Work-life balance in the Central African Republic: From snake bites to yoga

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) staff are constantly in new and challenging situations. So how do they relax? First-timer Sylvia blogs...

Yoga Sundays


Sunday is always a very special day here in Bossangoa. 
Almost all of the team try to really have a free day. Everyone does their own activities here in "the compound" – the area where we live. Some watch football, some read, some sleep. Overall, there is a very nice, peaceful atmosphere. 
A special highlight is when our pharmacist Jean-Pierre, a colleague from Rwanda, prepares his wonderful meat skewers. Really everyone looks forward to it!
What helps me personally to find a counterweight to stress and workload is yoga. 
It is always a good feeling on a Sunday to be able to do some 'Power Yoga' in the compound with some colleagues in the thatched hut. 
I brought some tutorial videos from home, downloaded on a tablet computer. We don’t have enough yoga mats, so as an alternative we use cardboard boxes and plastic rugs from our rooms.


"Ordinary Madness"

The hospital area has changed a lot in the few weeks I've been here. 
During this time, three tents for patients have been erected, new latrines were built and large drying racks have been installed for patients’ clothing and fabrics (which are used as bedsheets). 
Out of all these improvements I love the finished tents most of all, as they give us more space to accommodate patients from our children’s ward. Now some of them also have their own bed, instead of having to share.


Laundry, sheets and towels dry in the sun.
I like to call working life in the hospital "ordinary madness". The number of patients, the vast majority of them children, is enormous. The ward for malnourished children cares for nearly 50% of all patients in the hospital. 
For me, from a professional perspective, the most exciting place is the emergency room. In addition to the many cases of malaria and malnutrition, there is a wide range of diagnoses that do not occur (or at least very rarely) in my native Germany. That makes it really exciting for me as an internist, but of course makes it also a challenge.
For example, patients are often brought to us after motorcycle accidents. Here my experience as an emergency doctor helps me. But there are also patients with other problems, such as trapped inguinal hernia, fungal poisoning or snake bites. 
On my first snake bite case I was very nervous and wanted to administer the antidote immediately. But the nurse in the ambulance, who has more experience in snake bites than I do, asked me (about as relaxed as I was nervous) to first check whether the patient had signs of poisoning. 
There are many types of snake here that do not produce poison, but still bite. Even poisonous snakes does not use their poison in more than half of cases. 
Given all this, only after a thorough examination and a blood test is it decided whether administering the valuable antidote is necessary. In this case, no antidote was necessary and the patient was able to leave our hospital safely after 48 hours of monitoring and pain therapy.