Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hospital Life, Clinic, and Weekend Adventures

Hello everyone back home!

It seems like it has been a while since we have given a really good thorough update about what has been going on for us here in Ghana. So we figure a long tro-tro ride back from our safari weekend would be a great time as any to brainstorm what has been going on for all of us.

To begin, this week we have all been working hard in the Tamale Teaching Hospital (TTH) on Numerous different floors. When we were first introduced to this hospital we were all amazed by the incredible improvements to the hospital facility. In the last year, they have added a large new building and renovated the majority of the hospital however there are still areas of the hospital that are in the old unrenovated areas.

Although the facility is much improved in its aesthetics there remain many challenges that I'm sure some of you have heard about:
- usually no running water
- numerous power outages
- lack of supplies or resources (sometimes even the most basic of resources)
- staffing challenges
- inability to provide care to some people due to a lack of finances to pay for care or supplies

We have all been working in different areas of the hospital:
- pediatrics, NICU, labour & delivery, surgical (trauma, neuro, septic, aseptic), ER, Gyne

Every area of the hospital has been challenging for students in numerous ways both emotionally, mentally, and sometimes physically. Many students have had a difficult time seeing some of the unfortunately advanced stages of preventable illness or disease, to struggle with the extensive loss of life on some floors, the lack of ability to provide care to the standards that all these people, children, and babies deserve. It has been an incredibly challenging last week of work for most. Many of us have expressed feeling "hopeless" at times because we don't see the normal return for all of our hard work with the patients we care for in Canada. In Canada, we see patients get better and go home, get washed, get fed, smile, laugh, get respected, cared for, and pass away in a dignified and hopefully comfortable way. Many times here in Ghana, we don't see that or we aren't able to provide that to our patients and so at the end of the night we go home and sometimes struggle at being able to settle down at the end of the day.

However, we often try and focus on the examples of perseverance, resourcefulness, bravery and positive contributions we made during our day. We thought we would share some examples with you:
- Hailley Gibbs holding and comforting a little baby as it passed away
- the NICU girls advocating for and ensuring that NICU babies were receiving their feedings ( Hailley, Bethy, Kym, Gabby, Caz, Bonnie)
- dealing with trauma patients from a large bus crash (Joanna, Madie, Gabby)
- Christy and Sam using a sterile glove as a makeshift catheter foley bag when there were none available
- Michelle running through the hospital to buy a patient having a severe asthma attack a Ventolin nebulizer - when the only Ventolin available spilled all over the floor.
- Kym realigning a motorcycle crash victims broken bones
- Stef and Beth providing comfort and care for child burn victims.
- Stef and Kym resuscitating a 6 month old child after he seized for an hour from typhoid and high fevers
- Joanna, Bonnie, and Emery each caught babies for moms on labour and delivery
- Kym, Bonnie, Caz resuscitated a baby post delivery in labour and delivery.
- Sam and Christy receiving and comforting a child with 3 venomous snake bites when no one was there. Sam continued the care and support for the child and family into the next day until the child passed away.
- Labour and delivery girls advocating and ensuring that moms were able to breast feed their babies ASAP after delivery and that they continued to receive their babies to feed throughout the shift (Christy, Stef, Kym, Madie, Bonnie, Emery, and Caz)
- Madie doing a thorough assessment on a comatose women and discovering that she was pregnant as a result. She then persevered past her emotions over the women's poor condition and prognosis and made sure to provide exceptionally compassionate care to the woman.
- Sam being peed on by children everyday (sometimes multiple times) and taking it like a boss. "meh, it will dry."
- advocating for surgical dressings, using impeccable sterile technique and smuggling much needed dressing supplies from our stash at home to provide dressings to patients that couldn't afford them (Christy, Emery, Beth, Stef, Joanna)
- recognizing, assessing, and initiating resuscitations on NICU babies that would have gone unnoticed (Hailley - all 3, gabby - for 1, Beth - for 1, Caz - for 1)
- Gabby continuing on with a graceful air and "extra pleasant" smile when an ER nurse spilled 900 mLs of gastrointestinal blood from a patient on her shoes.... Her shoes are cleaner then ever now because the nurse scrubbed them VERY clean. LOL!!!!
- Madie and Christy running up 5 flights of stairs to find a Foley catheter for a patient with a Head injury.
- Caz, Michelle, and Kym restraining and soothing a 5-year-old boy who was receiving a suprapubic catheter inserted without pain medication. His dad was very thankful to these girls for providing care to his son during such a difficult time.
- Christy DEMANDING a head CT scan for a 2 year old with exposed skull, exposed brain matter and leaking CSF fluid so that the child would be able to have brain surgery. (The child wasn't going to receive one and thus wouldn't have received surgery.)
- Kym, Bonnie, and Christy managing and caring for a woman with a severe post-partumhemorrhage
-  Sam being pulled into a pediatric emerg assessment room to assess an 8 year old patient in respiratory distress. Then demanding certain medication orders from the doctor and initiating and setting up for a code with Muriel and Madie. They all used their engineer and mechanic brains (they didn't know they had them) by taping together the broken suction equipment so it worked.
- Sam assessing and managing children with extreme fevers when there was no medication available. Holding naked babies in the air under the ceiling fan and wiping them down with cool water until their temps came down.

Everyone of us has been doing very thorough assessments for our patients, advocating for them whenever we can and doing our best to provide patients at least some form of care. We have taken opportunities to take the Ghanaian nursing students under our wing to teach them how to nurse responsibly.

Though it has been very hard and frustrating clinically we have met some hidden shining star nurses that provide excellent care with even the most unbelievable odds against them.

This week on Thursday and Friday, Hailley, Caz, Sam, Beth and Michelle went on an adventure of their own:
       On Thursday morning, we went to Dr. AbdulIai's clinic. He provided us all with a much needed lift in our spirits. He is a doctor that provides surgical services to patients for free. His clinic is run by monetary9 and supply donations. It was so inspiring to meet a man that carries the same core values of caring for others that is the norm in Canadian healthcare. He inspired us and made our eyes well up with happy tears. If anyone is looking for an amazing cause to donate money to - this man is THE REAL DEAL! We were able to give the 3 suitcases of medical supplies to him and his gratefulness was radiating from every pore in his body.
       Thursday afternoon, we went off to Changshegu village to spend the night. We started the afternoon by heading out to the building site of the Changshegu clinic that Sam Waller, Caitlin Robertson, and Sarah Duddle headed off the fundraising for this year. Construction has been happening swiftly since we arrived in Tamale thanks to the watchful eye of Wade. The foundation was completely poured and the walls are going up quickly. Sam found the experience to be very surreal, emotional and exciting to be standing in the middle of the clinic that she, Caitlin and Sarah had worked so hard for and thought about for such a long time. This clinic is a huge huge gift to this community and it's amazing people. They have expressed unbelievable gratitude for what the people in Canada are doing for them. So for all of you that have fund raised or donated to this clinic project, you are absolute life saving angels.
       Thursday evening we gave out gifts (books and toothbrushes) to the orphans in Changshegu, we played games, sang songs and cuddled some kids that needed some loving. Sam has now got a cult of children that chant her name like a song over and over "S- A-M SAM, S-A-M SAM". We stayed in the chiefs compound with him and his family, where we were served the Ghanaian dish of Bangku.... Not our most favorite dish (it's more of a swallow and don't chew ... Kind of thing) but we went to bed with full bellies to have a goodnight sleep (or so we thought).
       Changshegu has no electricity, no running water and no bathrooms so before bed we ran off into the forest equipped with our toilet paper from home. We thought we were well hidden - Sam, Hailley, and Michelle all squatting to pee in a row (what a bonding experience). When a Ghanaian man walked passed us all, looked at us, and said "good evening".... Oh JOY!
        We settled into bed in our little turquoise mudhut which quickly turned into a long sleepless night in a house that felt like a sauna set to the highest setting! We have never sweat so much in our entire lives. We were drenched head to toe. To add to it, we ran out of water and had to ration ourselves.
        At 4 am it was time for the "call to prayer" (aka the soundtrack to our lives in Ghana) it tells all the Muslim people that it is time to pray. We normally hear it echo out of speakers around town but in a rural village with no electricity it was up to a man to stand in the centre of the town and sing as loud as he could. Off in the distance we could also hear someone else singing for another village. It was so beautiful!
        In the morning we came home to our luxurious showers with no curtain and ceiling fans. We were reunited with our beloved Ghana family of nursing students.

Friday night we had a celebration!! Megan is a nurse that accompanied us to Ghana and she was a student on this trip last year. She is getting married to Sinbad while we are here so we threw a bachelorette party for her complete with dessert, games, lots of laughs and love.

Saturday, we headed off on our Safari weekend at Mole National Park!!!! We travelled 3 hours in a tro-tro and ended up covered in red African dust. Our skin ended up 5 shades darker then it had been when we started thanks to our nice coating. We all showered off - or used our toilet flushing buckets to wash ourselves because our water didn't work. We jumped in the pool (yahoo a pool!!!) tanned in the sun and looked out over the delightful views. We went on a jeep safari where we all sat on seats on the roof and we were driven around for 2 hours to check out the animals and sights of rural Africa. We saw antelope, warthogs, baboons, birds and flowers... But no elephants. We sang, laughed, relaxed and enjoyed our nice carefree relaxation time.

Today (Sunday), we started off the morning bright and early with a 2 hour walking safari. We walked along a little bit groggy and all of a sudden we saw what we all had been waiting for.... AN ELEPHANT!!! Our only rule was that we had to stay 50 feet away from it but we enjoyed watching it and taking photos. On the rest of our tour we saw antelope, crocodiles, warthogs, and another elephant. We had such a great time. When we came back to the hotel in the park we all headed for the pool and suntanning spots. Hailley and Sam added a new credential to their repertoire, as "firefighters", when a women came out screaming there was a fire in her room. They ran into her room and used the toilet buckets of water to put out the fire consuming her large air conditioning unit. We all enjoyed a swim and some tanning and then it was time to go back to our Tamale home.

We have just returned home to the catholic guest house and we were welcomed by some of our favorite staff members Don, vice and Lydia who ran out to our car to meet us. They hugged us all and told us they missed us while we were gone. It was just like our families were welcoming us home. What amazing people we are meeting here.

This week we are looking forward to:
- a change of clinical scenery
- cuddling some babies
- catching babies
- running triage
- working in mental health
- staying overnight in the village
- spending time together

This blogposts shoutout goes to all of our families and friends that have had to listen to our frustrations and sometimes sad phone calls this week and providing us with the encouragement to keep moving forward.

Also, shoutout to ourselves for making it through a tough week and continuing to laugh and support each other through each moment. TEAMWORK!

Until next time. We miss you and love you all!!
Ghana Gals 2014


  1. Love the long and detailed post gals. It sounds like very challenging work but you are up to the task. Joanna, this is auntie Jaynee. I'm thinking of you and praying.. Elijah had his appendix burst on thurs/fri last week and had an emergency appendectomy. He will be in hospital for 5-7 days on antibiotics to deal with periodontitis (i think that's what it's called.). I read some of this post out to him and we were imagining that he could very well have died if he were in Ghana. So thankful for our Heath care system. Good Luck on another week of helping and changing lives for the better.

  2. You Ghana girls are amazing. Sounds like you are experiencing so much. Thank you so much for sharing all that is happening to you over in Africa. So happy to hear the the clinic has already come so far. That is crazy!!! For those gals that are going to Kaleo, say hello so Sister Edith for me, also look behind the Peace Flag in the dining room... There may or may not be something there for you :) Take care everyone!!!!
    Kristen Kuchma

  3. Good evening Ghana Team,

    The overwhelming nature of some of the experiences you are having comes across through your stories, and I am glad you are working to process your feelings with each other and through the reflection that writing them down can bring. The situations you are encountering remind you constantly that you are not in Canada - but they also show you what the Ghanain people are made of who are coping with this reality every day. I think, for instance, of Dr. Abdulla whose cahritable medical practice far exceeds any norms ikn our Canadian health care system, or of the community that is building their clinic with Wade and with your help. It seems to me that their wings have the largest wingspread of all - and everyone around them benefits, including our UBCO team who has the privilege to work with them.

    Take care of each other and keep writing - we are readig your words, thinking about you all, and eager to hear how your hearts and minds continue to evolve in your new world.

    Tricia Marck, Director

  4. Ladies,

    This was an amazing post! And I'm so proud of you all. I know how it feels to be there and to be paralysed in the midst of wanting to do things. It sounds like you're doing an amazing job of rising to the occasions.

    What a great mix of joy and sorrow. I was imagining Mole as your were describing it but also thinking of TTH and the crazy highs and lows in that building.

    Thinking of you guys a lot and praying you're all doing good. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us <3