22 February 2013

"medical tourism" and other firsts

I'm not actually sure what "medical tourism" is...but I'm pretty sure the last 2 weeks of my life would fall into a category with a name like that.  Two weeks ago today, Bethany and I decided around mid-day to pack our bags and get into the truck and drive to Juba in order to be able to fly the next day via Uganda to TZ where our beloved teammate was sick alone admitted to a hospital in Arusha with what we heard was 2 strains of malaria.  We ended up getting her on a med-evac flight to Kenya and admitting her to Kijabe Hospital for 5 days and along with a whole slew of adventures here's a few "firsts" from the last two weeks...
  •  First time in Tanzania - Let’s hear it for another new stamp in the ol’ passport! - winning the prize for: "best and ultimately most unimportant bonus of the last 2 weeks"
  • First time flying on TZ’s “Precision Air” - winning the prize for "best bologna sandwich on wheat ever served on an airplane
  • First time on a med evac flight - and hopefully the last! Winning the prize for “the first opportunity I really felt free to take a deep breath and relax in someone else’s care" of our precious patient
  • First time to be *hot* for the entire duration of a flight - winning the prize for “my only complaint about our AMREF Flight Doctor’s med evac experience”...and really, nothing at all consequential considering the circumstances
  • First time riding in an African ambulance - or any ambulance at all actually (Arusha, TZ & Nairobi, Kenya) - for future reference I do not recommend riding in the back of a pressurized ambulance on a side facing bench on a particularly bad African road if you have a fairly strong history of motion sickness...but I do recommend doing it when needed so that a sick friend isn’t alone.  The Kenyan Red Cross winning the award for "the snazziest African ambulance EVER" - if you ever find yourself deathly ill in Kenya, look 'em up.
  • First time sleeping on an African hospital floor - or any hospital floor actually (Arusha, TZ & Kijabe, Kenya) - Kijabe Hospital’s Private Ward wins the prize for “best hospital blankets which can easily double as sleeping palates when folded in half
  • First time ever having left the house headed to an airport without tickets booked or a plan B - and not only once but twice in the same trip (South Sudan & Kenya) - Air Uganda winning the prize for “most unhelpful airline staff by phone”  AND “most helpful airline staff in person
  • First time seeing the effects of severe malaria on a non-immune, non-African person - this particular patient winning the prize for "the face appearing more colors in the same hour than any other known malaria patient" ;)  AND “the most brave non-immune, non-African, severe malaria patient to stick it out alone as long as she did in a strange country”!
  • First time watching an African presidential debate (Nairobi, Kenya) - Kenya winning the prize for “the most presidential candidates who are apparently not actually serious contenders for the top post in their country
  • First time talking by telephone with a person in Japan (our precious patient’s mom - who wins the prize for “most patient mother of a severely ill child on another continent relying almost exclusively - for the first 24 hours I was involved - on information by one-sided international text message”)
  • First time taking part in a crisis being managed between 6 countries/3 continents (South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania ,USA, Japan/ Africa, North America, Asia) - and for very possibly the first time ever, Africa wins the award for "getting the most done in the shortest amount of time"!
  • First time using 5 SIM cards in 2 days (SS - MTN, SS-Zain, Ug - MTN, TZ - Vivacell, Kenya - Safaricom)  Vivacell TZ winning the award for "worst SIM card purchasing/registering experience EVER" and quite possibly "the point in the trip in which Heidi was closest to flying *completely* off the handle" - and this was before we ever made it to the first hospital...
  • First time splitting the drive to Juba up over 2 days - thankful for the pause in the constant bumping and jumping - thankful also for the *few* hours of sleep afforded us in the fairly safe/clean hot box of a room we rented for the night - not so thankful for the award wining "cockroach party in the latrine" - win based sheerly on number of cockroaches in attendance - thankful for being travel-dehydrated enough that I didn’t have to use said latrine while staying at said lodge.  Proud of Bethany for braving it! Go girlfriend!
  • First time that residents of Rokon, South Sudan witnessed the sight of two white women in a white pickup truck driving up and down the *very* small strip of shops in their village, in the dark, looking for a lodge called Muze’s place, about 4 times, going in and out of each opening in the bamboo fence we were told to look for when actually the “bamboo fence” we were looking for was a brick wall and the name of the lodge was something starting with a B or a G, certainly not “Muze’s place” on the sign...winning the award for "turning the most heads in the shortest period of time"
  • First time to delay travel on a day of fun & relaxation due to “riots” - aka students protesting in the street across from the mall we were visiting by setting fires near a neighboring petrol station...winning the prize for "the worst way to spoil what had been a *wonderful* day of doing whatever we wanted"
  • First time wondering if my “black cloud” - known to follow me most every shift at St. Louis Children’s Hospital - had followed me to Africa just in time for this event...winning the prize for “the least hoped for outcome” of such a trip...
  • First time to have a taxi driver get out of the vehicle he was driving, not once, but three times: first to convince other neighboring traffic jam vehicles to pull out into the third and actually nonexistent lane known also as *oncoming traffic* to avoid being stuck for hours behind a stalled car, second to direct the driver of a brand new volvo how to pull around the car infront of him he was fearing would certainly scratch the paint of his new ride, and third to “have a word” with the traffic police at said intersection about how best to order the lines of cars allowed to move when and where in order to achieve optimal traffic conditions - thereby easily earning the award for “most proactive taxi driver ever.”
  • First time to observe the riotous performance of street corner comedians in a major African capital (downtown Nairobi Kenya at rush hour complete with 2 “clowns” dressed in ragged coat tails, wearing hats and beards painted on their dark faces with toothpaste or something white of the sort along with black tribal markings, and blackened front teeth, carrying old cordless phones and canes and a few other props around which their comedic entertainment was staged - involving us as passengers in vehicles stopped at their corner waiting for traffic to move and pedestrians greeting each other like long lost friends who managed somehow to completely ignore the prodding of said comedians) - winning the prize for “most random sighting of the last 2 weeks
  • First time partnering in crisis management with the lovely Bethany Ferguson.  Turns out we make a good team.  A good realization and perk of the whole trip - twas a pleasure. And Basin, as she is affectionately known here in Mundri, is the winner by far of the award for "most phone calls/text messages fielded/social appt's made & kept/taxi driver interactions/conversations held" in this whole ordeal...like a machine I tell you.
  • NOT the first time managing medical crises with the Drs. Myhre, but a pleasure as usual.  These two are the clear winners of the "maintaining the most roles and activities through said medical crisis" award...hands down.  Being on call for multiple other wards/services, hosting us as visitors, being class sponsors for the Junior class on Banquet weekend at RVA, parents, spouses, field directors, etc.  It's almost inhuman.  Myhre's are a unique and wonderful breed. 
  • First time to travel through 4 countries and not take a single photo - just wasn’t *that* kind of trip - although it was the kind of trip in which God’s provision and real presence were very evidently in remarkable ways the *whole* time - winning the award for “best opportunity in recent months to see the body of Christ and God Himself at work in *very* tangible ways.

To God Be the Glory, Great things He has done.