We are all exhausted. Most of us started the day tired after a long week and I wasn’t the only one planning a low-key weekend.
Worn out though we are, there are few complaints. This is what we are here for after all. And we would do it all again tomorrow if we had to.
I have never seen burn patients like we have had here over the winter. Often the burn victims are, again, women and children, as the women prepare the meals over open flame stoves and the children play around their mothers. We often had multiple victims from the same families. While we do our best, we lost quite a few of the patients to infections or they were simply too badly burned to survive. All we can really do is provide sterile dressings, increased calorie foods, and hydration. It has been hard to watch, and I am glad this season is pretty much behind us.
Certainly, the most difficult part of this mission, for me, has been the child deaths. Of course, everyone dies, but I am not accustomed to so many pediatric deaths.
There is one particularly heart-breaking case on my mind at present – that of a very young woman in our ICU who came some days ago in severely obstructed labour – we’re talking days and days of failure to deliver here. Eventually her uterus ruptured necessitating in an emergency hysterectomy during the Cesarean.
How you feel about coming home also depends on how you left your mission. If the population you were caring for are safe, if your work will continue, if you made a difference and if you can rest assured that the people you have grown to care for will continue to receive the assistance they need, it balances out. If you left in unsettled circumstances, unsure of the security of the population, tasks unfinished and without a replacement to see them through, it’s tough. It leaves you to wonder ‘what was the point?’ and ‘why did I bother?’. Have we done more damage by giving hope and then taking it away, than by not offering hope in the first place?
The combination stressors of unfamiliar climate and diet, not to mention the ideals that lead you into this sort of work in the first place make a lot of people push themselves hard at their jobs – unsurprisingly illness and periods of emotional burnout are not uncommon among the expat workers… only time will tell how I fare. For now I’m going to follow the advice that I’ve been given and hope and pray that my immune system holds up!
“Hello, Emma? Welcome to Nasir, paradise!”
On Thursday, we held a sort of clinic in the Ninenyang Health Centre as they are out of drugs and have a malaria crisis. It was a really hard day. The weather’s been heating up again and it was over 40°C in the shade. When people heard we were there they literally came running, babies in arms!
We don’t take sides; we care for people on all sides of this war. For neighbors shot for cutting down a tree; for children shot for being in the wrong place at the wrong time; for people injured by a blast while going down the street for bread; for entire families who have had grenades thrown at them.
No one seemed to be hurt as people started jumping from their boat to ours and making their way to our dock. It was so ridiculous we were hysterical, dancing and slapping at the ferocious bugs that were greedily devouring our exposed limbs, while we cried delirious tears of laughter over the past week’s events.
Sleeping on the ground in day-old, fishy, muddy, sweaty clothes isn’t my idea of a great night out, but still it gave me time and reason to reflect and understand the people I’m working with better. Not the staff, though yes them too somewhat, but the patients. The oldies that come with general body pains that we send away with no medication, telling them its normal to have body pains after working in the fields cultivating, carrying 20kg drums of water for miles on their heads, cutting and carrying wood for miles just in order to live.
Kate Chapman is a nurse working with MSF in Matter, Ethiopia. Kate and her team have an unexpected camping adventure and gain further understanding of how local people live when they get stuck in the middle of nowhere.