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Uganda 2019 – The Hippo Room

Uganda 2019 – The Hippo Room

What if society could be like the hippo room? Why can’t it be?

The elderly men had been getting to know each other for several days as they waited to be screened for surgery. Some were from other districts, others from down the road. Late Sunday afternoon they were lined up on wooden benches, all holding a small blue card and their medical record. We filled out the forms, the one from Lacor ominously asking for next of kin rather than an emergency contact. And when their surgery day arrived they again sat together on a bench, talking and patiently waiting. A kind of patience that is startling to me. 

They dutifully colored as they waited in the pre-op chair. Would you like to color another one a nurse asked. The man shook his cramped right hand and asked if he could wait a bit. And when the men recovered in PACU they joked and thanked and smiled and posed for pictures in their new hats.

And when they were lifted back over the walls and were wheeled in to join the others in the hippo room the bonds strengthened more. Some spoke English that was easy to understand. Others didn’t. Some had an attentive attendant and others didn’t. But they created community. They watched each other, talked, compared notes. They knew the color of each other’s urine. Whether someone was leaking around their catheter. Who still had an iv. They knew who didn’t have anyone to bring them food. 

When they graduated to the veranda they placed their mats near each other. Their catheter tubing was visible under their gowns as the floor nurses checked on them throughout the day. 

And when it was time for their catheters to come out they compared urine hue, carrying around water bottles with the tops cut off, duct tape smoothing the sharp edges. When they saw me or a nurse they brought the bottles over for inspection, all lined up. Waiting. 

Each man had his own personality. His own needs. Some talked constantly. Some had more anxiety or needed more attention. There was a lot going on in a small space. But it worked. Those who had extra shared it. Those who were in need asked for help. 

And there was plenty for everyone. 

What if we were all like this? What if we watched out for each other while receiving enough for ourselves. What if we talked and learned about each other rather than competed and excluded. Lifted up rather than tore down. Men from different villages, languages, and socioeconomic levels had a common goal. To return home healthy and whole. And strong. 

It was a magical week and the men, families and nurses in the hippo room showed how beautiful a community can be.