Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Africa Mercy - Poverty: One Nurse's Journey
Some reflections by Marilyn on poverty in Africa. Imagine being turned away from much needed surgery because your blood pressure or blood sugar readings are too high, and you can't afford the medicine to treat these conditions? Imagine sleeping on the street with your family after your home has been washed away in a flood? Her thoughts leave me with a "big gulp" inside when I think of all we have in the western world and take for granted. I'm thankful the Africa Mercy (and other volunteer groups like it) has brought hope and real help to those in need. .......Sharon
(This is a running email post written by a volunteer nurse serving on the Africa Mercy, a hospital ship that travels the African coast).
07 March 2015
Remember the young man I talked about last week? He was initially rejected for surgery because of uncontrolled diabetes, but he got it under control and took the initiative to come from Tana to try again for surgery. His first surgery went very well--his vision in that eye is almost perfect now. He was scheduled for the second eye a week later and given a place to stay in the Hope Center while he waited. He came on surgery day, but his blood sugar was 598. (Normal is 70-120. The machine won't even read above 600, it is so far out of range.) It turns out that he'd run out of insulin, and they had no money to buy more. I had to turn him away. It was hard to dash his hopes like that, but what choice did I have? The surgeon won't do the surgery with a blood sugar above 300, and for good reasons. It really isn't safe.
Back at the Hope Center, it turns out that they really didn't have the money to buy insulin. It wasn't just a matter of rearranging their priorities to buy insulin instead of something else--they didn't have any money for anything. We're not supposed to give money to our patients, but one of our crew slipped them some money, and they bought some insulin. We rescheduled him to try again for surgery the next day.
This time, his blood sugar was 154, and he got his second eye done. Hopefully, his supply of insulin will last at least long enough for the eye to heal properly. Hopefully, now that he can see again, he can get a job and continue to buy the insulin he needs in the years to come.
Even though I see the shacks where people live, even though I see people every day who haven't been able to afford the medical care that they have needed for years, I sometimes forget what it means to be poor in Africa. To think that the lack of one bottle of insulin could stand between you and a surgery that would restore your sight, and that you could not afford even that one bottle of insulin...I guess this young man's plight has reminded me of what desperate poverty looks like.
I wonder how many of the patients that we have turned away due to high blood pressure, with instructions to see their doctor and get on medication, are not returning because they couldn't afford the doctor or the medicine, not even for long enough to try again to qualify for surgery? I wonder how many of the patients who arrive on the day of surgery with high blood pressure because they didn't take their medication that morning actually failed to take it because they couldn't afford to refill their prescription between the time they qualified for surgery and their actual surgery date? Perhaps the high rate of noncompliance isn't a matter of language barrier or lack of understanding, but is plain old poverty making compliance impossible. I have counseled many people on the importance of continuing their medications for glaucoma, diabetes, or blood pressure for the rest of their lives. For how many of those people did my advice sound more like a death sentence, since they couldn't possibly afford to do that?
It has been raining a lot for the last week, flooding the streets and houses, both here and even more so in Tana. Another tropical storm is headed this way, threatening to increase the flooding, especially in Tana. Many people have already lost their homes or possessions. In Tana, our team saw many homeless families sleeping on the streets even before these rains came. I can only imagine the suffering of those cold, wet, hungry people now. I suppose that this happens every year during the rainy season--but that doesn't make it more bearable. I am thankful for my warm, dry bunk with the promise of breakfast tomorrow, and even the availability of a hot shower before bed tonight. I grieve for the people around me whose lives do not include such luxuries, and even lack the essentials of food, shelter, and medical care. It can be overwhelming to think about--how much more it must be to have to live in such poverty.
[Click here to learn more about the nurses and doctors on board the Africa Mercy.]