Charles Falzon, UIC DFM Resident Physician
October 9, 2012
It has taken me much longer to write this update than I expected. Part of it could be procrastination, but I’m pretty sure that it has more to do with the fact that I had no idea what to write, and there are few things more difficult for me than being forced to bring a blog or diary entry into this world before its time. The best way that I can describe this trip is….overwhelming. October in Senegal means that we are here in the middle of rainy season, which means it is still 95-100 degrees in the shade. I never had the chance to deploy while I was on active duty (as a Navy Officer), so the concept of practicing medicine, much less helping mount a district-wide public health initiative, in this environment is a much more daunting task than I had imagined when I signed up for this trip.
Since I arrived in Saraya a week ago, I have slept on a three-inch thick foam mattress, then used the latrine and taken bucket baths in an outhouse. Electricity is available from 0800-1200, then from 1700 to 0100, and my laptop battery refuses to hold a charge, so I’m pretty dependent on the plug-in times for productivity. When our camp’s filtered water runs out because I forget to fill the reservoir, I have plenty of money to buy bottled water for us from the local store. As for meals, I have eaten most of mine from a communal bowl that I share with at least four people that are not related to me. On a recent trip to a local village, I was invited into a local home for a lunch of rice with peanut sauce, and used my hands to eat it. In case my mom and her friends are reading, I washed my hands before and after, and am lucky enough to have medications with me to make sure that nothing bad happens.
In addition to learning how to live here, one of the coolest parts about working in Saraya is that Andrew, Gaby, Angel, and I have been given permission to attend morning rounds and observe clinic at the hospital in town. Just to clarify, town has two roads, and ends less than half-a-mile off the main drag (six city blocks long), in any direction. The hospital wards are housed in three separate buildings, each about the size of a mobile home in the United States. The structures are made of stucco, covered by corrugated tin roofs, and stand about ten paces away from the main building, which contains the walk-in clinic (there are no appointments here) and kitchen. Unlike the States, there is no such thing as a private, or even “semi-private” room, as beds are spaced a foot or two apart, at most, and uninterrupted by either walls or curtains. The only opportunity that patients have at privacy here are the mosquito nets that cover their beds.
Dr. Abdul is the attending, and he rounds on the entire nine-bed unit with the help of two residents (day team/night team). On our first day, the team rounded on seven patients. Dr. Abdul apologized to us for “not being very busy,” then proceeded to scold members of his team for not finishing their notes in time, and building overly-narrow differentials the day before. It would have been just like home, until we actually started rounding, which is exactly when I started understanding why the World Health Organization came up with guidelines for treating children in the developing world. The most common reasons for visiting the hospital and clinic here are infections, dehydration, and malnutrition due to lack reliable water access, functioning sanitation systems, and roads to transport goods.
This statement probably isn’t surprising to anybody in the Western World that doesn’t think twice when they turn on the light, open the faucet, or flush the toilet, but I wanted to mention all of this because it is two years in the lives of the Peace Corps volunteers stationed here, and an entire lifetime for the people that call Saraya home. I feel like my experience here has been so much more than just a public health project or a cultural exchange….with any luck, I will return to Senegal with the PeaceCare team next fall, and it won’t be a moment too soon. Go Skins, Go Caps, Go ‘Cats. Miss you all, Charles.