Thursday, June 30, 2016

Night shift

This afternoon, Bernard asked me if I was available to work tonight. I generally enjoy working nights. I'm naturally something of a night owl anyway. Nights are typically fairly quiet. The crickets sing. The beetles crawl. Wilfred the little rat often pops in to say hi. Generally most of the patients are asleep. I don't even have to pretend to understand Arabic. (Although most of the Arab speaking people who I have met do tend to speak very expressively, which helps a lot.) If there is a c-section or surgery of some kind, I have a good chance at the opportunity to assist with it. Besides the staying awake part, which is really only difficult between about 3 and 5 am, night shift is enjoyable. So when Bernard asked if I could work tonight, I immediately said yes.

As I was walking over to the hospital to start my shift, I met Dr. Bland, who had just killed a snake. It was small, by this time dead, and didn't look too threatening. But I decided to start using my flashlight when I'm walking in the dark.

I had 11 patients. None of them very sick; there were no surgeries today, so there aren't even any new patients. There was, however, a kid over in the bloc (which could very roughly be called ICU on occasion) who apparently had pneumonia. I agreed to check in on him through the night. He didn't look that bad. On oxygen.

A short time later, his nurse came and told me that he had died. Ten year olds aren't supposed to die. Especially when they look healthy. And mothers of ten year olds aren't supposed to lay on the floor in hysteria. And grandmothers aren't supposed to cover up their grandchild and carry him away.

An hour or two later, I wandered over to maternity to observe a woman who was apparently having problems in labor. After Dr. Bland performed a fairly simple and rapid vacuum delivery, the baby wasn't interested in breathing. After the normal suctioning, tapping, rubbing, and pleaded, we moved on to offer him some assistance. He had a nice little heart beat. And we squeezed air into his little lungs, and continued with the tapping, rubbing and pleading for close to half an hour. But no, he just wouldn't breath. And his perfect little fingers and toes slowly got colder. You can't breath for a baby forever, even a cute one. (And this one was cute. Ok, I generally think all babies are cute.) Just to be really clear, cuteness has nothing to do with how long you breath for a baby. Babies aren't supposed to die before they've even taken a breath (or any other time, for that matter).

I was relieved that later, when I sat next to one of my patients and gave her an antibiotic, nothing of note happened. Just the beetle that tried to crawl onto her mat.

For some people, the world feels like it stopped to night. For me, it feels like it should have; kids aren't supposed to die. But the crickets and the bats still sing. And it still smells like flowers outside (Only in certain areas. There are other areas where it smells like other things, believe me). The sun is still going to come up in the morning. And someday, kids aren't going to die.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Clash

I'm sitting in the pavilion. It's a cement, skeleton structure on our compound, kind of in the middle of where most of the houses are. It's open and airy and cement-like. This is where most of our potlucks or celebrations take place. But most of the time, it's quite, empty, and open. Like right now. It's Sunday afternoon. I'm sitting here reading; I don't know where everyone else is.

It's beautiful right now. It's rainy season, so it's green. Everything is green, almost. There is bright, fresh grass growing, and mango trees around. Their green leaves and branches hang down to the ground. The weather is beautiful at the moment, as well. The sky is partially clear and blue, partially filled with fluffy white clouds. It's hot, but not too hot.

I can hear pigeons cooing. It's calm, beautiful, and peaceful. But I can also hear someone wailing over at the hospital.

People here don't usually wail for no reason; likely someone died.

How can the world be simultaneously so beautiful and so full of pain?

Thursday, June 16, 2016


This evening I was walking home from the hospital, I realized that this is home.

It doesn't always feel that way. Not at all. But after being gone for 2 weeks (in Cameroon! More on that later), coming back to somewhere familiar has been really nice. When I walk through the hospital, I see multiple people who I know and stop to say hello. When I go out to buy more megabytes for my phone, I see people there who I know. And as I walk down the street, I hear my name, and look up to see someone who knows my name, although whether I know them or not is debatable. (It does help that multiple Sarah's have been here over the's a safe guess if you see a white girl.) Coming back after being gone (in big, unfamiliar cities) has made me realize that I have friends here.

Living here isn't always easy. For multiple reasons. One of them, for me, is the very friendly, involved culture. I'm an introvert. The only one in Chad, I sometimes think. I love people, but I don't always love talking to them, and I don't always want to be with them 24/7. That hasn't necessarily changed here. But I'm learning. I'm learning how to talk to people that I don't know. It's especially fun when we don't speak the same language. At all. I'm learning that sometimes I just want to go in my room and close the door, but playing with my kids is more rewarding. And I'm learning that relationships are rewarding. And those are built, incidentally, by talking to strangers. I've learned a lot of things here. I still have a lot to learn, but I wouldn't change the experience I've had here. When I leave, a piece of my heart will stay here always.

But while I'm talking about home, one month from tomorrow, I leave Béré. I few days later, I arrive back in Portland, my other home. I definitely left a piece of my heart there when I came here, so it will be good to be back. Maybe someday I'll have left pieces of my heart all over the world, so that wherever I go, I'll be at home.