Friday, September 3, 2010
(Continued from the previous blog entry)
To give you a better understanding of what the hospitals are like here in Mwanza, let me explain what I saw when I went to visit the kids with hydrocephalus in order to get a head count of how many kids need surgery. Proceed with caution.
Where do I even begin? The hydrocephalus patients (all babies) are all put into one room about the size of a living room. There are about three or four babies to one bed, not separated by anything at all. The mothers of these children are not allowed to leave the hospital or their children at any time, so they are also all cramped in this room. Where do they all sleep you ask? On the floor. Where do they shower? They don't. What do they eat? Only food that someone brings them (if they decide to do so).
Quick tangent: The hospital does not provide food or water to any of its patients at any time. That means that if you don't bring your own food or have someone bringing you food from outside the hospital, you starve...and many people do, literally, starve to death. Also, many children are abandoned in the hospital because their parents can't afford the medical bills. Who feeds those kids? No one. They die of starvation. Or what happens when a mother dies during childbirth (which is estimated by one of the mamas at the baby home to be about 1 in 10) and is therefore unable to feed her newborn? The baby dies. The only time this doesn't happen is when a nurse calls Amy and says, "There are a couple of starving babies here with no mothers, can you bring them some formula milk?" Amy brings milk every time they call, but unfortunately they don't call often enough. Will you ever complain about gross hospital food again?
Back to my story: So these thirty women and their sick, dying babies just sit in the hospital all day, everyday waiting. They are waiting for a surgeon to select them as the lucky free surgery of the week OR they are waiting for mzungus (white people) to come and pay for the surgery for them. In the mean time, they just wait. The babies are not receiving any type of medical care AT ALL. They are literally just hanging out in the hospital, waiting.
This is another thing that we, as Westerners, are completely blind to. We have no idea that there are people in countries like Tanzania literally just waiting for our help. They know that we have money and they don't, so they pray for us. They pray for us to come and save their babies' lives. Oh, and I also forgot to mention that many of these mothers (probably most) who are staying in the hospital with their babies also have children at home who they leave in order to be at the hospital. One woman came up to Amy and I at the hospital and asked for money and/or a job because she has this sick child with hydrocephalus, and a one-year-old who she has left home ALONE. A one-year-old left home alone for who knows how long - could be months! So not only will this baby with hydrocephalus likely die, but the mother will most likely go home to another dead baby!
And she's waiting for us!!! I know I didn't realize there were dozens of individuals waiting for me to save their lives in Tanzania while I was sipping my Starbucks and going about my day while I was at home. How could we know?
While in the hydrocephalus room, Amy and I took photos of the children and their mothers so we could put them on the website and in emails, in hopes of bringing awareness and donations for their surgeries. We also promised the women that we would give them copies of the pictures in a few days. (Amy should be posting these pictures on her website in a few days, so look out for them). Amy didn't have time to go back to the hospital to give out the pictures, so she sent me and Emma.
I have never seen anyone so happy to see a picture of themselves in my life.
For us, we see pictures of ourselves from birth. We grow up with video cameras, digital cameras, and now even web cameras. These women have literally never seen themselves on film, ever. When we handed out the photos, the women were screaming, hugging, and kissing us. They were SOOO happy. To think that something as small as a photo could bring joy (and so much joy) to a woman with a dying child. We decided we would do that for them every few weeks. Not only will it be nice for them to have photos of themselves, but they will also be able to see progress and change in their children after their surgeries. Sometimes it's the little things. :)
As we were leaving the hydrocephalus room, Emma and I went to talk to the nurses on the surgery ward about arranging surgeries for these babies. A woman told us that the head nurse was in a room down the hall and to the right. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to see.
(This is the proceed reading with caution section).
The room the nurse was in looked similar to a bathroom you would find at a campground; cement floors with a few drains in the middle of the room. There were two children in this room, both screaming and crying. Both of them were burned from head to toe. They no longer had black skin, but were instead a mixture of white, open flesh and red blood. All of their skin had been burned off. As if this scene wasn't horrific enough, the water was running and the nurse was scraping off the little bits of skin they had left on their little bodies with a pair of scissors and some cotton. The children's parents were holding them by their arms as this was done.
Both Emma and I stopped in our tracks, trying to hide our horrified expressions. Seeing us, the nurse stopped what she was doing and walked outside the room to talk to us. We kept telling her to go back inside (as we felt she was quite busy and had more important things to be doing!), but she insisted she walk us down the hall to discuss the number of hydrocephalus surgeries needed. Meanwhile, the children remained screaming with their skin hanging off their bodies. Please, please, please pray for them. They will probably not receive any pain medication, and if they survive, they will have a long, hard, and extremely painful recovery.
One more story (for now) about the hospital - this one disappointing rather than horrifying. There was one difference I noticed in the hospital since the last time I was here. The floors of the hallways have all been tiled (before there was only cement floors all throughout the hospital). One might think, "Huh, this is nice looking, a little shinier than before." Well, apparently, a university from America paid to have the floors tiled. They paid millions of dollars to have tiles brought here and installed. Let me just say that I do not know who in their right mind would come all the way to Mwanza, visit the hospital, see all of the horrible things you see there (dead babies sharing incubators with live babies, children with no skin, tumors the size of basketballs, AIDS, doctors who don't wash their hands between surgeries, reusing IV tubes, etc, etc)and think, "I know! What this place really needs are some shiny floors! I'm going to write a grant to get millions of dollars worth of tiles for this hospital in Africa!"
WHAT?!!! The cost of one surgery to save a baby's life is $250! With millions of dollars, you could save EVERY person in the whole hospital! Are you kidding me that you want to buy tile?! Tile?!!! What?!!!! I seriously cannot believe that story. Spend five minutes in that hospital and you will know they DON'T need tile. UGH! Utterly disgusting.
So that is what the hospitals are like here. And that isn't even half of it.
Keep spreading the word.