Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Baby Per Day

Mthabiseng (Right) &

The maternity ward has always been in high demand here at St. James. With out a doubt, it is the most used service that St. James provides to the Mantsonyane community. The current maternity ward opened in 1982. It has space for 10 mothers including a labor room, nursery, antenatal care, and care for c-section patients. The maternity ward is run by two of St. James' staff nurses, Mthabiseng and ‘Mamokhalemele.

Expecting mothers show up to St. James sometimes months before their delivery date. They are housed at the expecting mothers lodge while they wait for the arrival of their child. The lodge is always busy. On average, 40-45 babies are delivered every month in the maternity ward. That means at least 1 baby is born everyday at St. James! That’s not counting the babies that are born at the 6 other health posts run by St. James. I can only imagine how many babies the St. James staff has delivered in the past 50 years! It’s got to be a staggering number.

Expecting Mothers Lodge

St. James' only incubator
St. James got its first incubator in 1986. This may seem pretty late, but up until that point St. James was not connected to a reliable power supply. Today, the maternity ward only has one incubator. The two babies in the photo were born premature back in late May. They’ve spent the first month of their lives in the incubator, but I’m happy to say that they are doing well and will be able to go home soon! Luckily, no other child has needed the incubator while these two have been in there. With only one incubator, the maternity staff often has to make very difficult decisions about which babies need the incubator the most.

About 15% of births are C-section deliveries. There were 2 C-section deliveries this week. The woman in the photo had her baby earlier this week. She’s doing well! The child doesn’t have a name yet. Traditionally, children aren’t named until they return to their village. The second C-section happened yesterday. Dr. Mack, one of our new doctors from The Congo, performed the surgery. He invited me into the operating theater to photograph the procedure, but I respectively declined.

Mthabiseng with the new baby!

Dr. Mack in the Operating Theater

Time sure is going quick! I only have 7 weeks left here in Lesotho, and there is so much to do in that short amount of time. The website will be finished by the end of the month, and then next month will be very busy. HOPE Africa will be making a visit, and I’m pleased to say that Holly Milburn, the YASCer in Cape Town, will be joining them. Then after that, I’ll head down to Maseru for a week to work a bit with the Diocesan Offices. After all that, it will nearly be time to head home! My mind isn’t processing that yet. Sala Hantle!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mercy Flights

As I’ve said in countless other blog posts, with the remoteness of the Maluti (name of the Lesotho mountain range) mountains, travel to St. James or other hospitals is often very difficult for many Basotho. So imagine that you live in a village that is hours away from the nearest hospital and you are having a medical emergency. If you don’t make it to the hospital very soon, you will most likely not survive. Travel by regular modes of transportation (car, foot, or horseback) will take too long. What are you going to do? It’s a scary thought, but it’s a reality that many Basotho face everyday.

Unloading a patient
Fortunately, there is another option. An airlift! Mercy flights in Lesotho are provided by the Mission Aviation Fellowship. MAF is an international non-profit missionary group, with it’s Lesotho branch based in Maseru. This group provides medical airlifts to critically ill patients in remote locations and also brings the flying doctor program to isolated regions of the country. With the small size of Lesotho, a plane is able to get pretty much anywhere in about an hour. While this is still not as fast as calling an ambulance in a big city, it’s infinitely faster than the other available options.

The St. James’ airstrip was built back in the late 1960’s. While it is far from a “smooth surface,” it’s practically a paved runway compared to landing strips in some of the more remote areas of Lesotho. The flying doctor service has played a huge part in St. James’ history. There were several times during the past 50 years when St. James did not have a resident doctor for a long period. To give one example, St. James was without a doctor for nearly two years, from March of 1971 to January of 1973.  During this time, St. James was visited by flying doctors, who were brought in by MAF. But these visits only happened on occasion, and most medical care was provided by St. James' staff nurses. The hospital’s matron (head nurse) even performed a surgery via instructions from a doctor in Maseru on a short wave radio! While that’s an extreme example of the ingenuity of the healthcare system here, most remote medical centers that rely on the flying doctor service still operate the same way today.

I might have been standing too close...

Yep, definitely too close. (Do I regret it? Absolutely not)

While working on creating a history of St. James, I came across a very cool aerial photo of the hospital complex from the late 1960’s (roughly the same time the airstrip was finished). I was determined to recreate this photo to show St. James after 50 years. So one day when I heard the plane buzzing the hospital, which the pilots do to alert the staff to make sure there’s not stray cattle on the airstrip, I ran outside with my camera to speak with the pilot. I explained that I wanted to recreate this old photo of the hospital and that I wanted him to take me up in the plane to do so. I of course did this as smoothly as possible, concealing an inner giddiness not unlike that of a 5-year-old boy who has just seen a fire truck speed by. The pilot entertained my idea out of politeness before shutting it down for the half-baked idea that it was. Needless to say, my inner child was crushed. But the pilot was kind enough to take the photo for me! A few days later, I got an email with some very cool aerial photos of the hospital today. The hospital really has grown a lot in the past 50 years!

Click for a full screen version

Thanks to all the folks over at MAF who work very hard to save the lives of countless Basotho. If you are interested, their website gives some statistics on how many flights they make a year. Even though the American healthcare system seems dysfunctional at times, don’t take for granted the blessing of having emergency medical care minutes away, no mater where you are. That blessing seems like something that we could not do without, but people do indeed go without it everyday. 

On another note, I've finished my fundraising for Rome! Thank you so much to everyone who donated and made my YASC experience possible. There are other YASCers preparing to head out next year that have not met their fundraising goal yet. So if you didn't get a chance to donate toward my year, you can certainly donate towards theirs. Sala hantle!