October 29, 2012
Having finished my hospital work last Friday, I have this week free to do other types of medical volunteer work.
And today I played doctor for kids.
The location was at Country Side Orphanage, no doubt the best orphanage I have been to in Ghana. It is located on a 28-acre property, bordered by lush virgin forests and run by well-hearted individuals (Mama Emma and Uncle Joe, and another Uncle Anes) for whom I have high respect and admiration. It has dormitories (clean, non-cramped), classrooms, kitchen, wash area, library (well-stocked, quiet, conducive to learning) and best of all—a health center with a good stock of essential medicines and equipment as well as 3 big beds where sick kids can take their respite. This alone beats the HIV (non)unit at Ga-South Hospital where I worked. My next favorite place was the animal farm where all profit goes to the orphanage. It had a poultry, a piggery, a goatery (? Haha, I don’t know how you call it), peacockery (?) and a tilapia pond. Though I’m not a fan of four-legged animals, I must admit that I found everything charming. Including the pigs. I enjoyed observing the different animal behaviors: how the peacocks ‘gackak’ the moment you direct sound to them (almost like mirroring); how the lambs just herd together—walking in one direction, turning their heads at the same time and gazing at the same aim; and how the pigs just act like pigs—smelly and pink, gross and fat. Oh the piglets were so cute with their curly tails!
|Look at them gaze in one direction|
|The tilapia pond|
After touring the facility, Uncle Anes helped me settle down in the community gazebo. This was where I was going to play doctor to toddlers. It was adorable how they were lined up so neatly on the benches. None of them with a mom. Aww, I thought, my little patients!
|Look how good my little patients are seated|
|My mini patients waiting for their turn|
|With all the shrieking, I had to close my eyes to shut out the noise|
I was going to see only the toddlers, but the next thing I knew older children started lining up too. I don’t know how many I actually saw, because at some point my scriber left. It was at least 40. 40 in 2.5 hours. See how much a doctor can do without the burden of documentation? It was awesome.
I was expecting to see a lot of skin infections, scabies and maybe even lice. I only saw 2 serious tinea capitis (fungal infection on the head) cases, 1 contact dermatitis and maybe 5 or 6 hyperkeratoses of the extensors. I listened closely to the ones who were having runny nose and were coughing, making sure they didn’t have some crackly sound in their lungs to suggest something more serious. Clear lungs all.
I mean sure they had big bellies and were generally small for their age — an effect of micronutrient deficiencies and playing chronic hosts to parasites—but they were pretty healthy. Even their teeth were white and surprisingly free of caries. I thought they had better teeth than the kids I have seen in the States. I think it is because Ghanaians do not have a sweet tooth. Meaning, they drink less soda and eat less candies.
As I would examine their genitals, those who were either waiting for their turns or had their turns already would mill around and above me, hoping to get a glimpse of their friends’ privates and then giggling and shrieking endlessly when they did. I don’t remember as a child getting at all excited about seeing my playmates’ things. I think maybe bathing with my brother (which I did until both of us started to be aware of our differences) was enough to desensitize me to the mystery of the pototoy. And then of course I had my own, which enough said, bored me already. But I guess it can be funny watching your playmates and friends look uncomfortably self-conscious. Until it is your turn and then it isn’t funny anymore. When the older boys started to take their turns, they asked me to tell the girls to go. Of course, the girls stayed. I would have stayed too, especially if those same boys stayed and watched for my turn. But this is coming from someone who as a child raced on foot and bikes with boys, climbed trees with them and who often came home with fresh wounds. As a young child I would not be outdone.
Tomorrow I will again go to the orphanage and see more children. I am excited. Truly, I am Med-Peds through and through!
I love my work. I really do. And I adore the spontaneity and innocence of children— and the runny noses, boogers, shrieks, clinginess and dirt that come along with them.