Sunday, November 23, 2014

Meanderings and Musings on a Series of Recent Events

Recently so many blog-worthy events occurred that I became nearly overwhelmed with what to write about.  Combine that with an unexpected health issue which required us to leave for the U.S. within 3 weeks, and I was feeling overwhelmed.  But once again, so much can be "said" through pictures and so I thought that I would share some of my latest pictures from October and show you the wide range of life experience here in our country...

Every October, the Niamey Universal Tournament of Softball (NUTS) takes place...and this year both Gary and our son, Joe played on different teams...  It goes on all weekend, and it's such a great time for good-spirited games and lots of visiting among the spectators.

One weekend I needed to fly to our mission hospital, Galmi, way out east.  I was struck by the vastness of this country and the remote little villages.  I couldn't help but wonder if those villagers have ever heard the good news of Jesus!  I prayed over alot of villages on that flight 

On the return flight, Joe was my pilot and I was one proud mom!   

 Finally after weeks of strikes at the National hospital, Baby Esther (Esita) got her shunt put in and did very well.  Her father, Pastor Bori, allowed big sister, Hamu, to come in to the city with him to see her mom and sisters.  Hamu had never left her remote village so it was so fun to watch her expressions as she saw so many new things, especially the Niger River and the big city!

One of our last weekends in Makalondi, Joe and Amy and the children, Claire, Benjamin and Oliver came out to visit.  They brought Michael out with them.  It was fun giving them all some new adventures...
Amy really helped us out in the clinic by dispensing the medications...

and she got to visit with some of the moms who brought their children.

And then I ended the clinical day by working on an old man's foot...he has had the ulcer for 5 years...

The next day the whole family accompanied me to the clinic again, where I was to teach the Village Elders (and my committee members) the lesson on Ebola.  That provided lots of fun ...

We visited my health worker, Yempaabu, and her twin baby boys.  Baby Jeremie took to Claire immediately!  She had him smiling and laughing in no time...

Yempaabu let the children try out her mortar and pestal where she pounds her millet to make flour. The kids realized what hard work it was just to get flour!

We had to wait a while for the elders to show up for the teaching...and Michael kept me company.

While we waited, one of the men walked out into the watermelon field behind us and cut some melons and then shared them with all of us...

Once we had finished, one of the men showed Claire how to slowly pour water over their hands while they washed them.  She got quite good at it and it pleased the men to no end!

Though I have a Clinic committee of 12 men, because of the harvesting going on, only 5 were free to come and take the training on Ebola.  They have committed to take it back to their villages and teach it to their people.  They eagerly listened and asked good questions.

On the drive back to Makalondi, we stopped by some Baobabs to let the children play in them and to get some pictures of these magnificent trees...some of which are a hundred years old or more...
This tree looked like it had a door into the inside...

Joe and Amy walking out to look over this majestic specimen.

Just to show you how very big these Baobab trees are, if you look closely you will see Michael and myself at the bottom of the tree..... and then a close up of us.

That evening before supper, we took a walk up to a "mountain" above Makalondi to watch the sunset. We call this crest overlooking the valley below, "The End Of The World" and the kids love it. It's great for exploring and finding old pieces of pottery, quartz arrowheads, petrified wood, fossils, bugs and other treasures.

And in closing, I just love that Joe captured this deep conversation going on between Oliver and Papa!  Priceless!  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Trying to get a Shunt for Baby Esther

Well, you may remember the last post I wrote about baby Esther probably needing further surgery.  Well as can happen with many babies with Spina Bifida, after the closer of the spinal column, Esther began to develop hydrocephalus, where the spinal fluid builds up in the brain and doesn't drain into the body as normal.

Esther in back and Rebecca in front.

On her return home, we were told to measure the circumference of her head every few days, and so we did that.  And after 2 weeks of watching her measurement increase, we realized that she would need to go in to a medical facility and have a shunt put in.

Simple enough decision.
Not so simple to see happen!

First Pastor had to come up with the money for yet another medical procedure.  He considered selling his motorbike, or his wife's two cows.  They rounded up a few other items (like a solar fan...) and took them to market to see what they could sell them for.
Not enough.  So they waited for the next Monday - Market day in Makalondi.
They took the cows in and sold them for less than their true value.  But money in hand is better than wishing for more.

We contacted the neurosurgeon's office (he is the brother of the doctor who did the repair) and were told that he was "en voyage", traveling.
We arranged for her to be seen at the national hospital.  There on a Friday they did see her, took a scan of her head (and took a chunk of their money) and told them to come back the following Monday.

Monday came and the family showed up for their appointment at the hospital, hoping to be admitted with a day for the shunt scheduled.
Instead they were told, "Sorry, we can't do anything.  The Doctor's and medical staff have all gone on strike for the next two weeks"  "Come back then."

When I heard that, I tried the Neurosurgeon's office again.  He was back from "voyage" and yes, we could see him in two days and our appointment was at 4 p.m.
We showed up early and signed in and paid the consultation fee.  We waited.... and waited and thankfully both babies slept peacefully.

And let me digress to another interesting cultural experience here....
As we're sitting in the enclosed waiting area, a staff member brings a smoking brazier through the room waving it around and spreading the smoke everywhere.  This is incense smoke and the air quickly becomes nearly impossible to breathe...unless you really love breathing incense.  And to tell the truth, I seemed to be the only one struggling.  It seemed that all the other waiting patients were totally fine with thick, musty air.
Back to the story...

Finally around 5 p.m. we were ushered into the Doctor's office.  He did a quick check-up, heard their story and went to his phone.  He called the hospital and secured a bed for Esther.  She would get her surgery and... good news... "the surgery if FREE!  One just needs to pay for the bed and the medicines. Go tomorrow morning and check her in."

The next morning, Thursday, we are full of optimism.  Pastor and his wife take the babies and go to the hospital. They are told that they can have the bed but the surgery can't be done until the next Tuesday, so they must pay $7 each day for the bed.  They can't afford it and are told to come in next Tuesday.

Tuesday arrives and they head to the hospital for the surgery.  On arrival they are told, "I'm sorry, The surgery can't be done because everyone is still on strike."
Parents: "When can we get it done then?"
Nurse: "Just listen to the radio news and when you hear that the strike is over, you can come back"

Now remember: Pastor and wife left their younger children back at home in the care of their eldest daughter and left his fields of crops.  They've now been away over 2 weeks!  They are staying with David, their son who is in Medical school, sleeping on mats on the floor.

At this point, hope is running thin for this family.  David calls me and asks me what we should do.  I told him to go by the Doctor's office and explain what has happened and maybe he can help.  Soon he comes by our place.  He went by the office and they told him, "Sorry, the Doctor is 'en voyage' and we don't know when he'll be back".  David then tells us that the 2 week strike has now been extended another week...

Before discouragement could overtake us, I reminded him that God knows what is happening.  He knows we have tried everything we know to do.  God loves his family and He wants their best.  We can trust baby Esther to Him.  God will take care of her.  We decided to praise Him instead of crying and giving up.  And God restored our hope in Him!

And so the next day, as Gary and I left Niamey for Makalondi, in the back seat was Pastor and his family.  Going home until they hear that the strike is over.  And I get to hold baby Esther in my lap.  As we travel back out, I lay my one hand on Esther's head and pray over her.  I pray God's protection and healing for her.  I pray blessings on her.

At our home, Pastor and his wife get on his motorcycle (they had left it at our place).  She has Rebecca on her back and before they drive off, I hand her Esther.  It's dusk and they have another 24 kms. to go through the bush to get home.  They thank us over and over for all our help.  They leave us with joyful farewells...

I am filled with respect and admiration, once again, for my Gourmantche family here!  They teach me so much about victorious living in Jesus Christ!  Living above your circumstances.  Living in peace during difficult situations.  And choosing every day to live graciously.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Great Surprise: Community, Clinic & Committee

This past Thursday started out looking a bit like it was going to be a challenging day.  The sky was full of dark clouds and as I got my medical bag ready and packed a snack bag, I wondered if I would end up getting rained in at the clinic later that morning.  It had only rained Tuesday and it was a really hard rain, so I was expecting to have to brave 22 kms. of muddy, gullied and watery road all the way out to the clinic village.  To put it mildly, I was super glad that Gary had had the 4 wheel drive on our truck fixed just last week!

It was a crazy ride out, even braving the filled and rushing spillway in Koulbou, praying it wouldn't wash my truck away (though Gary says it won't).  There were a good number of patients to be seen, especially considering the difficulty of getting to clinic after a rain, and all of the field work that most villagers are busy doing.  We saw the usual illnesses and by early afternoon, we had finished.

I knew that a committee meeting was scheduled for around that time, and sure enough, several of the members had arrived.  This Clinic Committee is a relatively new development, since the spring when there were some problems at the clinic and the village chief had to step in and help us out.  Back when we had the meeting with him, he told us that he was "giving us a committee" to make sure that the clinic would continue to operate well… the committee would make sure that any problems we had would be ironed out. 

As we waited for other committee members to arrive, I went over the homework I had given my two helpers, Yempaabu and Antionette, on the Respiratory system and its illnesses.  The girls did quite well, considering that the whole worksheet was in French (they are learning French). 

Finally when we finished, the committee members decided that enough of them were there to begin our meeting.  7 of the 8 members are Gourmantche, with one member being a Fulani.  I was really glad that the chief had made sure that both people groups were represented.  About 5 of them were present, and so we began. 

The head of the committee spoke to me, "We haven't had a meeting in several months and we wondered if you had any work for us."   (Me: Surprised)

I told them how happy I was to have their support and help, and that I didn't want to interrupt their work at this busy time of year. (Everyone possible is out in the fields to plant or hoe)

He replied, "Well, we didn't know if you wanted our help with anything…" 

So after assuring them that we value their help, I gave them several areas that we need help with…
"Let's start with the river bed that is washed out on both sides and the rocks have shifted and it's full of water and difficult for me to drive across to get here"  That generated some sounds of agreement and discussion on how to fix it while it's full… but they would get it done before my next trip out.

Next topic: A hangar for the back side of the clinic to provide shade for the "waiting room".  Some discussion… Verdict: we'll have to wait until after the harvest when there will be millet & sorghum stalks to make the thatch.  Then they will see to it that it gets put up…"and while we're at it, we'll clean up the grounds and put a fence around the clinic property."

And so it went...

As I sat there and looked around me at these men, I couldn't help but feel super blessed to have them on my team - villagers who are so committed to the clinic and to helping us make it a really good one.  They are volunteers and they obviously take pride and satisfaction in helping us to do our jobs for the whole community.  

As we talked about the last item on the agenda… the upcoming malaria prophylaxis for children ages 3-5 from 7 villages around us, I was thanking God for all the good help He's given me in my staff and my clinic!  This is Community Health at its best.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Baby Goes to Galmi

                                                                 Little newborn Esther

After researching options for surgery for baby Esther (or Esita) who was born with Spina Bifida 2 weeks ago, I was glad to receive a text message from our Head Surgeon at Galmi Hospital telling me that I could send them there and he would personally do the surgery.  (Galmi is our SIM mission hospital out east).  
I quickly called Pastor, Esther's dad and my Chief Health Worker, and asked him if they could be on their way the next morning.  They needed to leave as soon as possible.  That was Saturday.

Best case scenario their trip would take at least 12 hours.  From their village to mine, they would come on Pastor's motorcycle with his wife on the back holding their twin newborns.  Since this is rainy season, the bush paths are rough - washed out and bumpy with water holes to cross (wading through with the bike).  Once they reached Makalondi and caught a taxi bus, it would be at least two hours to Niamey.  Cross the city in a taxi and catch a taxi bus heading east.  The trip to Galmi would take at least 8 hours with stops along the way.  The voyage there was daunting at best.

Pastor was glad to have a plan, and Sunday morning about 6 a.m., they left their other girls at home and headed out.  I tried to call them throughout the day, but the calls wouldn't go through. 
At Galmi, Deb was ready and waiting to welcome them.  (Deb is our OT there and helped the twins' big sister Lina recover from being badly burned (Lina gets her Mask).  Deb knows pastor and was so willing to help.

By 10 o'clock Sunday night I heard from Deb that the parents were still a good distance from Galmi.  They would be traveling through the night.  6:15 in the morning, now Monday, Deb called to say that they were in a town about 30 min. away still trying to find a taxi bus to get them the rest of the way…

Now just STOP and IMAGINE making this trip!  Riding a taxi bus is like being crammed in a 9 seater bus with 18 people!  No air conditioning.  No shocks.  No space to nurse babies comfortably.  
I couldn't even begin to comprehend what this trip of love was costing them!
                                                 A typical taxi bus heading to Niamey from Makalondi

Finally Pastor and wife caught a bus and arrived in Galmi.  The 12 hour trip had become a 27 hour trip!
Deb met them and fed them, and then they took their sweet baby girl to be examined by the doctor.  Dr. S. put Esther on some meds and then tentatively scheduled surgery for Thursday.  Deb arranged for their room and after they settled in, while both babies slept, mom fell into a sleep of exhaustion.  Pastor went walking to find where things were located, where food is sold, and to see this hospital he's heard so much about. (we at the clinic have referred patients to Galmi)

Later that morning, our son, Joe, flew the SIM Air flight into Galmi and Deb got to take him down to meet Pastor and his wife.  I don't think it sunk in at that moment that he was my son. 

Later I called to find out how they were doing.  Pastor had so much to tell me, that he could hardly stop talking.  He said that the trip was tiring, but "Praise God, we made it all the way.  There were other taxi busses that were stopped by the big flood of water over the highway and they couldn’t continue!"  
He was Happy!  Yes, Happy!  He was so impressed with the Hospital, with the Doctor, with the cleanliness, and the room.  He was so thankful for Deb's kindness.  He was so excited that he got to meet the Chaplain…. 
                                                          Pastor treating a patient at our clinic

He said, "I got to talk to the Pastor who works here.  Do you know what he does?  He gets to spend his days praying with patients and telling them the good news of Jesus!!  Ohhhh, that would be my dream!!"  and he chuckled.  I had to chuckle too. 
He also said, "I told them, I don't have anything to do while I'm here, so put me to work.  I can change bandages.  And they told me that I could help!"  He was so happy.

When I told him that the pilot who came to greet them was my son, Pastor was joyfully surprised...and then he began to make the connection.  He said he had just been so tired that it didn't sink in who this man was who had greeted him in Gourmantche, his own language.  And then he laughed and laughed.

I was so humbled by their attitudes while going through these difficult circumstances!

So Thursday morning, baby Esther had surgery and she did well.  The parents were thrilled.  When I talked to Dr. S. and told him that we at clinic and in the village had been praying for him and for the baby, he wrote back, thanked us, and asked us to continue praying for Esther.  Even before surgery she had begun to lose strength in her lower limbs…a risk with spina bifida.
Deb's specialty is Occupational Therapy, so she told me that she would begin to help them know how they will need to help her in the future to be as healthy and mobile as possible. 

We'll keep praying that God, who has led them this far, will continue to show the parents their next step….and that God will continue to heal baby Esther.  She's a treasure!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Baby Girl, Esita

Thursday past, we were all filled with joy when twin baby girls were born to Pastor and his wife, Nuadiba.  Pastor is one of my health workers at the clinic and father to Yempaabu, also working at the clinic.  (And father to David, our "son" who's in medical school and Yumanli, who is recovering from being badly burned - previous post).

We didn't have a long day at the clinic that day.  This is the rainy season and everyone that is able-bodied, is out in their fields working.  That means that if your illness isn't serious, you just suck it up and keep working.

As a result, we were finishing up some prenatal check-ups and Pastor came and asked me if we could talk.  His wife was asking me to come check on the baby twin girls because one of them had a "sore" on her back.

Well, when I turned the baby over to look, I could tell right away that she has Spina Bifida...and incomplete closure of the spinal column.  It took my breath away and my  heart beat harder!  I knew what all that could mean for this baby!  But as I was taking stock, baby girl began crying and kicking her legs with gusto.  That was a good sign...No paralysis.

There were other women around in the mud house, and everyone was giving their opinion on what we should do.  Well, I knew that we'd somehow have to get baby to a Neurologist...but that option is only available in the capital city.  And that would mean a big displacement to the family, right in the middle of farming season.

Pastor and I talked it over and we agreed that we should at least see the Doctor in Makalondi (we now have a Doctor at our Makalondi clinic!).  So that meant getting Nuadiba in the truck with the village midwife and the two babies and Pastor and bumping along the water-rutted and washed-out "road" to the clinic.  I felt so bad for Nuadiba, who was bracing herself and clenching her teeth not to make a sound.

On the ride in, Pastor was sitting beside me and said, "Palamanga, you know that we want you to name the girls?"  I replied that I did, and that I would be thinking about it.  He said, "Do you know that you have to name them before we arrive at the clinic?  When we get there, they will ask for their names for their cards."
Wow!  Now I was on the spot!  Driving this path AND thinking of names for these little girls!  This is no light matter; they will live with these names for the rest of their lives!  I breathed a prayer and ran through the list of some of my favorites from the Bible.
I decided on Rebecca for the healthy little girl.
And I picked Esther for 'sick' baby girl... she would need to be strong and courageous in her first days of life and I thought that Esther was a great example.
They rolled the names around on their tongues, finding the French pronunciation abit difficult.  So I suggested that we use the Gourmantche pronunciation, and everyone was happy.  Lebeka and Esita.

We arrived at the clinic just after opening time in the afternoon - 3 p.m.  No one was around except the midwife.  She told us to just we did.  For an hour.  The Doctor was a no-show.
Now the babies are crying, wanting to nurse...Nuadiba does her best, but she's feeling so tired and weak.  She asks me for some hot water to drink.  I run home in our truck, get some hot water and tell Gary what's happened. He decides to come with me.  We return and still no doctor.  I gave Nuadiba the cup of hot water.

Someone told Pastor that the doctor was at prayers across the road, so he went over there, but didn't find him.  Finally he talked to someone who agreed to call him and hand me the phone.

"Good afternoon, Palamanga", he said in a cheerful voice.
I greeted him...and he explained that he was out in a village (I presume he was seeing a sick person).
I told him about Esita and he gave me some advice and ended by saying that, in the end, they would need to take baby to see a neurologist.
So there we were...It was 5:30 and we had come full circle with nothing new.

So we all piled in the truck for the 45 min. jarring ride back out to take them home.  Thankfully, Gary drove.  I don't think I could have driven the round trip again.  I was holding Esita in the back seat, trying to cradle her against the bumping ride and protect her back.  The granny midwife was holding the Lebeka and Nuadiba was wedged between us.

On arrival at their home, I changed baby's dressing and see that the area is leaking now...a possible entry for bacteria.  So Pastor and I opened the clinic, got some Amoxicillin and figured out the dose for this tiny little one.  I showed Pastor and big sister, Yumanli, how to change her dressing to keep the area as clean as possible.  They would take her temperature frequently throughout the day(s).

We decided to let Nuadiba get her strength back and then we will talk about coming into the city for a consultation.  This won't be easy for them... it means mom and two babies and dad must travel, leaving their fields, and having no place to stay.  So this week, I'm praying that we can find a reasonable option.

Gary and I finally arrived home at 7:30 that evening... What a day!
I'll update when we have some more news on Esita.  I'm sure her parents would appreciate your prayers for her and their family.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Babies...And More Babies!

On Thursday I drove up to the clinic and as I got out of my seat, one of Pastor's little girls came running out of their compound to meet me.  Thinking that was unusual (they are usually at work doing chores), I greeted her and began asking the usual questions about her family… "How are your parents?  How is Yempaabu (her older sister who is due any day with her 4th baby)?  How is your mom (who is ALSO due any day with her 8th baby!)?

Little girl kept replying, "fine", "fine", until I finished my questions, and then she said, "Mom just birthed!"

Not sure I heard right, I asked, "She just now had the baby?"  And she replied with a vigorous head nod.  And she pointed to the huts in their compound.  I noticed that there were some women bustling around there.

So I grabbed my bag and we headed in that direction.  As I entered the compound, the women all kept pointing me towards the house.  I entered the room and there was my friend, Nuadiba, sitting on a mat on the floor and beside her were TWO babies, still attached by cords!  Both little babies were shivering and mewing like little kittens.  I told the village midwife and her assistant to quickly get some clean clothes and bundle them up.  Then I talked with Nuadiba to make sure she was doing well.  When I saw that they had things under control (they normally do a great job), I took my leave so that they could continue their work. 

I headed up to the clinic and as I walked in, I said, "Good morning, Pastor!  You have two babies!" and he grinned and shook his head.  The news had preceded me.  My two helpers, Yempaabu and Antionette were smiling too and then I remembered that I didn't know what sex they were.  I asked, "So, what are they…girls or boys?"  It was a loaded question.

You see… about 4 months ago I found out from Yempaabu, who was obviously expecting, that her mom was also pregnant. 
When I was walking with Pastor back to my truck, I jokingly asked him, "So, what's going on?  I thought you all were done." 
And he replied, "Palamanga, you know how women are… my wife wants another boy!  We only have the one and she really wants another!" 
So that's why my question was a loaded one!

Pastor and Yempaabu replied at the same time: "They are both Girls!" and then everyone began to laugh.  I joined in somewhat, but inside, I couldn't help but think of poor Naudiba.  Though she will love her little girls, she no doubt was disappointed that at least one of them wasn't a boy!

As I left that evening, much later (story on why will follow), I joked with Yempaabu about whether she would be at work the next week. 

Gary and I came in to town on Friday because I had another medical commitment in the city.  The next morning - Saturday- early, I got a call from Yempaabu's husband, telling me that Yempaabu was in labor.  She had labored much of Friday and all Friday night out at her home near the clinic, but seeing that things were not moving along as normal, she had her husband take her to the Makalondi clinic to the midwife there. 
I asked to speak to her, and though she was tired, she sounded in good spirits.  I assured her that we'd be praying for her. 

Late afternoon, her husband called back. 
"I have some good news!  Yempaabu has birthed!" 

I told him how happy I was, asked about their health and fatigue.  All was well, he said.

I asked him, "So what is it?  A boy or a girl?" 

He began laughing.  "We have Twins!  And they are both Boys!"  He just kept laughing and I was laughing too! 

How incredible!  Mom and Daughter Both had twins two days apart!  

I told him, "I think that maybe you all need to switch two of the babies so that you can each have one of both!"  He laughed pretty hard at that one!
(Though I have to admit, in this culture where family is very tight and together, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see that happen with them!)

It's All Greek To Me

The end of April and the beginning of May was a pretty special time for me… I was privileged to spend those weeks in Greece with my sister, whom I hadn't seen in over 2 and a half years.

My little sister, Terry, and I went to Greece to attend a Medical Conference for Missionary medical personnel all across Africa and other countries of the world.  But before we traveled to the Conference site, we decided to visit a few places in Greece together and just soak in its beauty. 

In order to be economical, we decided to use public transport and to stay in family owned b&b's.  In preparation I did a good bit of research on the internet and there were so many varying reviews on every aspect of being a tourist in Greece - good and bad.  Therefore we didn't exactly know what to expect as visitors…

Let me just say for the record… Greece welcomed us with warm hospitality!  People couldn't have been more helpful all along our journey and the places we stayed almost spoiled us rotten!  All in all, it was an ideal get-away and Greece is firmly entrenched in our hearts.  

Let me just highlight some of the delights of our stay…
Freddo coffee…rooms with a view…the sea…food…island towns…flowers!...cats…quaint streets…doors…boats…bus travel… ancient ruins…Paul and the Bema seat…
majestic vistas…ancient churches…helpful folks…Athens…the flee market…and ferry rides!
What a wonderful gift it was to be able to visit and experience Greece with its friendly people, charming towns and gorgeous countryside!  We'll be remembering the crystal clear blue waters, cool breeze in our hair, stunning flowers and the delicious feta cheese and Greek yogurt for many days to come… Thank you, Lord, for the gift of this experience!

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Tale of Two Siblings

Driving home after clinic was over, I couldn't get the baby girl out of my mind.  When I finally got home 40 minutes later, and Gary asked me about my day, I had to let it all out.  I told him that I had nearly brought home a baby.  He made some remark about me being careful not to do something crazy!

I recounted our day...
Most of it went as normal... we treated cases of malaria, children with worms, some infections and did some dressing changes.  We also saw a whole lot of expectant moms for exams.
And then I had a Fulani mother come in.  When she sat down, it was pretty obvious who was sick. She was holding a little baby girl, very thin and tiny...I would guess about 2 months old.  And then it caught my eye that she also had a baby strapped to her back.

The mother told me that she had brought her baby girl because she was so sick.  I bent over and took baby girl from her mother and she felt as light as a baby doll.  I asked to see the other baby and asked if they were twins.  "Yes", she replied, and undid the wrap, bringing the baby around to sit on her lap.

And what a big chunky, healthy baby it was!  I asked if it was also a girl, and then she showed me that it was a little boy.  A beautiful baby boy.  So I asked, "How old are your babies?"  Mom replied, "8 months".  I was shocked to hear their age...and shocked at the difference between the two!

Meanwhile baby girl, lying in the crook of my arm, leaned her head over onto my arm and just lay there.  She broke my heart!  As I talked through my language helper, I asked questions and got answers.  When I asked the parents who got to nurse first most of the time, after some discussion, there were some chuckles.  When I asked my translator what they were chuckling about, he said, "They say that you have reason.  It is always the baby boy who nurses first".  Baby boys are just more "important" in their way of life...  At that moment, baby girl turned her head and lay it against my chest, closing her eyes and drifting towards sleep.  All curled up in my arms, I could feel her little bones against my hands.

Right then I wanted to take her home!  I knew that with just a couple of weeks I could greatly improve her condition.  I knew that I could give her a fighting chance.  I could give her what her family wasn't giving her.
And yet, they HAD brought her to us because they were concerned.
And for a mother here to adequately nurse one baby is a feat, never mind two babies!
They were facing a challenge!

So we suggested that they try to supplement the feedings with goat's milk... after all the Fulani are herders and have many sheep and goats.  The father told me that the goats aren't giving milk right now. So we asked them to begin to let baby girl nurse first until she gained some strength, and we gave them some Misola porridge (a vitamin packed locally made cereal) and explained how to make it up and give it to her.  The parents promised to follow our advice, and we arranged for them to return this coming Thursday to see how baby girl is doing.

(Explaining vitamins to mom and how they will help her provide better milk for her babies)

After I told Gary all of this, I told him that that is why I'd been very tempted to bring baby girl home.  He replied, "Why didn't you?  You could have kept her for awhile until she got stronger".  We both felt the same way...

She is a little beauty.  At one point in our consultation, she began fussing, so I handed her to mom to nurse her.  After sucking for a few minutes, she broke away and began "chattering" and gurgling!  I thought to myself, "What a spunky little thing she is".
And so we're praying that the parents will have taken to heart the counsel we gave them.  We're praying for baby girl to fight.  We're praying for a miracle.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Most Unusual Gift

"There's an old man out in the waiting area who is asking for you," my crowd controller told me.  I was in the middle of an exam, so after the patient had left, I asked why he was asking for me to come out.  "He has a gift for you."
Many times our patients will bring us some guinea eggs so that's what I was expecting.

I walked out the front door, and there on a bench sat an old man, rather frail.
"U duan guam te?" I greeted him. ("How was your lying down and sleeping?")
"Laafia" he replied... and we went through the other parts of the greeting... "how is your family?", "how are your children?", and so on...

Then this dear old man held up a black plastic sack to me and opened it.

"A po", "It's for you," he said.
I took the bag and looked inside.

Well, I've never received Gum Arabic before as a gift...and in it's raw form!

I was a bit speechless, but quickly recovered and heartily thanked him.

Since then, I take the bag out every now and then just to look at the beautiful formations of the sap.  When the light hits them, they just shimmer.

Gum Arabic is a binder and thickening agent, used in many of today's products.  The soft drink industry is probably the biggest buyer, but it is found in numerous other products, from printer ink to cosmetics to art supplies.  And it's a big money-maker.  In this country, rural people will collect it and sell it to merchants,who then sell it to big buyers.
But out in the bush, many people will chew on it, just as we enjoy Chewing Gum.  And Gum Arabic is in that too!

So I was given a very expensive gift by a patient who appreciated our work at the clinic.  All things considered, I think that's one of the nicest gifts I've received!

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Little Incentive

Potaaga is grinning and thanking us over and over.  Today she has just finished her 5th prenatal visit and is due any day.  But today is extra special for her.  Now that she has come for 5 check-ups, she receives a GIFT from the Clinic!

And this is her second gift!  At her last visit, she received a new item of clothing for her baby and she was pretty tickled about that.  Now she was getting a special gift - a gift that might help save the life of her soon-to-arrive baby.  A Mosquito Net Baby Bed! 

Potaaga gets her baby bed from Yempaabu, a midwife

Maybe you're wondering why our clinic gives these gifts?  And why these two gifts are so special… After all, in our home countries, we buy (or receive at a baby shower) baby beds, strollers, Bumpo's, baby outfits, linens and all manner of items for our babies…  so why is one baby gown and a baby bed so special here?

In Niger the maternal death rate is the highest in the world, and most of those deaths occur at birth or shortly after the delivery of a baby.  Women are at risk simply because most of them don't have access to prenatal care or don't realize the importance of good care.  Because of their diet, most of them are also anemic.  Our job at the clinic is to try and give the best care possible to these mothers and to try and make sure they come through their birthing experience as healthy as possible.  

Our challenge has been to get the women to come for more than just one or two check-ups.  Their daily lives are full of hard work from dawn to dusk, and to make it even more challenging, they often have to walk long distances to get to our clinic.  After brainstorming, I decided that we could offer three things that would draw our moms to our Prenatal clinics… and all three things would "spoil them" in small ways.  We want them to feel cared for!

The FIRST thing we do is to put them on a Prenatal vitamin.  Those have been graciously provided by caring women from one of our churches back in my home country and by some other generous donors here in Niger.  This vitamin, along with an Iron and Folic Acid tablet, give our women stronger bodies going into their deliveries. 

Counting out the prenatal vitamins for a Fulani mom-to-be

SECONDLY, if the women will come for 4 check-ups, we'll give them a baby outfit for their new little one.  And what new mom doesn't enjoy having a pretty new gown or onesie for their baby?!  Especially when she only has One other piece of baby clothing.  Sometimes instead of a baby outfit, they will choose a baby blanket.  These items have also been sent to us by loving women from some of our home churches.

Newly washed baby clothes drying on the line and soon to go to the clinic.

And THIRDLY, if a mom comes for 5 visits - and that's quite an accomplishment here - then she can receive a Mosquito Net baby bed!  This is a portable bed that the mom can place near her when she's working by the fire or out in a field or beside her at night…and baby is protected from mosquitoes and other critters.  Since malaria is a huge killer of infants and children all across Africa, this is a gift that just keeps on giving…LIFE to a little one!  And these are made possible by the generous folks of MADALA… an organization which Looks for projects and worthy initiatives in West Africa to help in any way they can.  And what a help for these moms!

A shy new Fulani mom receives instructions on how to open and shut the baby bed.

The zipper opening allows a mom to easily pop the baby in or out.

Since beginning this initiative around a year ago, we have seen a significant decrease in difficult deliveries and deaths among our women, simply because more of them are receiving more care and are going through their deliveries in a healthier condition!  
Nothing is quite as rewarding as having our moms come back to our clinic - Healthy - to show us their new babies and to tell us their birth stories.  Just as rewarding is knowing that through the next year their babies will be less likely to be brought to the clinic suffering from malaria!  

This picture says it all!

Thanking the Lord for the generous women (and men) who help make all this possible!