Wednesday, December 14, 2005

One week remaining...

I’m not sure I can describe all these contradicting emotions that continue to course through me. It’s hard to believe that it’s already the middle of December and I have essentially completed my time here. I am so so proud of my staff at the health center – I was in Kigali most of last week for meetings with UNHCR and other organizations and coming back the health center is running without a glitch– everything is in order, in fact improvements have been made, there are new educational posters up that they have requested from the local hospital and the medicines are newly organized and labeled in our emergency drug cabinet. The folders continue to be in order with the admission files, the community health workers and guards continue to efficiently triage the patients registering their names in the medical record books and taking their temperatures and weights, my nurses continue to give educational lectures each morning… and we finally have a white dry-erase board (after ordering one in July!) to track patients and schedules… I amuse my staff to no end with how excited I get over each new item – I was bouncing off the walls after the white board came in – and did cartwheels when we got our mosquito nets!! (literally)

I could just be feeling slightly sentimental (or more than slightly) but I was sitting in morning report yesterday… remembering my first few days when I started out back in July without anything!! No schedule, (start and finish times stretched well into the late mornings and evenings - I was even chided last week by Alphonse for being 5 minutes late one morning! He is one of my refugee staff - and previously one of the worse offenders holding to the "African Standard Time" method of punctuality - meaning up to 1-2 hours late is on time )- no system of hospital rounds, no triaging, weighing and taking temperatures and doing consultations ourselves, no cabinets for medications, no laboratory, no bed numbers, no admission notes, no medication records no OB department, no HIV testing no Family Planning materials… working straight through lunch into the evening, no one washing their hands, no one even examining patients most of the time, every patient being treated with 3 or 4 antibiotics unnecessarily… we have come such a long way. And I really feel like it’s true not just something I’m saying to convince myself – that my job is complete here… that while there never is an end to learning – these amazing nurses, Congolese refugee and Rwandese national alike have absorbed every detail of every aspect of medicine I have been able to convey – from administrative to fundraising, to medical record keeping to patient care… and have really taken an ownership and pride in their health center and hospital… our health center and hospital. It’s such and overwhelmingly joyous feeling I could explode at times…

And so I float around this last week trying to soak it all in – remembering where we started and the miles and miles we’ve traveled together in 5 short months. I am so grateful to Barry Wheeler, the amazing country director for ARC for Rwanda and to Larry Ronan and the rest of the Durant crew back in Boston for giving me this opportunity – it was such a perfect almost eerily too perfect combination of events – this new camp without a doctor – my being allowed to build something – to create a health center and hospital from the ground up, the uniquely talented and hardworking local staff and refugee staff alike with everyone working so well together as a team … the support from Barry who pretty much just let me run with anything I wanted to do… any idea I had was met with complete acceptance – “go for it” was the most common phrase I heard. And the blessings that came seemingly out of nowhere whenever I wanted to give up - whether from the MGH Chelsea Urgent Care crew at home, my family, UNICEF, Refugees International, EGPAF... I have been incredibly lucky.

I am almost certain I will return in April – depending on my funding – to help finish the last piece – the HIV program. Our PEPFAR funding was approved and I just found out we have received additional funding from OPEC nations through UNHCR (part of all those agonizing meetings last week) also for HIV activities – So my job largely in April (if I’m able to return) will be setting up a HIV testing and treatment center within the camp. We have been so fortunate to partner with EGPAF and the local hospital but only having testing available once a week and having to transport patients to get started on HIV treatment is problematic. I’m thankful we have the funds to start our own programs in the camp next year.

More thanks are due. After feeling completely and totally sorry for myself over Thanksgiving but then getting all those supplies from UNICEF – I received more care packages from home.. thanks again to Tim & Leigh Anne, mom and dad (as always), Tom & Kate Faber, and Johanna Cooper, First Presbyterian Church of Vancouver, Washington… Also Eileen and the rest of the Refugees International crew came through in a big way (see getting us the donation that allow us to purchase mosquito nets – for each household in the camp – actually there’s enough money for two for each household. Malaria continues so fiercely here – people are suffering so much and while we have become quite adept at treating it – it’s nice to have a little going for us on the prevention side.

So it’s with such pride and sorrow.. so bittersweet I can hardly breathe as the camp kids rush to me every morning, that I am preparing to leave. What I will miss the most is those smiles and voices greeting me every day. What I will not miss – at least not for a while is the feeling of desperation – every day being up against a wall – without a safety net – no panel of experts to rely on – and death being so much more a reality – especially children dying. Needlessly – really all such easy “saves” in the US, but we have done pretty well, no one has died of malaria (yet) – and no one really should die of malaria anywhere in the world - but I know the local hospital in the village has up to 5 deaths a day, most days, from malaria. It’s a testament to the hard work of my staff in education so people present early with symptoms and their skill at treating malaria that have allowed us to escape thus far without a death. I have become even more convinced that education is the essential building block of health (of course along with clean water, adequate nutrition, medicines…)

Pictures to come of our shelter to shelter installation of mosquito nets, and of course more of the children. I will be home so soon it’s hard to even imagine the reverse culture shock. I look forward to catching up with everyone when I drop out of the sky… More to come soon (yes, pictures I promise) …

All my best,


At 8:46 PM, Blogger Louise Ruhr said...

Dear Ann,

Having had the privilege of working with you during your first week on the job, I can attest to the incredible progress and contribution that you have made at Nyabiheke Camp. I am looking forward to returning to Rwanda in January and to seeing for myself what you have accomplished. I know that they will miss you there, as will I, and look forward to seeing you back there in April.

Well done, and safe journey.


At 10:52 PM, Anonymous Johanna said...

It has been our privilege to share your experiences. THANK YOU so much for sharing them. You have made SO much progress there in such a short time.
As always, warm thoughts from Chelsea (although it is almost in the single digits outside!)



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