Sunday, December 9, 2007

Kisumu to Ekwanda -- and Ebola in Uganda

After rounds yesterday, we drove over the equator with Liz, Zach and his friend Emilee (a Presbyterian minister and the newly-appointed director of Houston's Rothko Chapel) to Kisumu for errands at the Nakumatt, something akin to our Walmart. We also teased Zach mercilessly about being a "matatu driver" the whole way.

Charlie and his stellar Seven Gates crew could work on that one stretch of potholes for a century and still not be finished. It didn't help that all the other drivers seemed to careen around every single living creature, wheelbarrow, boda-boda, pedestrian and vehicle, en route, directly into oncoming traffic (us). We all survived and managed to down hamburgers and fries for lunch at "Mon Ami." It looked for all the world like an American McDonald's, sans the golden arches -- complete with a playground painted in primary colors. After two weeks in Maseno and 36 years on the Vineyard, I was in culture shock.

We then visited the Kisumu "cultural museum" which featured a Luo homestead, two crocodiles and several (penned) venomous snakes; haggled with the countless kiosk vendors outside the gates; and remembered to tuck our cameras out of sight as we drove back through Kisumu to the hospital. Villagers -- except for the Maasai, who charge for the privilege -- enjoy having their photographs taken. Nan says that the police, however, are suspicious that cameras might catch them taking bribes. "People have been arrested for taking pictures in the city."

Student nurse and new friend Moses led us to the top of the mountain beyond the hospital grounds last evening. We reached the summit at sunset, in time to witness a panoramic view of Maseno Hospital and Village, with Lake Victoria and Mt. Elgon -- one of many dormant Kenyan volcanoes -- in the distance. Nadia and I felt literally on top of the world, perhaps even more so when we were invited into the two-room home of a generous family that lives at the end of the path. Wycliffe works as a security guard at Maseno Hospital, and his wife Mary tends their four children, kukus and kirundu (subsistence/kitchen garden).
The power was out again when we returned to our house on the hospital grounds. It had not yet been restored by morning, so Ruth was without oxygen all night. She has been doing well, but her O2 sat runs about 89 without supplemental oxygen. Regardless of motivation, it is difficult for a patient to strengthen her legs via exercise if she suffers from shortness of breath. (There is a generator for the operating theatre but none for the wards.) Jessica continues her struggle for life, but her liver is failing and she is semi-conscious; her mother has asked to take Jessica home. They have sold the family cows in order to make a down payment on her hospital bill, which will probably be forgiven, anyhow. We gave them two small stuffed animals, one for each of Jessica's children -- and prayed a sad, silent prayer of goodbye.

This morning the weekly medical clinic and orphan feeding program was held in Ekwanda. Again, hundreds of kids and their guardians awaited us, and again Linet was my interpreter. It is always a poignant and powerful experience; I am grateful to have been somewhat prepared by our diocesan friends and Chatham neighbors. Gerry says that in the early years of the program, many kids were so sick that several would be taken back each week by the medical team for admission to the hospital. Education, nutrition and prevention are clearly making a difference here.

Afternoon rounds brought the disturbing news that the consulting surgeon had still not shown up for Andrew's exploratory operation. The surgeon's primary job is with a government hospital, and he has not yet been "released" to come here. Meanwhile, Andrew is getting weaker every day that he has to wait. Dr. Hardison will need to refer him to a public hospital, in spite of the family's wishes to keep him at Maseno.

More disturbing news: there is an outbreak of Ebola virus in Uganda. Francis, one of our medical officers, is trying to get transport money to his 17-year-old son, who lives in that country.

Your messages mean so much to me. Thank you. Advent blessings to you and yours, dear family and friends.

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