Need a break

Yo Yo, its Sunday again! It’s been a loooong hard week, one where I have had enough and would like to go home! I feel like I’ve been crawling on my hands and knees up a slippery slope covered in razor blades, desperate to get to the top where my break in Zanzibar awaits me!

Yo Yo, its Sunday again! It’s been a loooong hard week, one where I have had enough and would like to go home! I feel like I’ve been crawling on my hands and knees up a slippery slope covered in razor blades, desperate to get to the top where my break in Zanzibar awaits me!

On Monday we did the first clinic at Pul-deng. I was working from 6am, getting organized in the dark. The team arrived at 7am and we loaded all the gear onto the boat, went the kilometre into town and unloaded the boat but alas there was NO driver. The fact that I had spent significant time making sure everyone came on time -  and for once they did - was very frustrating when we then had to wait 40 minutes for the driver to turn up. When he did he told me the logistician had changed his plans the day before so that was why he was late!

When we arrived there were around 80 people waiting so we set up and had a 20-minute education session on our medical priorities and objectives. This was fine and the patients were waiting patiently and things were running in an orderly fashion. Then an hour later around 100 more people turned up, followed by a steady flow as they arrived from distant villages.

By 11am it was chaos as hundreds of people - most of whom had never had medical care before - were now waiting, pushing in and surrounding us as they hadn’t had the education and thought it was a free for all! I decided that we would then only see the sick under-fives as we were overrun. There were so many sick kids with malaria! My poor team was swamped and when the second car finally arrived from Gambella with extra consultants, I called them for a quick food and water break that I’d asked them to bring as a treat! Well it so happens that a caretaker that was escorting a patient to Gambella had stolen the 15 lunches and eaten and then discarded the rest. Do you believe it? We had cared for, treated, were now transporting their family member for medical treatment, were supplying accommodation, were working our absolute asses off in the hot sun and then they went and stole 15 peoples worth of food from us. Unbelievable.

So after a quick break of water and biscuits (all that was in the car) I again announced we would only see the sickest of kids and set about re-triaging. People were grabbing at me and pulling at me, desperate for their child to be seen. It was suffocating, hot and claustrophobic. Only the limp and lifeless were getting the precious triage tickets I held in my hand. It was terrible! Of course we ran out of drugs and even used all we had in the two emergency boxes. Malaria is rife with and high fevers over 40C are common. So many kids with multiple illnesses, malaria, puss running out their ears and open festering wounds.

Finally by 3:30pm we packed up and left to ensure we arrived home before dark. Hundreds of people were left untreated, including at least 40 really sick kids we had no meds for! We were all exhausted and the three hour ride home in the car was silent, except when we saw two leopards, a warthog and another wildcat...

Arriving in Mattar at dusk there was NO boat to pick us up. Finally when it arrived we had to unload all the clinic gear from the cars and all the supplies from Gambella, 20 litre drums of oil, 20kg sacks of flour and sugar, and huge oxygen cylinders, into the boat before returning back to the compound to unload again, cart all the stuff up the ramp and put it away in the store and the pharmacy. The poor team was exhausted and totally brain dead. Just to rub salt into our wounds, 10 minutes after we had unloaded all the stuff, the logistician arrived in the bloody car! They had driven from town, the road now passable. Pity he didn’t check it before he made us unload, load, unload and cart half a ton of gear!

So after all that I had to unpack the big boxes and make up the plastic boat boxes for the next day’s boat trip to Jikow. I showered in the dark and then discovered I had lost my mobile phone. It has my Aussie sim card with all my phone numbers so I spent the next hour searching the car, the boat, the store, pharmacy, tukul etc. to no avail. It was also my alarm clock so I borrowed one, had my pasta and tomato sauce, two liters of water and went to bed totally exhausted. Sleep didn’t come easy and I dreamt of all the people pulling and tugging at me, begging and pleading, the feverish, glassy eyes of the kids we didn’t treat.

At 6am I was up, in the kitchen in the dark putting on the water for coffee when I heard my alarm. My phone alarm! There glowing in the dark was the picture of my son, the screen saver, flashing from the cupboard storing the potatoes! Mmmm OK, absolutely NO idea how it got there but there it was, obviously I was delirious yesterday!

During the mobile clinic in Jikow, a fight erupted within the team involving threats and harsh words were spoken. The roar of the boat motor making conversation impossible to vent until reaching the compound, an hour-long meeting of accusations and pent up frustrations, followed by the resignation and tears of my right-hand man, left me angry and frustrated when we arrived home. The past few weeks of extra work, lugging the gear from store to boat, boat to car, car to clinic and then all the way back again, so, so often waiting for the unorganized car or the boat driver, had taken its toll on the dedicated and hardworking staff, who as permanent mobile clinic staff, continued to do the bulk of the work, the others arriving too late to help or if there, just watching with arms folded.

I was so over it I wanted to go home. Home home, Australia! I sure need my break! So yes it's Sunday, Sunday bloody Sunday!