Monday, September 4, 2017

Trip to Uganda for Supplies (and a safari story)

September 3, 2017 

Thank you to so many who have generously given to the needs of Nyankunde Hospital!  We have be blessed and humbled to see the interest and concern of others, some of whom we have never met but feel connected to the work in eastern Congo.  From the depths of our hearts, THANK YOU!!!  

We currently sit in Kampala, Uganda, awaiting an autoclave to clear customs!  We have visited medical warehouses and pharmaceutical companies, looked for various office supplies and are
preparing to travel by road back to Congo this next week.  We have been able to purchase some new vital sign monitors, sat monitors, surgical instruments, surgical supplies, a new autoclave, suction pumps, an infusion pump, and various medications.  It has been a been frustrating to wait and wait, but really nice to have down time together as a family.  

We pet a few days exploring western Uganda on safari with our friends the O'Brien family.  We had a lovely time together!  Emmanuel's favorite animal was probably the elephant and the crocodile.  There is something surreal about seeing elephants walking along the plain while eating breakfast.  It was a special time however both Warren was recovering from malaria and in Emmanuel's case probably typhoid fever.  At one point early in our vacation I had two febrile, miserable boys away from did not feel like a vacation!  Emmanuel's appetite has returned and he is putting on weight again.  These are all the potential complications of living overseas.  I am thankful for my medical knowledge and experience to know what to do in these situations-it would be overwhelming otherwise.  It is not like getting sick in America!  

Partway through our vacation Warren had the opportunity to recover a digital X-ray plate in Iraq!  He came to me saying this was an answer to prayer, as the plate was no longer in use in Iraq and our exact imaging system.  Indeed.  So within 48hours he was on a plane to Iraq, on the ground for 36hours to assemble things, and then back to Uganda for the remainder of our time in Kampala.  Recovering from malaria, off to Iraq, then back to Uganda.  Such a blessing to have been given this piece of equipment!

One of the highlights of the time in western Uganda was chimp trekking.  I wish I could adequately describe the experience, as it was unreal. At one point we were following a troop of about 30 chimps and we were a equivalent number of humans.  They just started jumping out of trees all around us and screaming and it wasn't clear what was going on.  It was a little overwhelming.  The alpha male was arriving and all the male grunting was an acknowledgement of his superiority.  It seemed that the females were present, but not central to these troop interactions.  They often had their young somewhat to the periphery.  It really felt like we were in the chimpanzee's home and I wondered it they wanted us there.  This particular group was used to humans and there was no problem with our presence...yet I could truly understand that these could be aggressive animals.  Our ranger was telling us about the social structure of this group. led by the alpha male Totti and how he had become the leader of the tribe.  Just as he is explaining this, up comes Totti with the previous clan leader Machezi.  He started walking directly towards our group where I am standing at the periphery.  Then Totti gets about 6 feet away and turns walking directly up to me, full speed ahead.  The ranger is behind me and says "Stand still.  He will find his way."  My heart accelerated (and probably skipped a few beats) and I had to turn my body 180 degrees to let him pass by.  The ranger let out a chuckle and said that he was exerting his "dominance."  In the past he used to be fairly cheeky, and had been known to take people's shoes and generally be mischievous.  Well, I almost danced with this chimpanzee!  Still processing through that.  I have it all on film which is the crazy part....I didn't imagine any of it.  Later in the day the O'Briens went trekking and followed the same troup of chimpanzees.  Their guide had heard about this close encounter and wanted my friends to get close too.  They were able to do some amazing filming of Totti.  He was quite photogenic and seemed to like all the attention.  In the orientation we were told to keep a 15 foot distance from the chimps and to back up if approached.  This is all fine and good until the chimp walks right up to you.  It happens pretty fast.  He broke the rules!  

Other than obtaining equipment here in Kampala we have had time to do household shopping, and spend time together as a family.  We celebrated Emmanuel's third birthday with cake and ice cream in the company of friends.  Warren and I went out for a date which we have done only a handful of times overseas.  Emmanuel has loved swimming in pools and is getting more and more confident.  I did absolutely no cooking for two weeks!  I can't remember the last time this happened.  Now I consider a vacation, not having to cook and having uninterrupted time together.  It is pretty incredible and a bit overwhelming to shop in Kampala.  I can only handle so much shopping in a is sensory overload and I just want to find a quiet corner of the store.  We are missing the village life we are accustomed to...all fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, fresh milk, nothing processed.

I have changed in the last 5 years we have been in Congo.  I wonder what it will be like to visit the US again in only 3months.  We are looking forward to many things, namely reconnecting with friends and family.  Although I love NYC, I think that might be too much for me these days.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Learning from a little girl

August 14, 2017
Jenina in August 2017

Some of you have followed the story of my 5-year old patient Jenina, a little girl with nephrotic syndrome (protein losing urinary disease) who has been in the hospital since January.  Young Jenina went home today!  She is such a special little girl with a beautiful voice and faith in Jesus.  She loves to braid hair and dress up.  It took her about 5minutes to prepare herself to take this picture.  In Swahili she sang to me this past week, “He gives and takes away.  May the name of the Lord be praised.  He is good.” 

I asked the family if I could share her story.    The family was willing to stay in the hospital (even 6 months) if it meant another chance at life.  We tried multiple drugs, including tuberculosis therapy and a kind of chemotherapy.  We did everything short of a renal biopsy as pathology is just not available in this part of the world.  I will probably never know exactly what kind of kidney disease she has, but as is so often in this part of the world, you try various things and you watch closely.  The immunosuppressive medication called tacrolimus traveled around the world from India, to the US, to Congo to help control her disease.  It seems to have helped.  We finally got her dose of steroids down to a manageable level and will come back to see me in a month.  It is a small victory.  Is she cured of her disease?  Not yet, but it is manageable.  I want her to have the best quality of life possible.  May the name of the Lord be praised.
Jenna in January 2017
They agreed that this would be good.  The family thought Jenina was not going to survive as her body was so swollen and she had no energy.

This little girl touched my life and taught me several things. 

-She reminded me the importance of love in medicine.
-She reminded me to be patient when looking for the best therapy and to not give up.
-She taught me to push the limits of what is possible medically, even out here in Congo.
-She reminded me that children experience the love of God very tangibly and this is often how they come to know Jesus.
-She reminded me how important it is to give thanks to God in all things and to share our stories with others.

Our family is leaving tomorrow with our friends for a little safari vacation in western Uganda.  We have been looking forward to this time all summer.  Unfortunately, both Warren and Emmanuel came down with malaria this past weekend so we have been recovering.  I need a break from clinical medicine and to think about other things for a while.  It is really important to get a break.  We will also be acquiring some medical supplies and equipment for the hospital during our time in Uganda. 

THANK YOU so much to all of you who have responded so generously to the work of Nyankunde Hospital during this time of crisis.  God has used you to bless us and remind us of His faithfulness.  We will keep you updated on what we have been able to accomplish.  Keep praying for our hospital and ministry. 

Many blessings,

Lindsey (for the Coopers)

Warren roasting coffee on his forge

Catching butterflies

Lots of hospital projects...a walkway through the rain

Love his curls!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Pole pole, slowly slowly

August 4th, 2017

Today I went to a funeral of one of “my kids” from the nutrition program.  This one hit me especially hard, as the child is related to our nanny.  We have lost a lot of kids lately.  I happens every July/August and every year I block it out of my memory.  Every year.  It always knocks the wind out of me.

I sat in the family’s home with the little boy’s still body for about 1.5hours.  We sat quietly, waiting, waiting with the mother and grandmother and aunts.  Visitors came in and out to simply sit and be together.  I brought a blue hydrangea and tropical flower bouquet.  Very few words were exchanged.  There was a certain peace in the waiting.  I prayed silently for the mother, for consolation, for peace, for her heart.  I prayed for the father.  I cried.  I had time to think about a lot of things.  I told God, “I think I need another job?  This is just too hard.”

The hardest moments were when the mother had to be separated from her child.  At one point she had to say “goodbye” to his physical body and I could just feel her pain.  She wanted to keep him, but he was already gone.  She had to accept that all she would be left with was memories.  As a mother, I felt it so deeply, more deeply than I ever have before.  There is something so final about death.  As his body was lowered into the ground, she fled, simply couldn’t handle watching the men bury him.  Her little boy would not come back.

Friends and family came just to be present, to witness, to pray, to sing, and to consider the value of a 16month old child.  There was a certain beauty in that.  I was reminded that Jesus wept with those who wept and rejoiced with those who rejoiced.  There is a time to speak and a time to remain quiet.  There really is a time for everything. 

There is a Swahili saying here, “pole pole,” that is so appropriate.  It means “slowly slowly” and you can say it in almost any context.  We need to slow down.  We need take time to notice things…notice other people…notice our feelings.  We need to notice the sunset (or sunrise if you are an early riser).  We need to simply observe the passage of time.  Funerals have a way of causing us to pause.  

Hug your loved ones today and let them know what they mean to you.  August 4th has come to a close.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Nyankunde Hospital needs your help!

July 30, 2017

It is not our usual practice to ask for money, but I'm going to take a deep breath and do it.  Nyankunde Hospital has faced a financial crisis in the past few months. The causes are complicated, but the results are clear. 

  1. The Hospital workers are paid a fraction of their salary corresponding to the funds received.  For the past several months, workers have been paid about half their salary.  If you make 100$/ a month, and you get half of that, it becomes difficult to make ends meet.  Morale these days is pretty low and we have employees who struggle to feed their families.
  2. The hospital struggles to purchase even basic supplies. At present we are running out of everything in the OR.  I simply don't have appropriate sizes of suture and we run out of basic items like anesthetic supplies and gloves. When the hospital does buy supplies, they buy a tiny amount and it runs out quickly. 
  3. Basic medicines are in short supply. Lindsey has been going crazy because in the heart of malaria season, we ran out of basic malaria medicines. The lab struggles to do blood transfusions because they run of out of reagents. 

The solution is to fix the problem which has caused the current financial crisis, to keep the hospital running and provide essential care.  Nyankunde Hospital is a referral hospital which serves an extremely poor population.  Working within the rubric of the Congolese health structures means that patient fees are dictated at a governmental level. In the meantime the hospital receives very little support.  There are many complicated issues and our current  Administration is working on them. They have strived to manage finances and demonstrate transparency.  In the meantime we are faced with needing to replace expensive pieces of equipment such as an autoclave and imaging equipment with very little local resources to do so.  At this time it kind of seems like everything is breaking and the hospital has no money to fix things.

We are planning a trip to Uganda and we would like to buy some of the basic supplies we need to keep the hospital running.  We also need to buy an autoclave to replace one which has recently developed an irreparable crack. We need to purchase surgical supplies, including suture, gloves, gauze, drapes, anesthetic materials, etc. 

If you would like to help, you can make a contribution under our name by clicking on the Christian Health Service Corps and designate the money for Hospital supplies and equipment. Any amount will help us to keep caring for patients here.  We are trying to raise $10,000 to cover these costs. Your donations will be used to purchase critical supplies and this will help to keep the hospital running. Above all please pray that God will help us here at Nyankunde to share the Gospel of Christ through compassionate health care. 


Warren and Lindsey Cooper

You can contribute here: