We must do with what we have. Personally, I would not like hearing my doctor say, “we shall improvise”, but it is something that is commonly heard and accepted. The government-run Iganga Hospital is often low on supplies, including medical staff, medical equipment, medicine, and organization. Medicine stores in the pharmacy often run out, so patients are sometimes forced to pay for medication that should otherwise be free elsewhere. Power and water outages are frequent; there have been some instances where I have had to hold up my cell phone flashlight during wound suturing. It is difficult to say what exactly contributes to this severe deficit, but for now, we must accept that change is slow and things are just the way they are.
Time is irrelevant. Appointment times, efficiency in patient flow, and urgency are nonexistent here. The only functioning clocks in the hospital are in the main operating theater and maternity ward delivery room. Their function is maintained so that doctors can record the time of birth during deliveries. Visiting the hospital may be a day-long event, due to the huge crowds waiting to be seen by a doctor, the bouncing around the hospital for lab tests, x-rays, prescription filling etc. The slow pace of the hospital – everything from the doctors’ walking speed to the lack of immediate attention during emergency cases – reflects the African way of life. A friend of mine tends to confirm timing when making appointments, “African time or American time?” I’ve been here for six weeks, and have grown accustomed to the untimeliness of pretty much everything. People in Uganda take things a day at a time, with no long-term planning ahead, which can be nice and easygoing, but frustrating at the same time.
Family is invaluable. In the hospital, family members stay with the patient all day and all night to tend to their loved one’s needs. They bring them food, keep them company, and are in charge of communicating with the doctors. Family members roll out mats next to patient beds so that they can sleep next to them at night. One patient who was in a bad car accident and as a result had his leg amputated, stayed in the hospital for a month, and not even for one day, did his brother leave his side. Although a hospital is a difficult environment to be in for such long periods of time, family is so cherished that constant support of a suffering family member is the natural thing to do. In the community, family and friendship bonds are so strong in every part of life. Extended family members commonly help raise each other’s kids, friends support each other’s businesses, and people are generally always looking out for one another. It is a wonderful community to be a part of and really makes you appreciate the relationships you form in life.
We must stay open-minded. As an outsider, it is very easy to have a judgmental mindset and think, “this situation would NEVER happen in the US”, but that mindset is a very pointless one. While it may be interesting to compare and contrast different healthcare systems around the world, it is not acceptable to be condescending. The doctors and nurses are aware of the shortcomings of the hospital and admire the systems in developed countries, but they feel helpless when thinking about changing their environment. Living and working in a place with such great limitations can really ground you as a person, and make you more aware of the world and the challenges revolving around healthcare in such settings.
A positive attitude can brighten anything. Even in the difficult environment where health care is so lacking, the doctors and nurses of Iganga Hospital never fail to have a smile on their face. They make the best of every situation and it really is what allows them to stay enthusiastic when facing such big challenges. Personally, I like to reframe “problems” into “potentials for change”. If we can embody this attitude, the negative experiences and frustrations can change into productivity and pursuit of improvement.
Mika White is a second year biochemistry major at Northeastern expecting to graduate in 2018. This semester she’s on her first co-op in Uganda interning at a rural hospital in the town of Iganga. Mika loves to travel, read, and run. Feel free to reach out to her at email@example.com and check out her personal blog for more a more detailed account of her experiences.