By Jamie Robinson
The last 2 weeks have been a whirlwind. From the moment I saw the sign with my name held by the friendliest driver I’ve ever had at the airport in Nairobi all I have seen are smiles. Every person I have encountered has been nothing but kind and welcoming.
The first lesson that Kijabe, Kenya has taught me is to slow down, at least a little. Every person who interacts with me starts by a warm greeting, introduction, and question of how I am doing. I quickly started to do the same to others. It is incredible to see the smiles on the faces of strangers when you genuinely greet them and ask how their day is going. My life in America is centered around productivity, driving me to work hard, fast, and well. Surgical residency teaches you to be efficient and tough. Along the way, tiredness and routines allow you to forget the new people you meet and interesting experiences you encounter. As little time as a genuine greeting takes, why do we not do this more? I’m fortunate that the people of Kijabe reminded me to slow down, breathe, and listen, and I hope to remember these traditions when I return home.
On my first day at work at Kijabe Hospital, my team staffed the general surgery clinic. When I arrived, the clinic manager started by thanking me for being there because “we have over 100 patients scheduled for clinic.” I was shocked. 100 patients, at least a quarter of them new patients, and only 5 exam rooms. The entire waiting room was full of people, some of whom waited all day to see a physician. But despite the hours of waiting, every patient was extremely appreciative. I saw several patients with late stage cancer for whom surgery was not an option. I explained to them their diagnosis and even though I could not help them, they still conveyed how grateful they were for me to be their doctor. Few patients I have interacted with in the past would wait all day for a clinic visit, be told they can’t have surgery, and then be completely thankful for the opportunity to see a doctor. I am accustomed to medical care being considered a right; however, here medical care is almost considered a privilege to receive. This makes me feel lucky for the opportunity to meet these kindhearted people and help them in any way possible.
Another lesson I have learned at Kijabe in the last 2 weeks is that in this environment little can be predicted. I am accustomed to clinic and surgery schedules that are fairly planned. While circumstances can, and do, arise requiring you to change your schedule, this is rare. Elective cases typically go as planned. In Kijabe, all of the pieces of the puzzle must align perfectly for each patient to be cared for and for each operation to be performed. Medical necessities I have always taken for granted, such as an available hospital bed, an anesthesiologist, operating room or “theatre”, blood products, instruments, and staff are not always available. This uncertainty has taught me to be both resourceful and lighthearted. I am learning the true importance of each piece of the puzzle in patient care.While the resources are fewer than I am used to, the kindness and determination to learn and care for patients is more than I have ever seen. So, as I embark on my final 2 weeks at Kijabe, I will keep my eyes open and my heart full of the many riches around me.