Mondays are always interesting at the Respite Unit. I always have a knot in my stomach as we drive to work on Mondays because a lot can happen over the weekend and I never know quite what to expect when I enter the ward. This Monday was no different. I walked in and saw a crib out which obviously meant we had a baby or child admitted over the weekend. I walked over to the crib and saw a young boy who looked about 8 or 9 years old. His Mom was hovering over him along with a few of the care-workers chattering in Zulu. I said hello and walked away. Once things with the admission process calmed down I went back over to him and introduced myself to him. He could barely speak and after a few strained times telling me I caught that his name was Mpumelelo and he was 14. I honestly could not believe that this little boy was 14 and fit into a large crib.
He slept for an hour or so and I kept checking in on him. Once he was awake, I asked him if he’d like to get out of the crib. He and I sat and attempted 3 different puzzles none of which had all the pieces (SO FRUSTRATING!). I read him a few stories and tried to get to know him a little bit better. His English is very good, but he is so sick that he has trouble speaking because he has sores in his mouth and his throat. I had to listen very carefully when he spoke to catch the words that quietly came out. Breakfast was being passed out and I figured he must be hungry. He turned it down and I asked why? He stuck out his tongue which revealed a sore in the form of a deep “hole” in his tongue which caused severe pain when he attempted eating anything. The care-workers then gave him some pain medication and some other various tablets. Still sitting at the puzzle, he threw up everything they had tried to give him. The poor kid!
I spent the next two days with him and grew very fond of him. He still had not eaten anything or kept any medicine down. Therefore, he was in great pain the entire time. We still had some fun doing a new puzzle I purchased the night before. Tuesday afternoon rolled around and it was time to bring Mpumelelo and some of the other patients to the Botha’s Hill Clinic to collect and register for TB medications. Richard, a fellow volunteer and I drove the crew up to the Clinic. This is one of the MANY, MANY moments I say over and over in my head “wow, I’m definitely in Africa.” Richard drove, I sat in the passengers’ seat with a one-month old baby on my lap and we piled 4 adults and my 14 year old buddy in the back seat. Cozy huh?
Clinics here are an absolute nightmare. People travel long distances to wait in lines which wrap around the entire building. Many of these people have no advocate (unlike our patients) and may wait all day, just to be told to come back the next day. I have seen some things that I simply cannot convey to you and will probably never understand at these clinics. Luckily, we were first in line at the TB office. Two of my patients needed to simply pick up their TB meds and two of the new patients had to register to begin TB treatment. It took over 4 hours…unbelievable. My supervisor, MaryAnn and I spoke about it later and she said it seems as if the staff is almost deliberately slow and unorganized. Either way, my heart goes out to my patients every time they have to sit for so long as sick, in pain and uncomfortable as they are.
The only good thing that comes out of the time spent sitting and waiting at the clinics is that it is a great time to get to know the patients a little bit better. This trip to Botha’s Hill was certainly that chance for me and my new favorite patient Bheki. I’ll talk more about him in the following blog entry. We all made it back to the respite and I think the patients probably took nice, long naps upon our return! Mission accomplished.