Pure Heart

22 06 2012

By Kelly Andrejko

There was a crisis in the cardiac service where I was shadowing this past Wednesday. No- it wasn’t a medical crisis per say- but rather their blood pressure cuff had developed a hole in the pump. As one might expect in a public hospital in Africa, aside from an EKG machine, the cuff was the only diagnostic tool the service had to use. Without the cuff, the doctor was rendered practically useless. Even more unfortunate was the fact that the cardiac clinic is only opened once a week- on Wednesday’s- so therefore dozens of patients had started lining up outside well before 7AM. It has become apparent that poor cardiac health is an incredibly prevalent problem here in Lome, primarily due to poor nutrition.

After close to forty five minutes of medical personnel scrambling around the hospital trying to find a spare cuff, one finally appeared from goodness knows where. Then the second problem arose- the clinic was now way behind schedule, and at 9AM, it seemed improbable they would be able to see everyone who had been waiting for hours before the two hour lunch break at noon. In desperation, the medical assistant handed all of the pre-checkup paper work to me and another medical student also doing an internship and told us to get to work.

Thus began two of the busiest hours I’ve spent in the hospital so far. I would take the patient’s height and weight, and the medical student used the precious cuff to measure blood pressure, and then pulse, quickly spewing out numbers in French for me to complete their chart with. Every once in a while we would encounter a new patient, and would have to spend additional time taking down basic patient history. This proved to be a slightly challenging task as neither I nor the medical student, who happened to be from Nigeria, spoke the local language. It wasn’t uncommon for there to be two patients in the room at once, as well as one knocking on the door, asking if it was their turn yet. It took some supreme confidence in my French skills and nerves of steel to make it through the morning. The whole time I couldn’t help but worry a little about the fact that I was the one responsible for filling out all of the stats for the day- what if I accidently wrote down 77 beats per minute instead of 97? But at the end of the morning, it appeared as if I hadn’t made any major mistakes (not counting the two charts I wrote the month as ‘july’ instead of ‘june’, resulting in giggles from the cardiologist’s room ten minutes later) and the doctor was very appreciative for my help, asking if I would return the next Wednesday.

Almost every day at the hospital, I am asked why I would want to leave America- “where the hospitals have everything”- to come shadow in Togo. My standard answer has become that I want to experience healthcare in a different context. I think you would be hard pressed to find a cardiology clinic in North Carolina without functioning blood pressure cuff.  In that vein, Wednesday morning was the perfect experience for me. I got to see how the doctors work to make the clinic happen, no matter what the circumstances. I was also given a firsthand view of the incredible patience of the patients. One of the questions I ask in my interviews is if the wait time required influences one’s decision to go to the hospital- in this case, it was as long as four hours for just a check-up- and the answer is virtually always no. All in all, although I was mentally worn out by lunch time, I concluded it was a morning well worth the effort.




One response

22 06 2012

Kelly – what a great experience for you to have, and what a powerful story for us back home to better understand what it’s like where you are working. Looking forward to hearing more! Alyssa

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