Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The story continues....

So I went to see the family (the one who missed twice the arranged transport to New Steps rehab centre for new wheelchair -see previous blog admission) on Monday only to find a very sad situation.

The Grani who is responsible for the boy, Amara, had conveniently gone to market, so we could not talk with her, but we spoke instead with another 'auntie' (anyone vaguely related/family friend).

Amara was in a state.

He had huge wounds on his knees, one being the size of hie knee cap, open, red and very swollen and inflamed. His tummy was all swollen, maybe from a bladder problem or urine infection. And these problems had then caused a secondary problem of his tone (muscle stiffness) going right up meaning that his legs were all folded, unable to straighten not to mention extremely painful.

It was only 2 weeks ago that I saw him and when asking what happened, I was just told lies about what and how long the wounds had been there. They were just telling me what they thought I wanted to hear and this is never helpful when a big part of medical decisions have to be made on the history. And do you think the family had done anything to help Amara - like take him to a doctor?? I'll let you come to you're own conclusions.

I sat there quiet for a while, not really knowing what to do. I was so sad for Amara. Why had his own family not done anything to help him? How could so many people come and go past him and not do anything?

I decided to take him to the Doctor myself, although I didn't want them to know that a 'whiteman' was helping them out, as the prices were then doubled at least.
However, I then found out that the closest government satellite clinic was closed - and had been for 4 months - refurbishments they say. So the next closest place was a private clinic.

Abu went and found out an estimate of how much would be needed for at least a review and antibiotics. We left them with a referral and the equivalent of 12 pounds and had to put some trust in the 'normal' systems of this country. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not want to act like I am. A doctor needed to see him and make their own decisions.

Unfortunately from 2 other experiences in sending Amara to the see a doctor, sadly the decisions made and the comments were totally inappropriate and the right treatment was not given. So I prayed and had to hope for a better result this time.

Later that day, I had a phone call from a neighbour of Amara's. They had returned from the clinic with nothing but a referral saying he had serious problems and needed to go to the government Children's Hospital further in town. He had been charged approx 5 pounds which was fairly reasonable for seeing a Dr, but I was a little frustrated that not even the simplest pain relief or antibiotics were given for the obviously infected knee wounds.

So off he went the next day to the Children's hospital, who charged him a further 6 pounds for doctors review (even though he had been referred there), and the final outcome from there was - oh yes very serious problems, come back tomorrow and we'll admit you.

One question I have is: Why if he was so unwell would they not admit today?

But actually it was a saving grace because I did not really want him admitted there as I have know from other experiences how expensive it can be there - you get charged for admission clerking, for the overnight stays, for the nurses to administer drugs, for the drugs themselves, for the notebook that the doctors write in at the end of the bad, for discharge...the list goes on.

So Amara is back home again, still having had no treatment.
But now I'm wondering, what do I do next?

Having discussed with a Doctor friend of mine at Mercy Ships, I decided the best thing to do was to see if I could get him reviewed by doctors at an excellent NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) hospital. The treatment there is free and they are able to do most necessary lab tests, investigations and xrays. There are a few little hurdles to this:

1. I will have to call the admissions team and persuade them to see him
2. Then get him there. The NGO hospital is located right on the other side of Freetown and out further still. Probably in the region of 1 + 1/2 to 2 hour journey for Amara, on public transport, on bad roads, unwell and in pain.
3. Tomorrow is a public holiday, a pray day for the end of the Muslim Ramadan. Amara's family are Muslim, they are likely to want to wait till the next day.

Somehow, I hope this works out for Amara's good.

I will be calling the NGO hospital first thing in the morning, then we'll see.............

Friday, 26 September 2008

Frustrating families

Sometimes it can be so frustrating here...
I try to do my best, but nearly always people want more.

I have one patient who I have tried to get to the Mercy Ships Rehab Centre, New Steps, to get a new wheelchair so he can attend school again (having had a year out since he broke his back and became paralysed after he damaged his spinal cord), twice he has not been in said place at said time and missed the transport I arranged for him. Having seen him at least fortnightly since his accident, he has done so well to learn to sit and to function in life again, managing spasms, chest infections, pressure sores...you name it, we've built ramps and looked at access to school, we've talked together and cried together and prayed together.

So why now do his family not see it as a priority to get this wheelchair when his old one is totally broken and not usable?
Why do I waste so much time and mobile phone credit and put my reputation on the line, when they just don't bother to show up?


I'm heading back to them again next week to find out what happened, but know I'll likely get an unsatisfactory answer.

How much help is too much help?

The more I do, the less they do.

Who suffers if I pull out because the family do not comply?

Should I take them there myself in person?
But then I set a standard that I have to take all patients to all appointments, taking away their responsibility in their child's life. Besides I'd never get any work done, I'd be a taxi driver.

Ow fo du? as they say here - now what shall I do?

Saturday, 20 September 2008

What to do on a rainy day?

.......Wash african materials and hang them out to dry right?

The rainy season seems to still be with us and though the normal wettest month is August, this year September has certianly been it!

Almost daily the rains fall, sometimes heavier sometimes lighter.

On Friday and several times last week, the rains were so heavy massive floods caused chaos. Literaly 2 secs out in the rain will soak you to the skin, and becasue of such poor drainage some areas become flooded in a matter of minutes. This of course destoys peoples homes and sadly a few children have drowned too. On our way to work in a Terrano on Friday the floods were so bad we sat in knee deep water for 45 mins while other smaller cars got stuck with water washing up over their bonnets and rivers gushing rapidly knocking over the women walking to fetch fish. We were very glad along with the other people to get through the worst spot as quickly as we could.

Other days like today it drizzles all day. Unfortuantely there are not many things to do on the weekend here, and most activites like going to the beach / pool / walks are not so do-able when it rains. While we still had power early this morning I got up to use the sewing machine - still working on the patchwork, hence 'drying' out random pieces of african material. However as soon as the power goes thats the end of that little activity. So I read and listened to music, and drank coffee and talked to house mates.

But really, theres not much to do, so a pretty boring day all in all.

We had to go out for dinner tonight just to make up for all the excitment not had during the day!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

what a week! rain, mud, dodgy bridges, cockroaches, police, gaffa tape, penknives and hugs!

I don't really know where to start....


The rains are making the roads really bad especially the mountain road that I have to travel at least once a week.... was sliding all over the place, but trying to take it slow as the rocky bumps that are also now more exposed were also a threat to my ever precious tyres that easy get flats.

First kid takes ages - partly because I have to climb up a mountain to get there. Had a great session with him though - except that the chair we had made for him, which I'll add now is used daily for feeding, needed adjustments, so as i sat on the floor next to it to fix and adjust, was horrified when literally hundreds of cockroaches ran out from underneath. Patiently waited while I asked for it to be taken out for a good clean.. funny thing was that before I had finished making a new vest strap, a few little cockroaches were already running back toward the chair - how they got back so quickly i don't know. Feels like fighting a loosing battle sometimes.

Then off to next boy - had to drive across 2 pieces of metal making a 'bridge' over a huge gutter - no prob when it's dry, but that day the mud meant as we turn the corner to go over, the back wheels slid and oops....fell off the bridge!! We said a little prayer, put a few rocks under the tyres, much revving and out we got.

Later on stopped to fit a new pair of stability boots to a 5 year old, so asked for the old ones - again I know they had been used by the way they looked which is why I had agreed to change them for bigger ones. Today Grani who looks after the boy was not in so a young girl went looking for the shoes - one gets thrown out the door.....5 mins later, the other one appears....along with the cockroaches running out of the top! Again jumped away and tried to brush them off me, only to pass them onto Abu.....one was about to go up his trouser leg so jumped on it, only to have Abu complain! Next time I'll leave it to explore!

Saw a few other children, got a new referral from neighbour of an old patient then eventually after a long day i headed home through the mountains to find a stranded white woman and a SL man stranded in the jungle - it was pouring by now. So picked them up as there was no way they'd find public transport and if it were me I'd like the same to be done. They'd been to see the chimps and it was getting dark and really were stuck!

The whole of that night it rained, and the next day. It really would not have been safe to travel out on bad roads again, and the kids I needed to see closer to home meant climbing down sides of mountains again. Decide that if I couldn't see 10m outside my door for the heavy rain, that really to be sliding down rocks was not a good idea either. Abu and I took the time for training - always a laugh as we learn much about our different cultures - having offered him a jumper as it was so cold - he thought I was about to pull out of my room a person who could jump high!
Oh and forgot to mention that Abu nearly got in trouble with the police today and I wasn't even with him. He hadn't paid his 'local tax' which in his words is a tax to allow a SLeonean to walk the streets of their own country. Sorted that one of him as really have had enough run ins with the police recently.


So Wednesday, we tried to do what we couldn't the day before. including going shopping with lots of money to get supplies for an orphanage which needed a helping hand. So armed with a list, Abu really wanted to get the best prices - this meant going here for this, then there for that. It's true though, some prices varied by 10,000's of leones. we glady delivered all this stuff to the orphanage and were even happier to hear of God's timing as they had literally run out of food that morning! So the back of my car was loaded with rice and palm oil, fruit and eggs, onions and clothes, soap and toothbrushes. It was such a blessing to them and the kids faces said it all. Wish I'd had my camera, but didn't.

The next patient was another 20mins at least up this bad road that we'd travelled along the peninsular from Freetown. Had been trying to get hold of this family for the past 3 days, but to no reply. They were a post op referral from the Africa Mercy, the big medical Mercy Ship working from Liberia presently. So it was important I saw them sooner rather then later. Since I had no reply I was hoping to just head out there and ask around till i found them. However a phone call as I left the orphange revealed that at last they could answer their phone, BUT that they were heading to the MercyShips childrens clinic another 45 mins away. And the road was so bad. I was a little annoyed to say the least as it was stressful enough with the bad roads and waste of fuel, let alone the dodging of the police who seem to be picking on me at the moment. So I travelled back and reminded myself that it was not a wasted journey due to the difference we made to those precious kids in the orphanage.
Nearing the main towns again what a surprise..... we were stopped by the police again, this time for Local Tax - Abu was clear after sorting his yesterday, but when asked for mine I didn't really know what to say! Showed them my Mercy Ships ID and that seemed to work! (You'd be surprised at how often that little card works its wonders in that way!) Saw the patient at the Mercy Ships clinic, then headed into Freetown. Avoiding all the places the police hang out, we parked and got on public transport. I laughed to myself as i thought that it was a whole lot safer to not be caught by the police this way (well, even if we were that it would not be my problem anyway) then felt the side of the podapoda move at a different angle and speed to the corner were were turning around! These vehicles are often welded together from different parts, you hoped somewhat securely, but you never knew. I was so squeezed already into the lady next to me, but was terrified that the whole of the side of the vehicle would fall off, so squeezed even more and held on tight! We got to the final stop and glady got out with our lives into the crowded land of pick pockets. All aware we marched with purpose to meet our next family. The parents of a Downs Syndrome patient of mine who had died not so long ago. We were meeting outside one of the government hospitals as it was easier than going to theirs, so asked the security guard if we could go in to get off the crowded street. So in we went and sat on a wall to talk and encourage and pray together. The Dad nearly lost it as I gave him a photo of his precious daughter. Words just weren't enough, but being there with them I hope helped.

The next stop was the Road Transport Office to try to sort out one of the problems that I was being stopped by the police for. A sticker with a date on that did not match the paperwork - not my mistake but theirs, and do you think they'll correct it?.....well so far no way, and Wednesday's visit didn't achieve anything either. Traffic in town was so bad I decided to walk from one side of the city to the other where I'd left my car. Took me nearly an hour in the blistering heat, holding my umbrella to fight off any hands that should not have been near me!

Back into my car, to do a u turn to avoid the place I'd been nearly dragged to a police station last week, and eventually home - exhausted.
Did I actually do any physio that day? Well, just a bit with the post op ship patient, but that was it. Did I try to be Jesus' hands and feet and words, I tried.
It's easy to loose your patience here though - everyday I find that a constant battle when tired and stressed and at risk of interactions with the Police, and difficult communication with families and patients and wasted journeys on bad roads.


Today has been a bit better, except for being sick! Bit of a funny tummy all night and a thumping headache this morning.... so took it easy and did some paperwork and sorted out my online banking that had been blocked by the fraud squad as they thought it strange that I be using it from somewhere as bizarre as Sierra Leone! But a broken skype call later proved it was true - I was in fact me, and I am in fact in SL! What a morning, as long as I stayed still I was ok, but too much movement and my head was spinning (with a week like so far i don't need to wonder why!). after midday I really felt I had to get to the younger children at SOS as i hadn't seen them since before their school holidays. So pulled myself together and reassured myself that I'd live.

And I have to say I had a lovely afternoon with all my lovely smiley faces. They all wanted to stay in my treatment room with me while I was treating each one in turn, fixing straps on callipers with gaffa tape and a prosthetic foot with a pen knife., shoes with super glue and an adapted crutch with gaffa and nails, and a little girl teary from missing her family was soon fixed with a big hug and a tickling fight! I loved doing something practical and the kids are always great, even if a bit excitable. It was lovely to see them and makes all the stress and coping with..... a little more manageable.

So now I'll wait and see what tomorrow holds....

...always an adventure!

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Vez's Adventures in SL Sept 08

Hello again,

So I thought it was about time that I updated you all now I've been settled back in SL after my time in the UK. First let me say that despite staying in a different bed every few nights, what a wonderful time I had seeing so many of you. A huge thank you to all that let me stay, fed me, washed my clothes and generally welcomed me. I was refreshed, encouraged and raring to get back to my children in SL.

Since being back, I took the first week to meet with Abu (my assistant) and go over what he had been up to while I had been away. He has done an amazing job visiting all our families, keeping treatment going, referring sick ones and encouraging parents. I have to say though, that since visiting them all again myself – the children have taken such a liking to him that they don't want to come and give me cuddles any more – I guess my novelty has worn off! One thing did make me laugh though, I had given Abu a diary to document everything he had been doing and spending, but when he gave it back to me blank and I asked why – he said he didn't know how to use it and blamed me for not showing him! I guess it was just one of my presumptions that he already knew, as we learn, even at school, how to manage a diary. Another lesson learnt on my part about cultural differences!!

However, Abu continues to impress me, and although he has a way to go in practising therapy independently, I do hope that by the end of this year he'll be in a position to make many more decisions himself with the view of taking over the management of this work. We have spent much time together discussing our visions for this next year ahead, and we are hoping to expand with another international therapist, and therefore train another national as well. There are certainly enough patients. This is in God's hands now and since we have advertised, it is just a waiting game to see who replies. Please do pray with us for the right person, and contact me if you know of someone.

Just before I left for my leave, work seemed to be getting more and more crazy just with tying loose ends and seeing setting up equipment that had been made. But our grand finale was certainly a success...we held a Beach Gathering and invited all our families. We think nearly 90 people came and enjoyed splashing in the water, digging holes in the sand and eating fruit and drinks. For me, I was so pleased to be watching many of my patients see that there are other children like them and for the parents to be talking and encouraging each other too. Everyone was smiling and enjoyed themselves. And God was gracious in holding off the rains till we were done and making sure there was enough food for everyone right to the last latecomer. See my blog for more pictures.

So my time at home was busy seeing people and travelling around, but I also managed to do some study, arrange for my Landrover tyres to head to Africa thanks to MercyShips, updated my jabs, find a few bits of equipment, buy other car parts (which weighed a ton and loaded down my luggage allowance and caused a stir at security checks at the airport – again see my blog for more laughs!), and do many a presentation. I have also managed to get some help with business planning and financial advice – I still hate numbers, especially anything to do with money. I would never have thought I'd end up doing this, but it is all part of progressing this ministry along to be more sustainable. Now we are trying to think about partnering or independently setting up a charity. This is another huge step to be considering, I truly believe God paved the way and is abundantly blessing the work, but I do feel a little out of depth at times, and I need His guidance on how and who and when.

In the last 2 weeks, I have had a friend visiting and we have had a great time. Cathy was a little shell shocked at the beginning and it made me realise how much has become normal for me out here. We spent much time talking and praying about what we are among daily – injustice, poverty, corruption and sadness. Why are children suffering so much? Yes I try to do my bit, but there is so much to do. I know that God is a God of justice and of hope, and a large part of my role is to show these families some of that hope. Unfortunately humans will continue to be so nasty to one another and this world will continue to be full of bad until the end. I have many questions that I will one day ask the Lord, but for now I just have to be obedient to what I feel I can do. When I was first thinking about working longer term in Africa, God reminded me of a time I was in a little Kenyan village church with some hungry, dirty and largely forgotten children. God had opened my eyes to a need that I could not turn away from. Since that time my eyes have not turned from trying to give children a hope, a love and a future they may not have known otherwise. Cathy and I saw my favourite PodaPoda (a form of overcrowded public transport) which carries the slogan 'STOP FOR THE ONE'. Now if we all did that, reached out to one person in need, stopped for a moment and helped, wouldn't the world be a better place? For me, at this time, to put the needs of one family first, to do what I can for the one disabled child to make life a little brighter, then that is what is required of us, not to be overwhelmed with the bigger picture – leave that job for the bigger Man. Just STOP FOR THE ONE.
For some reason this first month has been a hard one of settling back into life here again. Maybe partly because I had such a wonderful time at home, but I think it is also being a rough time of bad happenings for what ever reason. I'm desperately in need of my tyres, so for now I keep getting flats which always slows things down! I've also been getting a lot of hassle from the Police. I can normally talk my way out of the situations, but every time it shakes me up and puts me on edge. Having done nothing wrong I hate it when I get stopped. One time it happened because it appeared I had done something wrong, my registration sticker in my car window was out of date, but even that was not my fault – it turns out when I registered the car the wrong date was printed to try and cheat me out of 4 months registration fee. So now I've tried to change it and again I've been cheated by the sticker being back dated another 3 months. Fighting to get anything done fairly here is exhausting. And to top that I blew the power pack to my computer in the process of writing this very letter. What more could go wrong? Thankfully after many a tear, a friend who experienced the same problem had a spare adjustable power lead so I'm now using that until I can get one from the UK. Thank God for friends!
So if you are a pray-er please remember the following in your prayers:

“ Thanks for a wonderful rest and productive time in the UK
“ Thanks for the many faithful supporters of this ministry in so many ways & may it continue
“ For safe arrival and a good settling back into SL – including a wonderful new home
“ For Protection against all the difficult happenings at the moment
“ For wisdom and guidance in planning for the future for this work
“ For the right therapist to see the adverts and apply to come and join the team out here in SL
“ For the children we work with daily to know a hope, a love and a future they may not have known otherwise by seeing and experiencing Jesus in the way we work.

Indeed it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the scriptures:
“Love your neighbour as yourself.” James 2:8

With Love, Vez