Death and dying are never easy to deal with as a physician. However, that process is different in Africa. Morbidity and mortality are more commonplace and seem to be accepted. Religion is pervasive in all aspects of healthcare: the Wednesday morning chapel service, the preoperative prayers, and the prayers after meetings.
In my third week at Karapitiya Hospital I was introduced to Dr. Kumara, senior lecturer in Surgery. Participating in various surgical cases was what I was most looking forward to on my rotation in Sri Lanka. Walking into the OT I noticed it was quite a different set up from the operating rooms back in the states. Patients were lined up on a bench right outside of the open theater doors with their medical chart in hand. Some patients were even curious enough to stand and watch the ongoing procedures from the doorway. On the other side of the patient bench was a make-shift PACU where the post-operative patients were still coming out of their anesthesia. Inside the operating theater, there were multiple procedures going on at the same time. In one corner of the room, a woman was having a lumpectomy under local anesthesia. In the center of the room, a man was under general anesthesia having an open cholecystectomy. Finally, off to the side of the room a woman was getting a carpal tunnel release.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at Mahamodara Maternity Hospital. The tuk tuk dropped us off outside of what appeared to be fortress walls. We were met by our Duke coordinator and led through the gate, past a building that was in disrepair and dilapidated. We traversed through a labyrinth of crumbling plaster and boarded up windows. There was a smell of mildew lingering in the air. I thought to myself, “Women come here to give birth”? Once we rounded a corner, I noticed an area to my right which looked as if it should have been full of expectant women, but was eerily vacant. It was then I realized what I was seeing was the shell of the Mahamodara which stood during the 2004 tsunami. I stared into the ward, and could imagine this area full of pregnant women and newborns on that day, and could almost feel their terror. I was told the hospital was hit by 3 waves. The first wave destroyed the “fortress” walls that I had seen earlier, but these barriers had lessened the impact to the building. It flooded the first level and knocked out the electricity. The doctors and staff evacuated the mothers and infants, some to higher ground, and others to Karapitiya Hospital. The second wave was estimated between 20-30 feet high. There are many stories of heroic men and women from that day, including one physician who calmly completed a Cesarean section by flashlight after the first wave hit. He then safely evacuated the mother and child. Due to lack of funds to demolish the building, it now stands as a temporary memorial.
We arrived on the pediatrics ward this Monday, a little less naive and much less shell-shocked. I had grown accustomed to hearing only the whirring of ceiling fans, barking dogs, and the quiet chatter of Sinhalese in place of the traditional mind-numbing beeps and alarms of our medical equipment. I was pleased to see protective screening over the open air hallways, to keep the children from tumbling two stories, and to keep out the birds. It was surprising to see the number of children waiting to be evaluated for possible admission. Nearly all the beds were full, and it seemed as though they were in the habit of converting previous storage closets, consultant lounges, and any available space into treatment areas. The need for even more space remains evident.
We arrived safely in Nairobi and stayed at the Mennonite Guest House. The next morning we ate breakfast with missionaries from all over the world in different stages of their calling around Africa. Kijabe’s reputation is well known and they wished as well as we were picked up and driven to Kijabe via a road that had terrible slums juxtaposed with sweeping views of the Rift Valley.
I had plenty of time to contemplate all that I had seen during 12 hours of travel back home from a medical mission trip to Georgetown, Guyana. I had just spent three weeks working in the Accident & Emergency (A&E) department at Georgetown Public Hospital and using my training as an Emergency Medicine resident in the United States to help teach new ER doctors core material such as EKG reading, airway management, and the approach to shortness of breath and chest pain. I had not realized when I arrived how much of my time would be dedicated to sitting in the metaphorical trenches and caring directly for patients coming to the A&E. I was prepared for a foreign experience in a distant land, but instead I found myself right in my element.
Holly Stump
We arrived on the pediatrics ward this Monday, a little less naive and much less shell-shocked. I had grown accustomed to hearing only the whirring of ceiling fans, barking dogs, and the quiet chatter of Sinhalese in place of the traditional mind-numbing beeps and alarms of our medical equipment. I was pleased to see protective screening over the open air hallways, to keep the children from tumbling two stories, and to keep out the birds. It was surprising to see the number of children waiting to be evaluated for possible admission. Nearly all the beds were full, and it seemed as though they were in the habit of converting previous storage closets, consultant lounges, and any available space into treatment areas. The need for even more space remains evident.
After a long journey to the other side of the globe, I was finally in Sri Lanka. It was 1:00 am when I landed then I arrived at my lodging at 4:00am. I had 4 hours to sleep and be ready to work! When I woke up to monkeys howling and playing in the trees 20 feet away, I knew I would like this place.
We arrived safely in Nairobi and stayed at the Mennonite Guest House. The next morning we ate breakfast with missionaries from all over the world in different stages of their calling around Africa. Kijabe’s reputation is well known and they wished as well as we were picked up and driven to Kijabe via a road that had terrible slums juxtaposed with sweeping views of the Rift Valley.

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