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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.
Six Safari Secrets: What You Need to Know Before Planning Your Trip
I just returned from an extended stay in Tanzania, where I was working in remote hospital in Karatu, within minutes of the Ngorogoro Crater. While there, I had the chance to go on a few safaris. Prior to my trip, I envisioned a safari as a long camping trip, something similar to what Meryl Streep and Robert Redford experienced in the film Out of Africa. I learned a lot that I can share with you here.
#1 A safari can be a few hours or a few months, or anything in between.
Turns out the word safari means an expedition or journey to observe animals and can encompass anything from a few hours to multiple days to several months of travel. Well, ok, then. Now, I know that the lovely morning in Ngorogoro crater was a real, bona fide safari. Here’s one of the lions we saw that day. (more…)
I’m back at FAME after a lovely safari weekend at Tarangire National Park, known as the park of elephants and Baobab trees. There has been more rain than usual for this time of year; maybe it is an El Niño effect, who can say, and in any case the grass is lush and green and there’s water.
On the road to Safari, what I saw was herds of cows and goats being led to whatever water had collected into impromptu mini-lakes and ponds along ditches on the side of the road, and then after the animals were cared for, the women and older children were washing clothes, giving the babies their baths and finally filling large buckets for their cooking and drinking water. It’s all the same water. No filters that I could see, and hopefully a fire to boil it at home.
There is so much here that is different, and yet so much is the same. Most of the people who come to the hospital, and many of the staff do not have running water. A daily hot shower that I take for granted is as rare as the likelihood of me seeing the white giraffe. (more…)
On my 2nd day, here at FAME, I saw something, extraordinary. I was privileged to be at the right place at the right time and witnessed a jaw dropping display of talent and knowledge in a most unexpected place. Pauline Diaz, the volunteer coordinator was giving me a tour and suggested that we bring the new donated baby hats from the US and the brand new Tanita baby scale to the maternity ward. Sure! Why not?
Here in Africa, many people come to see the Big 5 animals on safari. Yes, I know there are birders out there and plenty of people who love the cheetahs, warthogs, jackals, hyenas, antelopes, giraffes and zebras. Thousands of dollars are spent, and thousands of miles traveled to catch a glimpse, or perhaps get close enough to see the elephant, cape buffalo, lion, rhino, leopard, all of whom belong to the exclusive group of the Big 5.
However on that 2nd day at FAME, within seconds of arriving in the maternity ward and setting up the new baby scale, what I saw was Mama Evelyn, a 62 year-old experienced midwife, who delivered a baby, kept traction on the cord, and then resuscitated the new infant.
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.