South Sudan: My first night on call

Johanna Lönn is a nurse from Sweden on her first assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF). For seven months she'll be managing a tuberculosis department at the hospital in a protection of civilians camp in Bentiu, South Sudan. 

Last night I had my first on-call. 'On call' means that you are the member of staff the night shift workers get in touch with if anything urgent happens.

Approximately every ten days, depending on how many international field workers are here, you are on call.

I was so afraid to sleep too deeply and miss a call that I had my radio at top volume next to the pillow!

The most common calls you get is when a patient becomes acutely worse, or if a new patient comes into the emergency room.

The calls come from all over the hospital and it can really vary from night to night how much you have to do.

If you yourself feel you can't handle the situation, you always have a doctor who's on-call as back-up. It's nice to have that security.

My dearest possessions, which I don't go anywhere without on-call: my notebook, pen, headlamp and radio. Photo: Johanna Maple/MSF


The conditions for working here are miles apart from the high-tech hospitals back home in Sweden.

We have a lab where they can do basic tests for urine specimens, make tuberculosis tests, count white blood cells and measure haemoglobin levels.
I learned an awful lot from both the staff and the experienced field doctors here.
How to diagnose things when you don't have access to all sorts of blood tests is truly an art form.
Many of the diseases we encounter here, I've only read about but never seen, while my South Sudanese colleagues have an eye on both progress and symptoms. Every day I learn something new! 
I have realised that you can do more than you think when few resources are available. However, these limitations can get frustrating.
I'm incredibly impressed with the staff here, who mostly live in the camp, and who come into work every day, really making the most of the opportunities available. They themselves have often fled their homes, but they are here too and show just as much compassion and job satisfaction. It's inspiring. 

Read Johanna's post in its original Swedish language here.