It took me 24 hours to reach Tamale. Feeling a little bit feverish, but I still got through the Ebola checkpoints and finally I am in Africa. I am a little bit overwhelmed by the heat in the North. Immediately I notice the uncommenness of a white skin. Feeling a little bit awkard, I start looking for my luggage and walk to the exit of the small building, functioning as airport. Outside I see my colleague, who has been working in Ghana for the past 6 weeks. I introduce myself and get in the car which is going to take us to Damongo. ‘It is about a two hour drive’ my colleague informs me while we are riding through Tamale. I can see the busy streets, colourful costumes, street vendors and motorbikes. Almost all luggage is carried on the head, water, clothes, melons, even GSM’s. We are riding past small typical African villages, just as on the postcards. This is why I realize, I am really in Africa.
My first day in the hospital was nerve-racking. The night before, Sam took me to a local cafë to have a drink with the local doctors. There we decided that it was best for me to start on the children’s ward. As I expected to be mostly watching on my first day, I walked behind Dr. Abesig to the childrens ward. I introduced myself to the staff around and took a seat at the table. Before I realised it, Dr. Abesig gave me 25 patient files. ‘These are your patients this morning’ and started talking to the woman with child across the table. The problem based learning style of Maastricht University was hard to find. Inevitably this was a learning-by-doing process.
Very early on I had a lot of responsibility. You decide your own working pace, you make your own diagnoses and decide how to treat the patients on my own. In the beginning this was very stressfull. Diagnosing in the morining, studying the diseases in the afternoon and when needed/possible changing diagnosis and treatment plans. This is how my first 4 weeks looked like.
During my time at the West Gonja Hospital I learned to work independent. I had my own ward and I had to solve all the problems mostly on my own. In the mean time I am already 4 weeks onwards and ready to start on the female ward. Three weeks ago something happend, something terrifying, namely one of my patients died. During the morning round I noticed this woman getting worse, During the night I received a phonecall from the female ward. The woman was dead I had to come to the ward. Outside, the family of the woman was crying. When I came inside, the nurse told me ‘You have to declare her dead’. I am upset, how am I supposed to declare her dead? I walk to the bed, thinking about what I am supposed to do. I shined a light into her eyes, no reflex, her pupil did not change. I took my stethoscope and listend to her heart, not a sound. After listening to thousands of beating hearts, looking for strange sounds or rhytms, this was the first time I heard nothing. This lugubrious, miserable feeling, I will never forget. I write down the cause of death and time and go home. I layed in my bed, but I could not sleep. ‘I will never forget the first time I….’ A sentence well known amongst students and doctors.
However, there is life outside the hospital (not really that exciting, but still.. ). One morning two white young ladies walked in my ward. In introduce myself in Englis, but she spoke dutch to me. Telling that she had heard that white doctors worked in this hospital. They volunteered at an orphanages in damongo and did not fully trust the Ghanaian health care system. After a medical investigation I gave them some medication and aksed them to return within 2 weeks. However, after 4 days I received a phone call in the middle of the night thelling that one of the ladies had a very painful red swollen spot on her bottom. I told her to come to the hospital, When I looked at her buttock, I thought I noticed a big pimple, however, the white head in the middle was moving. I asked the ladies to come back in the morning to remove the larva with local anesthetics. Feeling excited I went to sleep, dreaming about the larva, later called ‘Gustje’. However, Gustje had decided in the middle of the night to sneak out of the bottom of the lady. Magnificent!
My time in Ghana and Damongo is an experience I will never forget. I will remember the impressions and experiences forever. When you are looking fora n adventure in another culture, this might be the right internship for you. Do not doubt, dus do. I promise you will not have any regrets.
Also I would like to thank the people of MUSTANGH Foundation to make this experience happen.
Read more: Sam Heuts: GEZP