I will probably regret the title of this post in the future, since I tagged along with the medics when we all left the office at around 7pm, which is not late at all. I fully anticipate that at some point in my mission, I will make that fabled 3am trek to the hospital to troubleshoot the generator. I fully anticipate that this will happen more than once.
But for now, it was a late-night trip. When night falls here in Moïssala, it is dark. There is no electricity in the city (Village? Town? It’s a regional population center with gridded streets and a central market with dirt roads and no electricity. Call it what you will. I call it a “ville,” but that’s mostly because my French vocabulary only includes one word per broad concept, and this one got “city”), so the stars shine bright over the few people cooking dinner next to the one open shop. It feels late, despite being just before dinner time.
We’re going to the hospital to consult on a patient with suspected measles. Measles is an epidemic risk, so we monitor the cases closely, including indicators, origins and other epidemic factors. Luckily, this an isolated case of measles, referred immediately from a rural health center. We get out of the car and make our way to the pediatric unit. We find the attending nurse, who leads us around and through the building, over families camped in the hallways and through wards with patients ranging from tiny to pre-adolescent. Most of the beds are empty, and there are very few patients in the hospital. All of the families are in good cheer, with the siblings of the patients in tow, and they find humor in the children’s reaction to seeing our pale skin.
Sickness seems to have a different tone here. I’m used to hospitals being somber, quiet places, but here, hospitals are a place of healing. They’re a part of life, and very pragmatically, it seems, the families settle themselves in to wait for their child to get better. Life goes on, even when everyone is waiting, sleeping and cooking at the hospital.
The patient we are seeing is tired, cranky, feverish, and about two years old. His mother holds him as the doctors examine him. I’m glad to be tagging along, and to see first-hand what we do. I work behind the scenes, as a logistician, so seeing a patient is very special for me. I feel connected to our project, and seeing a patient is such a powerful reminder of what we’re actually here for, after a day of meetings about supply procedures, speed limits and maintenance policies. My eyes cross with numbers and paperwork, but the child in front of me is a clear departure from my normal job description. I feel out of place among four doctors, but suddenly I’m very glad I came.
The doctors examine him for signs of measles, looking closely in the dim hospital light for any areas of irritation or rash. They are using the flashlights on their phones. Two doctors point their phones over the patient while the third consults the chart, written on a blank sheet of paper. I pull out my flashlight, which I wear on my belt next to my leatherman all day (that and the pens in my hair give away my identity as a logistician in a heartbeat). The bright beam changes the room and clearly illuminates the outline of the rashes. The medics immediately integrate the flashlight into their exam, checking the patient’s throat and pupils. I feel useful and less out of place.
After the exam, we follow the attending physician through the ward and check briefly on another patient. The field coordinator calls me and we briefly check in about team movement, curfew and security. We wrap up and say our goodbyes to patients, families, and physicians, wishing them all luck and a good night. Bonne nuit.
After that, it’s back in the car for the short ride home. We’re back at our compound before 7:30pm. I guess it wasn’t such a late night after all, if we got back in time to relax before dinner.
The child ended up recovering and leaving the hospital before the test results came back as positive for measles. Luckily, the patient is healthy and there is no epidemic risk.