© Polin CHAN
2001 Sierra Leone
It is the dry season now and one can see it everywhere as the whole countryside looks brown all over. The heat clings to you. Dust fills the nostrils and sweat mixed with the brown-red dust clings to the skin. By the time I arrived in Mattru, I looked a bit like an American Indian! Red skin caked from top to bottom with the rust- brown dust!
Here in Mattru, we battle against ignorance. Patients' parents don't listen to us. They prefer to follow their 'native medicine ways'. In HK, we have our Chinese herbal medicine. And here, they have their herbal remedies, but more often I see children die because of herbal poisoning. At times, we even have children who seem to be improving but suddenly die, because their family members, say, the grandmother come into the hospital and give herbs to these children without our knowledge. The traditional belief is that pregnant women should not eat fish. Otherwise, the children will get worms. So they don't get fish protein; and they are not supposed to eat eggs because the belief is that the children will be thieves.
We provide more than just health care. We do education like raising AIDS awareness for the surrounding schools. We will also serve as a center of education and nutrition and to improve the local villagers' agricultural horizons.
© Polin CHAN
We had some pretty bad obstetrics cases. There was a woman who came from a village 20 miles away. She was in labour for 3 days. The baby jammed in the pelvis. The bladder was so full that we could not insert a catheter to extract the urine. Eventually, we decided to do a Caesarean section, which was really difficult because the baby's head jammed so badly in the pelvis. But we managed to control it and repaired the uterus. Both the baby and the mother are fine now but leaking urine. So we will have to wait, see if there are any complications, and then deal with them accordingly.
Last week, one afternoon when I was in the children's ward, a child was admitted from the outpatients department, very sick. The parents had walked for one and a half days to get to the hospital, and crossed the river by local boat (wooden dugouts made from tree trunks!!). When I saw the child, it had already passed away.
Death is so common here in Africa. I try to steel myself to each death, but you can never be insensitive to it.