered the ostriches on a morning walk and could not pull themselves away from these magnificent creatures.
Off to Yaara we went, and despite our long journey the physicians were consulting at their desks by 9:15 am. I cannot say enough about my colleagues. We are used to practicing in quiet consultation rooms where we can concentrate, examine patients under good lighting, and use specialized equipment to help us arrive at the correct diagnosis and treat the problem. Here, Drs. Carlye, Charlie, Sue, Kate, Helen, Mary, Andy, Anne, Karen and I are working in the hottest, most noisy environment imaginable, gathering information through a translator, dealing with unfamiliar diseases, while always ready to respond to an emergency.
Our ability to diagnose and treat with excellence is only possible due to the support and clinical information we receive from our nursing colleagues in triage, weights and temps, diagnostics, the nursing station, and then from our team of pharmacists at the end of the line who so professionally dispense the medication needed along with the counselling required. Our Ghanaian health care providers are the most invaluable resource of all. Today, was an extremely well run clinic and we were on the road by 3:45, thanks to an outstanding team effort.
I took a few moments today to visit our eye clinic. I watched as every patient moved through Barb’s auto refraction station, Dan’s intraocular pressure check followed by a full eye exam and slit lamp by Dr. Pete, Dr. Mai, Dr. Josh or Dr. Martin. After this, Jane checked her database for the required prescription and finally, our Ghanaian volunteers pulled out a pair of donated eye glasses they required. In addition, hundreds of sunglasses and safety glasses are being dispensed. It is a truly amazing operation and I’m hoping my pictures will come through to you so you can see for yourself.
The laser clinic only ran for a half-day today, but rather than taking a well deserved afternoon off, Martin took a short cut to Yaara to help his team in the village, and Marion popped into the OR to see if help was needed. They next thing she knew, she was scrubbed in and assisting Magdi with a hernia repair. What a change of pace for Marion who, although a nurse by training, has worked faithfully on our eye team since 2007.
You know you are a great leader when your team can function without you. Dr. Rob, surgical team leader, joined us in Yaara and in his absence his team worked non-stop from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, completing 35 procedures. They are now up to 180 in total and we thank God that there have been no complications. (Nothing blew up or caught fire either.)
What would a trip to Africa be without an insect story? Today, it is all about the ants. Poor Dr. Carlye set her backpack down on the grass and when she picked it up and slung it on her back, it became apparent that she had set it down on a fire ant hill. The back pack flew off and a group of translators rushed to her and began slapping her head to toe trying to knock off hundreds of little ants without much progress. Finally one of them said, ”Madame, you must take off your clothes!” which is the only way to properly deal with these type of ants in your pants. Thankfully, there was a latrine nearby for Carlye to duck into.
This evening, Kim and Dr. Mai went into their room to find a group of a larger ants having a party. There were thousands of them pouring from a hole in the wall and the floor was almost black. We considered blowing three whistles but Kyle our protector kicked into action with a broom and Birkenstock. I ran like a mad woman with arms flailing to find Soale, because that is what you do when you have a problem in Ghana. I frantically explained the situation to him. He paused (as he always does) and responded, “They say good luck comes to those with ants in their room.” Kim and Mai did not find that funny. He followed up with “This is very normal for us,” Well, it’s not normal for us, Soale! But the best response came when I asked him if these ants bite. Another pause. “Just a little, but it is not critical. Don’t worry, I will send for silicone.”
It has been quite a week indeed. According to Kim, over 2600 patients have received health care in Mo Land since our arrival. The only appropriate way I can find to sum up this week is to tell you about a Fulani boy who came to see me today. The Fulani tribe are nomadic tribe and typically their children are uneducated. I was seeing a Fulani family at my station and one of the boys was standing right beside my chair. His mom, the translator and I were reviewing the children’s histories when this boy started to speak in a loud, strong voice for about 30 seconds. He would stop speaking, looked at me, looked at Dr. Mary sitting at the other end of my table, and repeat this 30 second speech. He did this three times. Curious, I asked my translator to find out what he kept repeating. The translation I received from this 6 year old boy was, “You have such kind hearts. Had it not been for your help, most of us would die.”
I want to thank God for making what happened this week possible and for watching over NEA, our team and our patients. I want to thank each and every one of our families, our friends, our donors and our supporters for your role making it possible for us to be here for this time. Thank you for your prayers, your good wishes and your encouraging comments that are read to us every evening and make us laugh and make us cry.
As they say in the UK, we are knackered. Tomorrow is a day of leisure and we could not be more ready. Tours of the NEA compound and Carpenter village, a trip to market, book clubs, and the third annual Ghana’s Got Talent show are planned. On Sunday, we will go to church and in the afternoon, Ghana will take on a Canada/Europe for a very competitive volleyball and football game. The outcome will not be hard to predict.
Signing off until Monday …