Uganda blog four: Seeing through fresh eyes.

posted in: Mindset, Uganda | 0

Everyone on this CRMI Children of Hope charity visit to Uganda is self-funded. Through a combination of sponsorship, fundraising and our own funds we have paid our own way. The offer was made for us all to go to Murcheson Falls National Park and game reserve in the North West of the country. Last Wednesday and Thursday 15 of the team went on safari, a river-ride up the Nile and saw the Falls. It was an amazing experience and will stay with me forever – I’ll do a separate blog with pictures at a later date.

We travelled on Friday for around 8 hours and were told when we returned that we’d be doing a clinic on Saturday in Ssanga.

Up early, we took our well-trodden path through the relentless traffic of a Kampala morning – the usual blend of traffic violations, bikes piled high with baskets, jerry cans, sacks of charcoal and passengers – passing street stores trading in shoes, bananas, street food vendors and hopeful dogs sitting outside butchery stores.

Ssanga is a smaller, more remote village than Bombo so we were expecting a large clinic, so as we pulled up outside Pastor Sam’s church we weren’t surprised to see around 60 people huddled in the shade underneath the impressive mango tree in the grounds of the chapel. We passed the equipment through the bus windows and got the room set out ready for the day – dressing stations, floating doctor areas, examination room and triage points.

Pauline, expert medical practitioner and all-round lovely person had been not-so-subtly twisting my arm to get involved with the triage station in the clinic. She did stop before my arm needed medical attention and when I agreed to work with her and Ali on one of the triage points!

Triage – the process of talking to attendees and assessing their needs is a subtle and gentle art…we were transforming visitors into patients and helping to prioritise nurse and doctor workload. I watched the two masters for the first three or four patients of the morning and when I felt ready, I asked a couple of questions and by patient number 7 I was ready to lead a session.

I found the process akin to being presented with a puzzle that needs careful unwrapping to get to the reason the clients have attended clinic. You understand, through an interpreter, the importance of a gentle and understanding approach, asking precise – sometimes very intimate and personal – questions and watching for body language clues. Ugandans are a warm and friendly nation, when talking about themselves are often overly modest and their gestures need close attention.

A flick of the eyes, the raise of an eyebrow, a lifted head and a tiny shake of the head can be the only gestures made. Using the skills of the Ugandan CRMI volunteer interpreters you slowly build up a picture of the issues the clients bring.

Sometimes the stooped limp, the painful expression and the wince tell you there’s a serious complaint presented, sometimes a mother with three small children have a list of complaints to present and after an initial torrent of issues, you have to go back to the start and assess which problem belonged to which person in the group. Some illnesses presented verbally can be things treated 4 years ago, some diagnoses given two years ago – and treated with Panadol may have become serious health issues as they have been left untreated. Dehydration was a common feature amongst the people we saw, many not really considering it as crucial as it is. Even when water fountains are available at school, children don’t take on enough water, adults too didn’t seem to see the importance.

Ali and I became the DreamTeam – at least in our own minds – as she led on the questions and took notes (my writing is appalling) with us both heading off to grab a doctor, get some medicines from the makeshift pharmacy or simply assembling a care pack of toothbrushes, toothpaste, flannels, soap and underwear etc for the visitors.

Ruth, a 56 yer old grandmother, came to us with sore eyes and complained of headaches…she said she couldn’t read and had issues seeing faces up close. We got the bag of ready readers out and our basic sight chart – the first pair helped a bit, the second slightly more – as we placed the third pair gently on Ruth’s face, checking the arms sat on her ears, we sat back and saw a tiny smile start to play on her lips, a growing glow about her and soon a wide grin spread across Ruth’s smooth-skinned and beautiful face. This moment will stay with me for a long time – something as simple as a pair of £2:50 ready-readers can change someone’s life – let alone the conditions that the medial team treats in our clinics – from ulcers to headaches, infected feet to HIV tests, worms and malaria it feels great and humbling to support people.

The past couple of days I’ve learned how hard doctors and nurses work, unbelievably hard, and it makes me think how much people take the NHS for granted. It is a vital safety net for millions of people and I thought so before.

I now have a much bigger appreciation of its value.

Thanks for reading the blog.


Bernie x


The photo shows Doctor Mike from the UK, Dr Wilson from Kampala and a client from Bombo.