Sunday, 25 January 2009

Vez's Adventures in SL January 09

Dear Friends,

Many, O Lord my God, are the wonderful works which You have done;
and Your thoughts toward us cannot be recounted to you in order;
if I would speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.
Psalm 40:5
This New Year started from me by thinking back over the past, acknowledging all the good things God has done for me...too many to be counted. I am living a dream to be working with disabled children in Africa. A dream that God put on my heart since long, a dream that is full of adventure, a dream that brings me to tears often and a dream that it is an honour to play a part in. Whatever you are doing right now in this life that God has given us, make it count, enjoy the moment, and don't forget to give God the glory.

So the year has started well with old patients progressing, and new patients still finding their way to us. I used to describe finding new children like finding treasure, it seems that this treasure chest is bottomless, and so we continue to do what we can for them.

We have spent much time liaising with and partnering with other organisations. It seems that we are having a role matching appropriate patients together with the people who are trying to help, whether that be people who are in country or visiting specialists from overseas. Being in SL a while now and knowing many patients, we are in a good position to do so facilitating success for everyone. For Jamestina above, we are hoping for some club foot surgery from a visiting orthopaedic surgeon. She is a fun and determined girl but several different problems with both her legs and her L hand. She had been told that she would not walk, however she is already doing so with support and we hope will continue to do well.
Then there is Hawanatu and Sheku from SOS, who both have had TB of the Spine in the past leaving them with bad hunch back postures and leg paralysis. We were able to facilitate their assessment by a team from USA called FOCUS who are able to do spinal stabilisation surgery on some of these cases in Ghana. X-rays and assessments have been completed, so we'll see what happens next.

We have been working much more closely with Handicap International (HI), the only other NGO offering rehabilitation services. They are in the process of advising and handing over to the government the Rehab Centre they set up. This is a risky journey as when they pull out altogether, the government will really have to continue to make rehab a priority for this country if it is to stay open. I have recently heard a statistic that 1 in 5 people in SL have some kind of disability. I hope this truth is not ignored.

Our working with HI has been to work together on difficult cases since they are my only place to refer now for Orthotics and Prosthetics after the sad closure of Mercy Ships New Steps programme. Hamza is one such case. His walking is affected by a shortened leg caused by a badly dislocated hip that he still weight bears on as it's his only option to keep mobile. He also has neurological problems causing tightness of his legs and poor balance, as well as other bony abnormalities. It's a wonder he is still walking, let alone with a smile. So we are liaising with HI and Orthotists in UK to find the best options to keep him on his feet, especially since where he lives (down the side of a steep mountain) would not be accessible by wheelchair even if we could get one!

Abu, my assistant, continues to learn and is now getting more involved in measuring and designing specialist equipment that we have made. He is also on a steep learning curve regarding Orthotics and Prosthetics. I keep having to take a step back and not assume that he should know stuff, it is all very new to him after all. So slowly he is getting more exposure and taking in what he can.

Bertie, my sometimes not so trusty Landrover, has been the cause of many a frustration and the expenditure of big money (not good when the value of the Pound is crashing). This month it has been the gear box and clutch. I get cross at how much it keeps costing to buy parts, and how often things go wrong. But I learnt the hard way this week what it would mean not to have it..... back in the early days I was using public transport, and this week I have reverted back to that. Yesterday, we were working on the same side of town that I live, and we walked in total for 4 hours in the sun, and only saw 3 families!! Most of this was to find one family who we had not visited at home before, it turns out that we were waiting for each other on different bridges!! By the time we had met, it had taken walking for an hour up a dirt road, which would have taken maybe 15 mins in the car. So it is worth it to be paying the money to fix the car, I could not be as effective without it.

Over the Christmas time, I travelled with some Mercy Ships friends out to a village on the far east of Sierra Leone called Koindu. This village was severely attacked during the war times as it is on the Liberian border. I had been there 2 times previously with the New Steps team, and this visit we even found one man we had given a pair of crutches to back in 2005. They were still going strong and were being well looked after as in his words ”there would be no where else to get new ones if they did break”. We experienced much of village life from kids galore, playing with traditional games, seeing where they fetch water from a natural spring, picking greens to be cooked, washing clothes on stones by another bigger river and seeing schools in burnt out buildings. We were going primarily for a break but did end up getting involved in a very sick 12 year old with meningitis, who despite our efforts sadly died.

So to end this newsletter, I ask you again that if you pray,
please remember us,
# the families we work with and our treasured children
# our safety as we travel around
# Abu's learning and my teaching of him
# Bertie's health and the cost of it
# my sanity in the depths of often long, hot and frustrating days
# success in our working with other organisations
but most importantly

With Love and thanks, Vez

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Some things to Ponder...

It's been a good week of work,
many smiles and families encouraged,
new children assessed and well known ones progressed.
Our best tilt-in-space chair ever fitted to the son of a tailor,
and coconuts given as gifts from a thankful child in the most desperate situation.
I have a new trainee at the MercyShips clinic learning how to treat the fistula ladies with drop foot, so Fatmata (current assistant), Helen (new one) and I also had many a giggle pretending to be patients and practicing on one another.

But this week also brought some sad news......
unfortuanately sad news that happens often here.

There is a carpenter, Peter, who lives on our road who I'd got to know a little. On Tuesday I drove down to our house and had to drive through a big crowd of people who had gathered around Peters house, then I heard the wailing.....someone had died.
I found out that it was Peter's wife who had died. She had had a cut on her hand that had got infected, then it was discovered that she was diabetic and had gone into a coma and not recovered.
Funerals in Africa are a very different expereince. Mourning is very public and the house where the deceased person lived becomes a hive of activity. People come to show their sympathies, to pray with, to comfort and support the grieveing. Then they hang around all day and eat food and just 'be' with the family. This happens daily for about a week. When I returned on Thursday, Peter's fellow workers were busily making a coffin, and I was informed the funeral will be next week.
Today, I visited Peter and his 4 children. To me it felt very awkward. Few words were passed, most staring at the ground. Silence all around. What does one say? You'd never think that your workplace would be your business one day, and making your wifes coffin the next. Peters family are Christian believers, so some comfort is in that. God gives and He takes away. One day in heaven we will all be reunited with our loved ones. But now, in this grieving time I felt inadequate. I saw some working out of needs for the came to over 3 million Leones (£700), maybe a years earnings for Peter. So sat in a corrugated iron house, with sticks making a veranda, I do wonder where that kind of money is found. There will also have been the medical bills, and of course all the food that had needed to be provided for the people who come every day for the week or so of mourning.
We prayed with them as we left, still thinking much and saying little.

Life passes quickly and unexpectedly here in Africa,
every day counts and every oppertunity needs to be taken.
Questions can be asked, but should not be a stumbling block to allow hope to push on through.
Be thankful for every day God gives,
mourn with those who mourn and smile with those who are joyful.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Dry Eyes + Exhaustion = Double Vision!!

I did something today which made me realise that I really was exhausted last night....

As I put my contact lenses in this morning, my eyes were so dry and the lenses were really rubbing. It's Harmitan season now, so the dust which is blow in from the Sahara, is real bad and after a long day on dusty roads yesterday, I put the discomfort down to my eyes recovering from the day before.

Then when I was back home later in the day for a bit I decided to take them out as we were only training, doing the notes and washing the car. Then we went back out to see more pts, so I went to put lenses in again. Only to find that this morning I had put 2 pairs of lenses in each eye!!

No wonder it was uncomfortable and my vision was a bit blurry (didn't tell the police officer that when he pulled me over for yet another 'offense'!!)

Anyway what had happened was that I had an old pair still soaking in the overnight case, when I took my contacts out of my eyes mon night, I put them straight in on top of the old pair, not realising they were there. Then as I got up early this morning to prepare for another busy day, I was obviously too asleep to notice that I was putting 2 pairs in each eye.....scary ha?

So SILLY ME!!! Never done that one before!!

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Finding Flexible Fatmata at No. 54 Smart Lane...

This blog entry could have many a name....

Jungle Physio Detective Work Smoking guides
Search and Find The Wrong Mohammed
Fullah Meat Man Searching for meat and children
Flexible Fatmata No 54.....

read on for more....

A very flexible patient of mine had moved from one side of town to the other, so we went on a search to find her. The phone numbers we have for her mum were not working and we had little choice - we search and hopefully find, or we forget about them and maybe they drift off into the depths of untreated children with disabilities that are in Freetown.

We had an address so didn't think it would be too bad, normally you can just ask around a bit and find your treasure!!

So we drove to the area, which happens to be by the Special Courts where the war criminals are still being trialled, and as was so on that day, men often stand along the walls armed with guns, on the look out for anything unusual. We creep along the road looking for the right road, can't find it, obvioulsy no road name signs. We ask one old man for Smart Lane, he shows us the direction so we pass the armed soilders for the 3rd time, this time wondering if we could be looking anymore suspect. I was getting twitchey....dont know about them.

Then in the Landrover we ascend this steep hill of 'road' and keep going and keep going up and up. People kept directing us on until we cant go any further, so we turn, in the landrover, around a very tight steep corner, on sliding rocks, with kids running around, but we make it - phew, and start back down again! Slowly.

We pass one young man, looking a bit like he's hassle, smoking pot and being very bold and flirtacious, normally the kind one would avoid. He offers to help, and appears to know who / what we're trying to find!! We have no option than to park the car, and start walking with this man. Don't worry, Abu, my assisstant was with me!

So were walking and talking, and breathing in nice smelling smoke, as he leads us to what is called the 'White House'. Funny since this area is actually called New England! So ducking and diving washing lines and houses, jumping a few chickens and scrambling a few boulders, we come to the White House. It was in fact a house painted white, where they thought the family might be. It was indeed No. 54, but was not the family I wanted!

Instead they informed us there was another 54...up.

So up we climb, litereally using hands and feet (in flip flops I might add since the thieves stole my shoes from my house a few weeks back). This man, our guide seems to know everyone, and they were all being very helpful to him - but what I was unsure of was whether they were friends with him or actually scared of him. Either way, it was working for us.

We passed many children running and laughing, old men sat outside their homes, women cooking over steaming pots...we walked up for about 20mins discussing other disguishing info about this family. We collated that they were a Fullah (a tribe here) family, 2 children, the mum was a short, light skinned, large lady!! (that is no insult to them here), then found one man who thought that the dad was his boss, so he takes us there, but alas..they wrong Mohammed!!

So we keep climbing, and asking, climbing and asking...

We finally reach THE No. 54...where again, not the right mother and child. Of course, they are Lower No 54, but there is another 54, Upper 54 ....where the man sells meat.

Another fact gathered, the family's father sells meat. Now we're off in search of meat, hoping to find our child!!! Still with our drug smoking, cool walking, football player so we've found out by this stage.
Another 30 mins has gone by and we're still going - and in the upward direction in midday burning sun I might add.

Finally asking and asking for a meat selling fullah man, short light skinned large kumbra (mother), we find the real No. 54 Smart Lane! RESULT!!
Flexible Fatmata my patient who is very hypermobile and delayed in her development, seemed none the wiser to our efforts to find her, but her mum was happy, if somewhat a little surprised.

Our guide 'Bollah' sweetly stayed around for us while we treated Fatmata and then kindly took us on a "short cut" back to the car. He in fact turned out to be a lovely helpful and perservering man...someone who will serve as our contact and referral source for that community now!!

So all in a days work...hunting patients involves following drug smoking men to the White House, mountaineering, detective work, finding 3 No 54's all on the same road, that seemed to start and finish several times over, continued endurance (we were climbing and searching for over an housr before we reached) to the summit and many amusing conversations with many intersting people along the way.

And Flexible Fatmata was only our second patient that day!!