Saturday, 28 February 2009

Vez's Adventures in SL Feb 09

Dear Friends,

If you asked me how the last month of life has been here in SL, I would say: 'Tell God Tenki', (I give thanks to God) - a Sierra Leonean way of describing just about anything from good thanks, to it's been challenging, or even it's been a disaster but I give God thanks anyway!!
You'll be pleased to hear that it has not been the latter, generally the first, but right now as I sit here writing having been unwell for 4 days and have just tweaked my back, I could say it's been somewhat challenging. I ask God why has it been one thing after the next??

It's a times like these that we get a chance to sit back and wonder....what am I really trying to do here? Well, one great comfort that I have is that even though I'm feeling rather useless to my patients, our work has still continued....Abu has been going out on his own and I have confidence that he has been doing a great job. It has been a growing time for him to use the skills he has been building on, and although he has worked without me to maintain treatment before, he now has more skills to clinically justify what is needed more independently and therefore provides a better service. So although I feel purposeless, I'm happy that Abu has this opportunity without me taking control. Maybe it was the only way to keep my big nose out!!

At the beginning of the month, I had two UK Physiotherapists come out to help. Jenny and Caroline are good friends of mine from a hospital I worked at in the UK. I often find myself very isolated with few other trained therapy professionals around, so it was refreshing to have others to bounce ideas off. They were a tremendous help giving ideas for some of my more complex patients who I had started to run out of ideas for. We also took some time off to enjoy old friendships and see more of this beautiful country. We camped on beaches, ate fresh fish, walked in jungles, and wandered through colourful markets. Sierra Leone could really be an amazing tourist destination, if only it's infrastructure was a little more solid. The new government are working on it.

From time to time people ask about individual patients that I have been working with for a while. It's hard to know who to update you all on since we work with so many families now. But this month let me give you an update about Amara.

He is a 12 year old boy who we have been working with for over a year and a half now. He sadly got a Spinal Cord Injury from falling in an open ditch while playing with his friends. This left him paralysed from his chest down and in a bad way. When we first met him it had only just happened and at that point his fracture was unstable and his spinal cord damage not total. However since the roads are so bad and the hospitals so far, it was impossible to move him to a hospital for treatment. Instead, with liaison from doctors at an NGO hospital, we decided to teach the family how to nurse him at home. When I say home I mean a room with a straw mat on the floor shared with others, mud bricks and corrugated iron roof.
The first 6 months went well and although Amara had to learn to move again, he had soon mastered rolling himself, sitting up on his own and even getting from the floor to a bench (which I challenge you to have a go at without using your legs to push). Due to a generous donation, we had also been able to make his hut wheelchair accessible, as well as the route to school. There were complications like dizziness and pressure sores, not having enough arm strength to push his wheelchair on the rough ground around his house, severe painful spasms in his legs and as you can imagine a very low mood. Then another terrible thing happened. He was getting a persistent cough and despite sending him to several doctors in local medical facilities, nothing appropriate was being done. This is when it gets very frustrating. Eventually, I decided that if drastic action was not taken, I was afraid we'd loose him altogether. So we took him on a 2 hour journey across the city to an NGO hospital, who after some X-rays and investigations diagnosed him with TB Spine. Due to his health vulnerability, and his crowded and unsanitary living conditions, Amara was an easy target for this rapidly spreading disease, and for him it was a double whammy, one spinal problem on top of another.

Treatment for TB is free in this country, but to see the Dr to prescribe it is not. So we delved down the depths of the government hospital systems to get the TB medicines, and despite the normal route being admission (another great expense), we worked out with them a way for a social worker to follow him up at home and eventually he is now on them. The course takes over 6 months daily, but we are really encouraging Amara's Grani (we have never seen his parents) to be diligent at going weekly to get them.

It has been a long rough road for Amara, but since January life does seem to be settling down for him. He has finally returned to school, which is the biggest achievement for him, his Grani and us. Now at last he has something to occupy his mind and time again. His friends come gladly in the morning to push him to school and he returns, tired, but I can't help but think happy and proud. And so he should be! Amara is my most sad story and clinically most difficult to manage patient. He still has bad spasms in his legs though they are no longer painful, and we have not been able to prevent him getting contractures. But we can say without doubt, that our support of this family has made a difference in his life, and although I think Amara used to feel like we were the enemy, now he can see that we are true friends after all.

A new patient that I will tell of briefly is Umaru. He is the young son of a tailor who works in a small busy workshop in Freetown. We squeeze through the hot bodies and roaring sewing machines to get to a small room at the back where Umaru, his mum and 2 other sons are waiting for us. We have only seen them a handful of times, but they warmly welcome us each time. Umaru has quad Cerebral Palsy, which he acquired after his brain was damaged during some severe convulsions at 1 year old. We dont know what caused the convulsions, maybe malaria, maybe another virus, who knows he never saw a doctor, but sadly although sitting and standing before his sickness, he can now bearly hold his head up. Umaru does not like 'white man' (yet!) so I actually do not even touch him, but Abu has started well, and has even fitted him with a special chair. This the first chair Abu has taken the lead in - measured, designed, liaised with our carpenter and final fitting with straps. He looks to follow on website shortly.

Please pray with us for :
Thank God for the honour it is to have the freedom to work in
faith for these disabled children (this is from Abu)
Thanks that Amara is doing so well and pray for continued progress
Thanks for Bertie the Landrover who's had a good month, only 2 problems!!
For Abu's continued learning and taking clinical leads
To cope with the heat in march, the hottest month
for my health to improve
Continued success (and patience) in our working with other organisations
For our new MercyShips home – we moved last weekend and
are having many teething problems

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

With Love, Vez

Thursday, 19 February 2009

In it for the wrong reasons? Not me!

Why be a therapist?
Why work with patients?
Why bother?

Well, all my answers for these questions are as you'd expect if you know me at all.
I care for my patients, I want to show Jesus' love in all that I do, I enjoy the challenge of medical situations are are all different, and find that using my creativeness I can make a differnece in many a child's and family's life.

Thats why.

So when I working with other people / organisations whose staff are only in it for the status it gives them, the money it pays, try to get away with as little work as they can, don't keep deadlines and promises, and take 4 hours of me waiting with children to tell us so...i can get VERY annoyed.
Sometimes it seems they think I am trying so hard for my benifit, but it is the people, in fact the children of their own country that I am trying to advocate for and get the benefits for. We are not talking extras or luxaries, no we're talk about being able to walk or going back to being wheelchair bound, which they had worked so hard over the last year with me to be able to walk their way out of.

One day the world will be a fair place.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Jen & Caroline Visit...

What do you get when you put 3 physios who all lived and worked together in the early years and dump them in Freetown?
Fun, hard work and belli!!

So we visited a few beaches too...

And then some more work...

The hard bit was saying goodbye :o( but it was great having them here for a while.

Thanks friends.