It's been a long time since I've written. The seasons have changed here in Zimbabwe and Gweru is now dripping with heat and jacaranda blossom. In town, the sun ricochets off glass and metal and soaks into the tarmac. In the countryside of Lower Gweru, a warm wind whips up the dust and makes our patients' long walk to our clinic longer still. When they arrive, they wait patiently in long lines on benches pulled into the shade, or lie under the trees in the shifting shadows. Everyone, everything, is waiting for rain.
I don't know why I haven't written for so long. Maybe it's a result of the inertia that the heat inevitably inflicts. Maybe. Or perhaps it's not that at all. If I'm honest, I think it's because recently I've been immersed in meetings and minutes, reports and seminars. Spending less time in the clinics, less time with patients, it’s all too easy to lose sight of your purpose, to lose your inspiration. Basically, I have a suspicion that spreadsheets stole a little of my soul...
I think I got it back yesterday in a very simple way. It doesn’t take much. I just shared a journey with a patient. One of the five thousand patients we treat at our HIV clinic in Lower Gweru. Just one. She was a young woman who needed to be transferred to town to have a chest x-ray. Too sick to go alone, I accompanied her. I could do very little for her. I helped her take sips of tepid water from an empty coke bottle. I steadied her as she moved from the vehicle to the wheelchair and back again. On our return to the clinic, she shifted listlessly, trying to make her body and her breathing more comfortable. Eventually, she rested her head on my shoulder and slept. Her hair was damp from the heat, from the fever, from the effort of movement. I braced myself and tried to absorb the impact of the road, tried to make the journey a little shorter for her.
Back at the clinic, we held the chest film up to the light. It was easy for the doctor to diagnose tuberculosis. It was what we suspected. Here in Zimbabwe, amongst our HIV positive population, tuberculosis has swept through the country like fire through dust-dry savannah. It is the biggest killer of HIV positive patients here and, without access to drugs to treat the disease, prognosis is poor. Here in Lower Gweru, thanks to spreadsheets and international orders and policies and protocols, we have the drugs.
This patient doesn't know it, but she needs someone to sit in meetings discussing how best to implement WHO guidelines. She doesn't know it, but she needs someone to pour over spreadsheets, calculating consumption rates of medication, estimating project needs, placing orders. Because heaven forbid a patient arrives one day in need of lifesaving medication that we do not have.
I need to learn to juggle all this. The nurse in me wants to rush always to the clinic. Another part of me knows that this, on its own, is not enough. I need to find a balance. To sit at my desk and write reports, to attend the meetings and discuss all the issues, without losing sight of the weary woman who thirsts for a sip of water.