Updates from Congo, 25 Aug 2015

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Maureen, one of our two team photographers, with orthopaedic patients who are victims of the crazy Matadi Road!

Mbote (g’day) from Kimpese. Our team is currently at IME, an ecumenical hospital with about 400 beds, about 220 kms from Kinshasa. We came here because it is one of 3 hospitals where UPC (www.upcongo.org) medical students receive work experience.

Getting here is a bit hair-raising – the road is wild!  It’s the busiest one in Congo as it leads to the country’s only port, Matadi. Every vehicle is overloaded both inside and out, teetering along the narrow road with people and goats tied to the roofs along with merchandise. We didn’t take pix of the road, since there were cops and soldiers along the way and we didn’t want to have any kerfuffles (“pay me and I’ll let you  go”).

As you can imagine, there are many road accidents so Vera’s emergency medicine training is vital. Most patients don’t survive the journey to the hospital, because such basics as ambulances, paramedics and general knowledge of first aid aren’t available.

Vera had a fantastic first day of training, she told us last night. All the months of planning for this trip were worthwhile for her, based on her trainees’ response.  She is blown away by the doctors here, who achieve miracles in spite of the minimal resources they have to work with. Vera’s a natural teacher, so gifted at motivating people to learn and collaborate.

The doctors, including 4 UPC alumni who are registrars, are bright and very capable. None has had emergency services training, though, even basic CPR. So they are loving the hands-on learning, which Vera is exceptionally good at. She has made the training space a safe one, where even the dignified hospital administrator feels comfortable asking questions.

We are dividing the To Do list, with Chris (our other team photographer) cheerfully helping Vera by serving as a resuscitation model. Everyone is practicing their Heimlich techniques, airway clearance, compressions etc on poor Chris!

Meanwhile, Maureen and I wander the hospital grounds taking photos and snippets of life stories. The grounds are big, with lots of trees providing shade for patients’ families who are camping out. (In Congo, patients rely on families to feed, bathe them etc.) There are common bathing and cooking areas, with everyone helping each other. We have enjoyed the happy and collegial ambience, and have asked permission to share the team’s photos one evening. There are plenty of big walls to use as a screen, and we anticipate an enthusiastic response from the hospital community. Imagine mobile patients and their families, plus staff, on the lawn, hooting as they spot familiar faces! 

Maureen and I have found a few minutes of connectivity in the hospital’s personnel office, the only place with wifi. This access was made possible by the hospital’s finance director, a dynamo lady who is an alumna of UPC’s business school! You can read all about her in the next issue of UPC NEWS.

Vera and Chris are beavering away in the training room at the moment. Since Maureen and I have colds, we justify having a few minutes to ourselves as we don’t want to spread our cold cooties around the hospital!

The Kimpese guesthouse is  a palace compared to Mbandaka and Lotumbe quarters, where we’ll stay before long. There is electricity (and AC) most of the time, and water from 7 am to 7 pm. But the water pressure is terrible, so we fill two big buckets and give ourselves a splash to wash up. We feel quite cosseted by the spectacular mosquito nets over our beds – mine is hot pink, Maureen’s is peach. Chris is bunking with Dr Philippe Lukanu (UPC’s family medicine coordinator) and they have baby blue mosquito nets.

We all eat together in a dining room of what was once a missionary’s house, next to the sleeping rooms. There is the usual Congolese fare – homemade bread and succulent omelettes with chives for breakfast, then for lunch and supper we have rice, manioc root by-products (sticky gray and corn meal ‘rolls’ that we mop up sauce with), lovely fish or chicken in tomato sauce, plantain, and oranges. Sadly we aren’t here at mango or pineapple season. We are eating so well, reminded that most Congolese only have one meal a day.

It’s the end of the dry season, so a bit cooler than usual (whew!) but very humid. I hope the rains hold off til after the canoe portion of our itinerary!

Tomorrow our team member who is another doctor, Grace, arrives. She will do contraceptive implant and ob/gyn training.  I’m sure Grace will be just as effective as Vera with her training. It’s wonderful to be part of this team, who are fantastic travelers – flexible and fun and oh, so talented.

Much love to you all and thanks so much for being such great cheerleaders! Check out the HandUp Congo facebook page for pix. We’ll post when connectivity permits.

– Lucy

For more photos go to HandUp Congo’s Facebook page