Monday, October 27, 2008

This mornings patients

Dr. Mshana with a teeny orphan from a local orphanage - his feet had been infected with funzas, and was having them soaked.

Prior to the soaking - he was NOT sure about what was happening!

Dr. Mshana and Susan with our little patient.

New pics

Women's group met this past Sat to watch a video on mother to child HIV transmission.

This beautiful little girl attends a local primary school. She had fallen and broken her wrist.

This is the family of children of the single mother with the goiter.

It was another crazy busy weekend with tons of patients from the village, RVCV (both kids and volunteers!), and surrounding areas. We all worked straight through Sat and Sun - no rest at the clinic!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Busy Week

It has been a busy week.  It started with a single mother who has a severe goiter in her throat.  He husband died about a year ago, she has a full time job but isn't making ends meet.

She has FIVE children under 10 years and her own elderly parents to feed and take care of.  The children are obviously starving.  The two oldest have been getting beaten at school because their mother can't afford them school uniforms or work books.

I told Frank and Susan that it is a good thing that we don't have any volunteers at the moment because my job title should really be social worker.

If this mother dies from her condition, that will be five more orphans.  And in the mean time, no child deserves to be beaten at school.

So, with the help of the African Orphan Education Fund, we got the kids outfitted in new uniforms and school supplies.  We helped to supplement the family food allowance.  And we will work on getting the mother the much needed surgery in Arusha.  It will cost about $400.  A tiny amount by American standards but an impossibility for this family.

Pictures to follow soon ...

Monday, October 20, 2008


First and foremost, Stella (Aiden's mother) has been discharged from the hospital and returned home to recover. She is doing better with each passing day.

Second, thank you to everyone who has emailed me, or my mom, or called my house with thoughts and prayers.

It has been a week, but seems like months. Work has kept me busy and sane.

Frank and Susan, and my circle of friends here in Karatu/Arusha, have been nothing but loving and supportive.

I am so grateful to everyone ...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Waking up ...

The past few mornings, since returning to Karatu, I have felt as if I was waking up from a terrible dream.

It hasn’t even been a week, and yet my brain is playing tricks on me. It seems so long ago.

I have been thinking a lot over the past few days. About the recent events. What they mean. How to move forward.

Despite the pain and grief, what is there to learn from what happened? What can this experience teach me? How can I honor this little boy’s short life?

His brief time on this earth has illuminated parts of me that I didn’t know existed; and parts of me I had been ignoring for some time.

Everyone faces pain in their lives. I truly believe that we are shaped, not by the painful event, but by the way in which we internalize the pain and allow it to affect our lives.

If you had told me before I left the U.S. that I would loose this baby, I would have said you were crazy, that I couldn’t survive an experience like that, and therefore, wouldn’t do it.

But I am surviving. I have no choice.

I am trying to honor the experience for what it is and search for the meaning in it. If there is something to learn, perhaps I am not the only one for whom the lesson is meant.

It was shear luck or chance that this baby was born in a country where “hospitals” don’t have the ability to intubate a child in respiratory arrest. What makes babies in first world countries more deserving of life saving medical care?


Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Dear all,

As you might have noticed, I haven’t blogged in quite a few days.

Many more of you might be wondering why I haven’t responded to recent emails.

The past few days have been some of the most joyous and the most painful of my life. And although the recent events are personal, and not work related, I have decided to share them anyway. I have decided to blog about the past few days with the hope that sharing will help me to heal.

Last Wednesday I received a call from a Tanzanian friend of mine in Arusha. He is a social worker and a village leader. People often seek him out for advice. A young couple had come to him in need of help. Both are HIV positive. Although they are not married, they are in a serious relationship. Despite their best efforts, they had become pregnant. Pregnancies are incredibly difficult on HIV positive women. In addition, this couple had no intentions of starting a family.

This is where I came in. I got the phone call asking if I would be interested in adopting their baby. As many of you know, I am planning to adopt in the coming year. So, I said that I would love to meet them and make sure that they fully understood what an adoption really meant.

I drove to Arusha and was informed that the mother – Stella – had been admitted to a local hospital with contractions. I went to the hospital and spoke with the couple. I had my Tanzanian lawyer join us and asses the situation. The couple was already incredibly informed and their decision was a conscious one.

I asked if she would be willing to transfer to another hospital in town – the “best” option - and undergo a c-section in order to reduce the risk of HIV transmission. She agreed.

I took her to this hospital’s “best” ob-gyn in Arusha and had her checked out. He said the contractions were Braxton Hicks and that he would do the c-section on Monday the 13th.

Unprepared for a newborn, I spent the weekend with friends shopping for supplies, thinking about names, celebrating the immanent arrival. I visited the mother each day and we spoke about the future of her little boy or girl.

Monday finally arrived. I drove to the hospital first thing and invited myself into the surgical room but missed the actual birth by a few minutes. It was a boy. He was born at 10am on Monday the 13th of October 2008. I named him Aiden.

Unfortunately, he came out covered in meconium. As all mothers know, that is the first stool after the baby is born. Releasing the meconium in utero is a sign of stress on the baby. He weighed 3.0kg – 6 ½ pounds – a great weight for an African baby born to a mother with HIV. The mother made it through the surgery well.

Everyone said that the baby was doing fine and that meconium is not a big deal. He was seen by Tanzanian doctors and nurses, as well as two American doctors who are doing a visiting rotation at this hospital.

The baby spent most of the day in an incubator – with oxygen – and iv antibiotics. Around 5pm I finally got to hold him. I never expected to adopt a new born. It was a blessing I thought was too rare a miracle. Holding him was one of the most joyous moments of my life – imagining our lives together.

But I had been coming down with a head cold all weekend and decided that I would return to where I had been staying with friends for the night – get some sleep and some cold meds – and head back to the hospital in the morning. I wasn’t going to be any good with a cold.

I returned to the hospital Tuesday morning. The baby’s father was waiting.

The baby had died.

The hospital form said that he died of respiratory arrest at 6:40pm. Just moments after I left.

It was one of the saddest days of my life.

I have faith that I will survive this and that all of this was meant to happen - that one day I will realize why and for what purpose. In the mean time I am simply trying to breath.

In the midst of my grief, it has been incredibly obvious to me that had this baby been in the US he might have survived. There is no way to know for sure. But I am positive that the medical care in Arusha where we went was some of the worst I have ever seen. In addition to terrible facilities, the staff had nothing invested in their jobs. At 7pm when the baby died, there were NO doctors on the entire medical campus. They had all gone home for dinner. The nurses were basically useless. Even the morning I was told that the baby had died, no one seemed to care. Just another death. Just another expendable life.

We will never know what really happened, what was really wrong with Aiden, or what could have been done to save him.

I realize what a blessing it is to work here in Karatu with doctors and nurses who actually care and are properly trained. They are a rare commodity.

Please pray for Aiden. That he is resting comfortably with the angels.

Please pray for Aiden’s mother, Stella, that she fully recovers from the surgery and this tragedy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Market Day

Market Day happens each month in Karaut - on the 7th! It is the biggest thing in the whole region! Clothes, food, cattle, shoes, supplies, ANYTHING you could want - if you were a Tanzanian living in Karatu ... no Gap, no Target, but the basics!

Nyoka - Snake

Here is the lovely green snake that the askaris found - and swiftly killed - this morning. Snakes are typical in such a remote area. This one isn't that big. No one seemed very impressed. Except of course me - the white woman - willing to take a picture of almost anything.

The askaris were so funny, they wanted to make sure I got pictures of the top and bottom of the snake - which required that they turn it with a stick and threaten to throw it in my direction.

The terrible part about this snake is that it was discovered in our "lunch room." It is hard to see in this small picture, but the traditional Tanzanian lunch - of beans/rice or ugali (like stiff porridge) and veggies or meat - is cooked inside the door on the left by the green bucket. And we - the staff - eat on these school benches. Now, I will eat in paranoia of another snake crawling around!

Monday, October 6, 2008


SO, starting off the week with a bang. Tanzanian medicine never disappoints. Elderly woman with pain in her elbow. Well, yeah, if I had sixteen screws, a nail and some pins in my elbow it would probably hurt too!

She needs surgery in Arusha. It is already in the works. But can you imagine!

Friday, October 3, 2008

My Blood

Today I took Susan to the bank in Karatu. And while she was there a man came in looking for people to donate blood. It turned out to the the electrician who worked on the FAME clinic. His wife had just had a baby at the local Lutheran hospital and things were not going well.

So we came back to the clinic to round up donors and I realized that I didn't know my blood type! So, I walked right into our lovely lab and they took some blood and did this wonderful test you see above and ...

I am B+. Unfortunately, the woman is A+. But Susan and our head nurse are A+.

But isn't that just the coolest looking test? I just had to take a picture ...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Most recent patient ...

Yesterday and today, Frank treated the wife of one of our Masai askaris (night watchmen). For those of you who have been to RVCV, this is the wife of one of Godwin's many brothers - he looks just like him only WAY shorter.

Anyway, she had gone to a local dispensary near the boma (Masai village) and as soon as the "doctor" found out who her husband worked for, he admitted her and charged 30,000 tsh - about $25.00 USD - an ENORMOUS amount for any Tanzania.

SO, yesterday I drove down to Mto Wambu to pick her up and bring her here to see Frank.

It happens with medical treatment, transportation, rent, everything - when one Tanzanian knows that another Tanzanian works for a mzungu (a white person) the price sky-rockets.

She let me take her picture this morning before she left. Here, she is giggling at her husband who is instructing her on how to smile correctly for the picture.

She doesn't speak any swahili - only the tribal Masai language - meaning she has never been to school. They said she is 19, my guess is closer to 12 or 13. And the kicker ... there is a second wife, and she is even YOUNGER!

Ah the joys of "cultural traditions"

More to come ...