From Elective Reviews - Uganda - Mildmay Centre, 2006 - Mary Sloman, medical elective
07.00hrs and it was time to scramble out of my mosquito net and get myself ready for another busy day at the Mildmay Centre. Thirty minutes later as I walked down the path towards the kitchen for breakfast I glanced in at reception where there were already numerous men, women and children sat patiently and quietly waiting for the clinics to begin. The air of serenity instantly struck me. There were no cries, chatter or even movement just eyes looking out, a mixture of hope and despair, pain mingled with relief. However, I was quickly ushered to the breakfast table by a member of staff who delighted in serving me coffee and fruit. As I finished up I heard the sound of drums and singing coming from the chapel, a sign that the staff morning devotions had begun so I quickly went and joined them. It's amazing to have the freedom to put God at the forefront of the day in the workplace – this just wouldn't happen at home! Through the songs, testimonies and prayer we were exhorted to encounter more of God and inspired to share it with those around us during the day.
Today I spent the day with Peter* in paediatric triage. Most of the patients we saw were three year olds and under who came in with a family member or carer. We saw two patients at a time, one each, spending roughly five minutes gathering a brief medical history and measuring the vital signs before directing the patient on to the next appropriate department. There were a couple of cases that really touched me. One was a seven month old baby girl, already an orphan as both parents are victims of the HIV virus. She was carried in by her carer, and had come in for a check-up having just started on anti-retroviral therapy. I couldn't believe how small and innocent she was, she seemed barely alive. I felt my heart leap out to this child of God, oh to be able to take the burden she was carrying.
Another patient was a 14 year old boy, also an orphan, who had travelled 250kms to come to Mildmay for treatment. He was covered in measles-type spots, which I later learnt is streptococcal meningitis, an opportunistic infection associated with HIV. Again, another piece of my heart cried out. After tea break, where I tried casava for the 1st time (yum, yum) Peter suggested I follow a new patient through the system, to gain an understanding of how the various departments within Mildmay all complement each other. The patient was a three year old girl, whose mother was HIV positive and had brought her daughter to Mildmay for testing as her other daughter had recently died, most probably due to the HIV virus. Peter spent some time giving an introduction to the service Mildmay offers, before carrying out a nursing assessment. I then took the mother and her daughter to see one of the paediatric counsellors for pre HIV testing counselling, advice about prevention of transmission and a chance to chat through any issues the family were facing. Next we went to the laboratory where the girl had bloods taken for the test, then onto 'Noah's Ark', the children's play area, for afternoon tea which consisted of sweet African tea and buttered bread, the little girl barely had enough energy to eat. Finally a medical assessment and the mother was advised to return in one week's time with her child to learn the test result.
As I waved them goodbye I was wondering how does this mother feel right now? How is she going to get through the agonising week of waiting? And how can the result be good anyway, even if the child is negative to the deadly virus it's likely she'll soon be an orphan. Why should this innocent child suffer? Why not me?
I returned to triage to find Peter to de-brief from the day. One thing he said which has comforted me is that in actual fact as Christians we carry others burdens and can advocate for them. At the end of the day as I walked back up to the hostel I stopped to sit on the grass and catch the last rays of sun go down and watch the sunset, a beautiful moment. The sight reminded me of the power of God and his heart of love shown through his creation. The burdens of the day were lifted and I hold on to the hope that although there's not yet a cure for HIV/AIDS at least we can offer the hope of the gospel to these people.
* for confidentiality purposes any names have been changed.