I’m running out of creative ways to start these blog entries. You can only say “greetings” or the equivalent of that in another language so many times before it starts getting a little boring. So I’m just going to jump into it today. As I write this, we are enjoying a holiday weekend here in Uganda. As you may know, yesterday was Good Friday, and Sunday is Easter. I’ve mentioned before that many people in Uganda are highly religious, so it shouldn’t be that surprising that they make a big deal out of Easter. Both Good Friday and the Monday after Easter are public holidays here, meaning that everybody gets those days off (except perhaps people who work in the hospital, and who likes them anyway?). It’s pretty funny, because people kept asking me what my plans were for the holidays, and I had no idea what they were talking about, because I basically thought of it as just another weekend.
It seems like both a lot and not that much has happened since my last blog entry. We finally moved out of the hotel and into a house, which is really nice. We got a great deal on renting it, because it’s in the process of being renovated (I’m watching 4 Ugandan construction workers put up curtain rods in our living room as I write this), but it’s actually a very high-end place. I almost feel a little guilty living here, because it’s so far removed from the conditions that most people here actually live in. We have running water (which works most of the time, though sometimes it stops inexplicably), electricity (though I don’t have high hopes for it, considering our experience with the reliability of Gulu’s electricity), and as of this morning: HOT WATER, which totally blows my mind. I took a shower that wasn’t freezing cold this morning, and it was amazing—even if it was a bucket shower. The house was totally unfurnished when we moved in, so we bought the bare minimum of what we needed to live here for a month—mattresses, chairs, dishes, pots, a frying pan, and a small kerosene stove. The stove has been a little bit of a challenge to use because it only has one burner and most of us aren’t used to cooking on gas like that, but at least we don’t have to rely on the electricity to power it. It’s nice to have somewhere to call home, if only for a little while. It’s also conveniently very close to one of our favorite hangouts (which has the best internet I’ve encountered since arriving in Uganda), and within walking distance of town.
In other news, I realized that maybe I spoke too freely about my little encounter with malaria, and didn’t give it the weight it deserved. I encountered it for a second time this week, and it was much less forgiving with me this time around. In fact, to my surprise, I ended up spending a night in the hospital. I’m dong much better now, but the experience has made me gain some appreciation for the severity of the illness. It was a little disconcerting, because on Sunday I felt fine, but by noon on Monday, I had developed severe body aches and a fever, and was pretty sure the malaria was back. When I went to the doctor a few hours later, I discovered that my fever had spiked up to 40.1 degrees Celsius (which I couldn’t put in context at the time, but I found out later that it translates to about 104 degrees Fahrenheit), and the doctor suspected severe malaria. I had to get a fever reducing shot right then while they ran blood tests on me, and then spent the rest of the night getting IV antibiotics for a severe infection (which had shown up unexpectedly in the blood test), swallowing pills for malaria and fever, and getting my temperature taken. Overall, I think I handled the whole thing pretty well, but there were a few moments where I almost lost it, like when the nurse who was about to take my blood for testing said she was having trouble finding my vein (direct quote from the nurse: “I want to prick while seeing, but I might have to prick without seeing.” And me, alarmed: “PLEASE don’t prick without seeing!”).
Most of the hospital experience was rather unremarkable, actually. The hospital staff were very helpful and pleasant; the doctor was attentive and knowledgeable; the equipment was fairly up-to-date, and there seemed to be enough of it. I got a private room that had its own bathroom, which was pretty nice, and I didn’t have to provide my own bedding, as patients do at many health centers here. Notably, the hospital where I got treatment is not the same hospital where I’m doing my internship; the internship is at the government-run, free hospital, which is pretty run-down and very busy. The hospital I stayed at is the most expensive hospital in Gulu (according to one of our friends), privately run, and seemed to have a much more manageable stream of patients. And so again we encounter the dichotomy between the quality of services available to the average Ugandan and those available to People With Money.
I have now checked two new experiences off my life list (not the list of things I wanted to do…just a list of things I have done): getting an IV, and spending a night in the hospital. I think that’s pretty good, if I made it to age 21 without doing either of those things. It makes me realize how lucky I have been to have had such good health all my life. As I was contemplating the IV hookup in my hand that night, I kept thinking about all the kids in the malnutrition ward where I’ve been interning, because so many of them have those for days at a time to receive IV meds. I gained new appreciation for the way they put up with it so well, because it’s weird to have a needle hanging out in your vein all the time and it kind of hurts when they pump stuff into it.
I got out of the hospital on Tuesday, spent Wednesday resting, and went back to work on Thursday. As I was sitting outside of the ward waiting for a friend, I waved to this little girl who was sitting against the wall of the pediatric ward (which is right next to the malnutrition ward). A lot of the kids here are actually afraid of “the muonos,” as they call us (translation: “the whites”), but when I waved she got up as if in a trance and slowly walked over to me. She sat down next to me and held my hand for probably 30 minutes, without ever saying anything. (I tried to talk to her, but she was very quiet and it seemed like I should just let the silence be.) I don’t know exactly what happened, but I really felt a connection with this girl, even though I don’t even know her name. She was probably about 6 years old, wearing a dirty pink and white Nike hoodie, and had an IV hook-up in the hand that she was holding mine with. I don’t know where her parents were, because she was sitting alone when I saw her and nobody seemed to come looking for her. (Not altogether surprising because here, fathers are never involved with children who are admitted to the hospital, and I’ve always wondered how the mothers can stay with the child, take care of all their other children, and still run their household…I guess they must have to leave the children unattended at the hospital sometimes.) But it was amazing how much I felt was being said between us without words. She was telling me that she was exhausted and hurting, maybe a little scared, and a lot lonely. I wanted to tell her that I’d been in the same position just a few days ago, and to tell her how brave she was, that she wasn’t alone, and that it was going to be ok. I hope some of that got across to her. I woke up that night around 3AM and she suddenly appeared in my mind: the little girl with the soft touch and downcast eyes. I wonder what happened to her. Since it’s a holiday weekend, I won’t be back at the hospital until Tuesday, and she’ll probably be gone by that time. I don’t know what it was about her that moved me, but she reminded me of whom I am working for: it’s her. It’s her, and all the other children and adults who languish in that hospital from diseases that can be prevented so easily. It’s her and every other child that suffers because their drinking water isn’t clean; it’s her and all the children who die from malaria because they don’t sleep under a bed net; it’s her and all the people who have been scarred by the effects of war that they didn’t ask for. There is so much needless suffering here, and it all came pouring out to me through the touch of this young girl. I’m pretty sure I will never forget her. She will keep me on track; when I start to get tired or frustrated or absorbed in my own struggles, I will remember her and the things she so quietly reminded me of.
So thank you, nameless child. You inspire me. I will keep fighting for you. And you are so strong; I know you will keep fighting for yourself. Love and peace to you.