Feb 27. That is not far from the truth. Today I have seen and admitted six cases. The tally would have been seven, but the family of a young patient lived just a bit too far away, and he died from measles complications before I got to the hospital this morning.
(Lizard in my tent. In fact, there are several. I can hear them rustle in the straw when I am in bed.)
The miserabled are exceeding our capacity to hold them, certainly to isolate them. Until yesterday, they occupied the veranda of one hospital ward. Yesterday, they started spilling onto the lawn. They ignore the tent we have set up for them because it magnifies an already aggressive sun. Yesterday I baked a cake in the tent. I made it from nutella. It was delicious.
Sporadic measles cases have popped up in other inpatients. Families mix freely in the hospital and it is not uncommon to have the patient share his bed with three relatives, sometimes more.
I am often asked why I ended up choosing MSF from an armada of medical NGO’s with whom I could work. For many reasons, but none more compelling than this one. At our morning meeting, I wondered aloud to the rest of the team about our space problem. A decision was made to do something about it. By 2 pm, there were six men in the corner of the hospital compound, and by 5, they had built a shelter that would house 20 patients. We also decided to find a nurse, hire one if necessary, and devote him or her to measles care. Within the day, the will was found, the money, and the hands. We did not need to add it to the agenda of another meeting, nor to a paper pile of requests on an administrative desk. Within hours, it was hammers and nails.
(Bilal call to prayer. Five times per day, I think. The first is at 6 in the morning. I think there are two competing mosques. They battle with volume. It wakes me, but somehow, it is not so bad.)
Unfortunately, as much as we like hammering things into place, sometimes nails are tough to come by. In this case, it is vaccines. My head of mission is in the next tukul with my updated measles register, trying to convince Khartoum that there is an epidemic. The curves certainly suggests it. And we have mobilized a dozen people, three cars, , bought bullhorns, hired translators, pored over maps, made site visits to places even closer to the middle of nowhere than abyei, been refused by broken bridges, and turned back by soldiers. Vaccines. Release the vaccines. Abyei has learned all that measles has to teach. Me too. Neither of us need to learn more hard lessons about life, death, and preventable disease. We get that one.
[More Info : Basic Guide to Measles and MSF vaccination programs]
My radio crackles beside me. I am on call to the hospital tonight, and am responsible for it all nights. And all days. I thought I left this call business well behind me, that I could just carry it around as a kernel of pride. “oh yeah. 30 hour shifts, I’ve done that. It’s not so bad.” It was bad, OK? I admit it. Didn’t like it at all. Uncool.
But, speaking of uncool, and its opposite, the coolest…..here is the real reason I work for MSF. Radios. The coolest. I really, really get to say almost every day: “Roger. Good Copy. Over and out.” It’s amazing.
Pictures. By Friday evening.