Continuing the eye-opening week at St. Mary’s, Hailey and I decided to spend in the day in pediatrics. We began upstairs at the neonatal unit and went on rounds with a Polish doctor. Most of the babies in the room were premature due to a variety of reasons. Next door was another room where the more stabilized babies were kept. Some had ants crawling inside the incubators. Of course the most scarring was left for last. We went down to the children’s ward where kids were playing around and some were laying in bed. The environment was pretty upbeat and the kids were all playing. Many of the kids had been staying there for quite some time; they had been abandoned by their mothers and are up for adoption. We continued to make our way around the beds but there was one kid in isolation with his mother. This child had HIV and pneumonia (which is the most deadly illness to have with HIV in South Africa). He was very sick… looked lifeless. The doctor told us that he would not have much longer to live. His mom was cradling him in her arms and bottle-feeding him. He was 4 years old. The mom looked completely helpless in her efforts. As we made our way down the row, more and more kids had HIV/Tb. We stopped at this girl who decided to throw up everywhere right as we got to her, so we just skipped her. After that, we reached a case I hadn’t seen yet-child abuse. The child’s mother got angry with him for some reason and bashed his head into the wall repetitively causing a 5-inch laceration on his head. He was found covered in blood crying in the middle of the street. I asked what kind of action is taken for child abuse here. She then told me it’s up to the social worker but he’ll probably return back to his home with the mother. Yet again, another frustration. Feeling defeated and helpless, I approached the next kid who was getting fed by a nurse. The child turned to me and his eyes were 70% whited out. I asked what happened and was informed of the quite horrific story. The 10-month-old child was found in a pig waste collection bin. He was thrown in there and abandoned. Due to all the fecal matter and bacteria in the bin, the child developed severe conjunctivitis (pink eye) in both eyes. It was so bad that it killed the sclera of his eyes leaving him about 70% blind.
I know much of this has been pretty dark and gruesome at points… but I feel like that’s been the reality of the situation and the majority of what I see. The health care system is in shambles, HIV runs rampant in conjunction with other diseases, and curing these diseases is proving to be an extremely slow and difficult process. But I guess I should try and update on how I am doing outside the job. So far, I am adjusting quite well to South Africa. The family continues to be warm and hospitable. They treat me like a family member, even though I am sure they’ve had many interns before. Boom Boom is very interested in my life and loves asking questions. He has this perception that I am this giant party animal (surely he’s wrong…right?). The weather has been quite humid and hot, leaving me a sweaty mess. Durban is in a nice geographical location, but it definitely has its problems. Safety is a big issue here, you really can’t be outside after dark or else something is bound to happen. We are also located about 10km outside the city centre and getting there isn’t too easy. Public transportation is a little sketchy, and driving around is scary enough as it is. We are advised not to take the public taxi buses, which are essentially Volkswagen Minibuses that pick up and cram anybody anywhere and drop him or her off anywhere (and by anywhere I mean in the middle of the highway, onramps, intersections, etc.). They drive very erratically and are also quite annoying with their horns trying to get peoples’ attentions. Some of them boast thumping sound systems that blast house music to attract the younger crowd. Even more, some of them have sweet names like BOYZ HOUSE, PLAYA BUS, DRIVING 4 JESUS, PHANTOM GRILL, and my personal favorite thus far DISCO BISCUIT. I’d like to take pictures, but it’s not really smart to bring cameras out. I’ve also been trying to get more access to the Internet recently, but it’s very difficult when it closes at 5:30. Gogo continues to offer me food at all hours of the day. Thankfully, the food here has been good. South Africa really isn’t into seasonings; most of my meat, rice, and salad are unseasoned and/or dressingless. Surprisingly, the food is still good and very natural. My G.I. tract has approved J . This weekend is Easter, which means that it’s a 4-day weekend in South Africa. This is one of the biggest holidays over here. Hailey and I tried to go to St. Lucia but couldn’t find any accommodations. Another issue is the fact that neither of us knows how to drive stick very well. Most of the cars are stick shift and to rent an automatic is twice as expensive and twice as difficult. Luckily, my host family has accepted the task of trying to teach me how to drive. They may have made a big mistake. We’ll find out