Monday, April 26, 2010

Thoughts about my trip...

It is a long trip, and seems to get longer as I get older. It takes me at least a week to “re-adjust” to the time zone so that I sleep at the right times. Still all of the flights went very well and my luggage arrived at the same time as I did, both going and returning.
  • It was really good to see so many of our friends: in Harare, at St. Theresa’s, at Driefontein Mission, in Masvingo, and in Gweru.
  • Zimbabwe continues to “look normal” even though there are many bad things happening throughout the country. Fortunately, none of those things are happening in the areas where I was visiting.
  • All of the stores have quite a good supply of goods to sell, although at a premium price about 10 to 30% above what we would pay in the U.S. Every place now accepts either US dollars or South African Rand, BUT the money is SO terribly dirty. It is amazing to see dollar bills on which you can barely read the denomination or see the picture. This is especially true of the lower denomination bills.
  • I did take care of one of the wards for a few weeks, and even did three C-sections and a couple of other small surgical procedures. It was good to be doing some clinical medicine again.
  • All of the people working at St. Theresa’s are doing a tremendously good job. It was so rewarding to see everything running so well. The two young Zimbabwe doctors are doing a great job, as are all of the nurses, administration people, and of course, the Dominican Sisters – in fact, ALL of the staff continue to do exemplary work under very difficult conditions and with very low pay. Even though I did some clinical work, they could have gotten by without me doing that. It does mean that in the future, I can go for just two to three weeks and accomplish all that needs to be done.
  • The hospital census is averaging about 50 to 60 people per day. That is such a difference from when we first went back to Zimbabwe in 2001, when the average census was over 120 per day, and some days as high as 145 patients. The difference is due to the very large number of people now on Anti-Retroviral drugs for AIDS. More than 1300 people are returning every one to two months to get their drugs, and are completely well! This means that none of those people are being readmitted every month or so for opportunistic infections. Of all that was accomplished while we were there, this is the most significant. It means that these people can live healthy, productive lives and can continue to take care of their children. Of course, some 70 of these patients ARE children, and we are hopeful that the medicines will prove to be lifesaving for them for many, many years to come, and that at some time in the future, there will be a treatment that will truly cure AIDS.
  • I made some home-visits with Sr. Andrea, specifically visiting some people that have been on ARV treatment. Here is a man with quite a story, which he was happy to relate to us: Two years ago, he was totally bed-ridden, and unable to get out of bed at all without help. He was started on ARVs, and for one year, he still needed help. He showed us a wheelbarrow which his family put him in to get him to the pit toilet, or to just let him sit outside on a blanket. After a year, he started to slowly improved, and now he is able to walk with the aid of a stick; is able to work in his garden, and has such a smile! Click on the image to view a video clip of this man; he specifically gave me permission to use it “as I wanted to.”
  • Another place we visited was where a grandmother was looking after three of her grandchildren. Both of the parents had died of AIDS, and one of these children had recently been started on treatment. Even though people are so very, very poor, they still have such nice smiles, and have such good attitudes. We can indeed learn from these very poor.
  • I left Zimbabwe with a sense of hope; hope that the leaders of the country will be able to find a way to have true democracy so that they will listen to the needs of the people, and will bring peace and prosperity to these very peaceful village people.