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This blog was written by Brad Synder, FNP-C – NP & Education Coordinator, who has worked at FAME Medical hospital and clinics in Karatu, Tanzania for several years. He now travels back to volunteer his time. I consider Brad a friend and have learned so much from him about how to listen and how to work with and learn from colleagues who care for people 1/2 way around the world.
It’s being a chameleon, becoming whoever the person you’re with needs you to be. It’s waking up everyday knowing that undoubtedly you will change a life and in return have yours changed. It’s pushing yourself to new limits, frequently on the edge of comfort as you try your best to fix and heal the person in front of you. It’s brainstorming at the bedside with a team of gifted clinicians trying to figure out the cause of a man’s internal bleeding as his blood counts continue to drop. It’s checking on a 1 day old then suddenly grabbing the oxygen and performing a resuscitation when he changes without any warning. It’s coming together in a moment’s notice and becoming one skilled unit, fighting the battle to keep a little life alive. It’s winning the battle.
It’s watching a doctor’s skill as he diagnoses cardiac anomalies with an echo or saves a woman from bleeding out during a complicated C-section. It’s opening books and crunching numbers as you try to solve a medical mystery alongside other uncertain fighters pulling deep on dusty knowledge and experience. It’s coming to a solution while vulnerably admitting that you’re not 100% certain of this plan, but it’s the best we can do with what we have. It’s feeling the slight relief of a definitive partnership amidst ambiguity and uncertainty. It’s seeing a nurse take peanut butter and a spoon into the room of a patient with severe burns and watching her patiently give one spoon at a time. It’s looking into her determined eyes as she says, “I know I can’t fix the burns but this is what I can do, so I’m doing it.” It’s feeling a rush of compassion flow through your body.
It’s a nurse’s poignant assessment as she picks up danger signs in pregnancy and prevents a catastrophe. It’s giving a woman a chance to be a mother, one of life’s greatest gifts. It’s a counselor gently comforting a suicidal woman buried deep in a cloud of depression with the fear of no way out. It’s giving her a glimpse of light and the possibility that this doesn’t have to last forever. It’s walking into a room as a midwife with experience twice as long as you’ve been alive turns the breech baby of a woman in active labor. It’s hearing the cry of a healthy baby and taking a collective sigh of relief. It’s feeling grateful to have such skilled, passionate people on your team.
It’s hearing the gentle humming of a mother who just lost her 6-year old to a battle against sickle cell disease. It’s walking outside with a father as he holds back tears surrounded by family and friends and giving him a safe space to feel whatever he needs to feel. It’s being a quiet presence as he sobs in your arms in a moment of utter grief and disbelief. It’s realizing that pain like this can only be felt by others who have experienced such a profound loss.
It’s staying up through the night diligently monitoring two premature babies as they struggle to survive in an incubator instead of the safety of their mother’s womb. It’s reading neonatology articles, emailing colleagues and adapting guidelines to what we can do here. It’s watching mothers give their babies life-saving breast milk to keep their tiny bodies growing. It’s praying that it all works out. It’s going home and preparing to wake up and do it all over again tomorrow. It’s holding onto hope. It’s who we are. It’s why we’re here.
I’m sitting on Dr Joyce Cuff’s porch on the grounds of FAME Africa’s hospital and clinic, looking out over a verdant green valley planted with beans and coffee. Across the valley, the dense bush marks the southeastern slope of the Ngorogoro conservation area, with a coffee plantation and Gibbs Farm to the right.
Dr. Joyce, my housemate here, is a long term volunteer who oversees a laboratory amazing capabilities given the remote location. She casually mentioned a close encounter with a few cape buffalo a few weeks back while hiking in the conservation area.
This story and the hyena calls I’ve heard every night, remind me of Peter Allison’s book, Whatever You Do, Don’t Run and that I’m unlikely to outrun anything here in Africa, except maybe any hiking partner crazy enough to venture out with me.
I’m listening to a symphony of bird songs, calls and the buzzing of bees, with the occasional lowing of cows, far in the distance. I can’t hear the butterflies, but they are in abundance.
There are no sounds of man, none! No nearby freeway or whirring from a fan or air conditioner, nothing but warbles, tweets and chirps. It’s funny, hmmm, how “tweet” has such a different meaning halfway across the world.
This is the question my friend Therese McKenna asked me a few months ago when we were talking about sustainable health care in developing countries. That is the opportunity to support medical and nursing colleagues around the globe by exchanging expertise.
Thus began a journey of learning about an amazing hospital and clinic, FAME, in Karatu, Tanzania, where local Tanzanian doctors, nurses and health care workers are saving lives, delivering babies and caring for people who often walk for days to obtain care.
Started by Dr. Frank Artress and his wife Susan Gustafson in 2002, FAME provides care to people living in area where previously there had only been 3 doctors for over 240,000 people.
This video by Hannah Bowman explains their mission far better than I can:
Click on the image to view the video:
I’ve been invited to volunteer and learn from the staff at the FAME clinic and hospital in January. I like their philosophy, they’re a non-demonational hospital and clinic where the emphasis is respecting the expertise of the local Tanzanian physicians, nurses and health care workers and helping when asked.
It’s an incredible honor, and right now, I’m busy studying up on various tropical infections, treating HIV in pregnancy, prevention of transmission to newborns, while also trying to learn some Swahili Habari = Hello!
I’ll be posting photos and videos whenever the internet in Karatu is willing and able. I hope you’ll follow me on this journey and if you’re as inspired as I am, I hope you’ll consider making a tax deductible donation to FAMEAfrica.org
I’ll also be collecting donations here in Silicon Valley, so that I can purchase needed medical supplies, such as IV tubing, Oxygen tubing, waterproof pads, syringes, glucose test strips and many other items. Please feel free to contact me if you’d like to make a direct donation.
Thank you very much