Friday, October 17, 2008

Cos Julia's Been Working for the ??? Squad

No day is the same, I realize as I sit here listening to various staff members argue over where the WAFF car disappeared to, as workers tear down and build up walls for our new storage room, as children dropped off by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) at Bo Govt Hospital for treatment cry and cry and cry right outside. I do a lot of policy/program writing--job descriptions, work contracts, web site text, meeting minutes--because I have, as was once better said in Black Hawk Down, a mysterious illness known as the ability to type. You can probably tell from here that I don't have any other computer skills than that, but I'll be teaching the nurses how to scan patient charts and save them as a pdf, I give occasional pointers on shortcuts on Excel (my least favorite program ever), and I type, type, type away. Now that we've finished surgeries, things have settled down. I went on rounds with our Medical Director yesterday. Most of our post-op women (we did 16 surgeries, mostly for VVF and RVF) are doing wonderfully. I sat in on several of their surgeries, and when the staff was shorthanded, I opened up packets for the sterile nurse, moved stools around, and tried to stay out of the way. Today, I'll meet with the First and Second Ladies of Sierra Leone, as well as the Minister of Health, and we'll tour our new ward. I've been helping ready the ward for the last two days, organizing supplies and setting up curtains, which were dyed by the women during skills training classes into the colors of the SL flag--green, white and blue.

Essentially, I do anything that needs to be done, from my aforementioned ultrasound adventure to designing beds that will be built for our volunteer house. I go with our skills trainer to the market to help select materials and just sit with the women, letting them braid my hair (not so painful as I thought) and watching the cheesiest Nigerian soap operas--either about very evil rich women being mean to poorer ones (the rich male protagonist is always very sympathetic) or "village stories" that have a lot of demons in them. It occurred to me that The OC and Gossip Girl would go over very well with our patients, so I'm going to try to get a couple seasons brought over.

Other things: I sat with a woman as we explained that she had terminal cervical cancer. I held a flashlight as we connected a generator. I acted as the guinea pig for various volunteer needs, including registering at the US Embassy (the Embassy requires its own post down the road...), getting my passport issues settled, and eventually, hiring and training a cook for the volunteer house.

I find it's easiest to assume that I will have no idea what's going on from day to day or even hour to hour. Situations change very quickly here, and plans must be flexible. I try to get a series of things done every day but know that it won't all happen--I chip away at things. Pretty much everything will go wrong at the same time--the generator breaks, the leak in the wall gets much worse, cell phone service drops, all the computers go kaput simultaneously, and then someone has to leave for a family emergency.

I try to put out fires without having any idea how to turn on a fire hose. That's my job in a nutshell. And I love it--I love every frustrating, inefficient second of it. Because every day I feel that I did at least one thing that was good or helpful or that took care of one problem, no matter how small. It makes me realize that nothing feels more natural in the world to me than being sweaty, dirty, and most likely frustrated, as I watch a generator get lifted into our house by a dilapidated crane or as I stand watching a surgery or as I write one more page describing the role the caterer plays in our program. Everything takes five steps when it could take one, but it's perfect.

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