The country of Uganda is situated in the central southeast portion of Africa. It is partially bordered by Lake Victoria in the south and the South Sudan to the north. Uganda is known as the “Pearl of Africa” for its beauty. There are lush green fields, jungles, swamps and palm trees. And yes, there are palm trees everywhere.
Most Ugandans live in huts constructed of bricks with thatch roofs, constructed completely by the people who live in them. They make bricks by hand and dry them over outdoor kilns. The thatch is cut, dried, sorted and stacked. Once all the supplies are gathered, it takes about a week to construct the hut. These beautiful, simple structures are surprisingly comfortable and well-ventilated. Families spend most of their lives together in a cluster of huts; it is their neighborhood. They gather, eat together, help each other and socialize every day here.
Uganda has a troubled history of a horrific civil war. Bands of warlords roamed Northern Uganda and committed atrocities on the decent people who lived there. You are hard pressed to find someone not affected by the civil war and genocide that occurred here. St. Mary’s Lacor Hospital became a nightly refuge during the war. It was not uncommon to have thousands of people sleeping on the grounds inside the walls of the hospital because it was walled off and guarded by government soldiers.
Resilient is the best adjective to describe the people we serve. Most of them live a meager life with few possessions. They are patient with everything. The lines outside the departments — such as the lab or radiology — are sometimes 75 to 100 people deep. They sit or stand in the bright sunlight and sometimes manage to find shade in the courtyard under the giant bougainvillea trees, clutching their medical papers tightly. Some are well, but most are suffering from conditions that require medical intervention.
Malaria is rampant in this portion of Uganda. The government sprays pesticides to control the mosquito populations, but the insects are still winning the battle. Our team takes Malarone and we use lots of bug spray to keep from becoming infected. It is not uncommon to see patients with fevers as high as 107 due to malaria.
The patients have all types of maladies ranging from infections to trauma. It seems everyone is dehydrated because water is not always readily available. Most people don’t have wells in their villages. They walk miles every morning with their jugs and jerry cans to gather the water they need for the day.
No one complains about the waiting or the heat. It is just accepted as part of life. There are no threats to complain or call for a supervisor as is common in the US. The patience level is incredible. There are only whispers of some quiet conversation in the courtyard. The line seems to never move, but by the end of the day, the people are seen and treated. Then the doors are locked until tomorrow.
The people we serve are calm as they have their IVs started and their vital signs recorded. They wait to be called back for their time with the PACU nurses. They wait for the surgeons to alleviate their pain and improve their quality of life. After a successful surgery, they are wheeled into the recovery area where they are attended to by our nurses and the Ugandan staff. Finally, they wait to be discharged or transferred to a bed in the hospital where they receive further treatment.
We learn much about patience on this mission. Life moves at a slower pace. Plans don’t always go according to plan. We are in Uganda and cultural differences abound. We learn to appreciate the pace and the patience of the Ugandans we are here to serve.