Sharing a Christmas party with patients and staff at Hospice Africa Uganda was a moving and fun experience. Staff had practised for a few weeks to sing carols in English and Luganda - and the 3 foreign members seemed to pass the test. I think my Baganda dancing needs much more practise in bottom wiggling - though I was given a round of applause for trying! Many patients were too ill to do more than lie on their mattresses and observe but others sang, danced, ate and showed their desire to live life to the full. For me the most moving moment came when a young girl asked 'Will you meet Christ this Christmas?' then sang so poignantly of her Saviour. Perhaps a question we all can ask of ourselves.
I am writing this from Uganda but will be travelling back to the frozen north to spend Christmas in Scotland with my family. The first time in 3 years and will also allow me to meet my new nephew.
What of the past few weeks here in Kampala? It has been full of challenges, new friendships, frustrations, shared hopes and even some progress! The newly formed Palliative Care Unit is gradually gaining visibility and recognition in Mulago Hospital. Tomorrow we meet in our new office for the first time which is a huge step forward and answer to prayer. It is very small but central and will soon feel like home. Ward 4A first on the left if you are passing! We have agreed a new referral process, held 2 team away days, have weekly team meetings and ward rounds, joined a multi-disciplinary clinical meeting and formed initial collaborative working agreements with Hospice Africa Uganda. Most of all we have been able to care for the needs of many patients and their families.
Come on a round with me....first tackle the increasingly crazy Kampala traffic for an hour, pray it is not raining or the roads will flood and then pray again you can find a parking space. Having arrived on the ward, donned your white coat (very important here)and met with the team; nurses Josephine, Regina, Harriet and Frida and Dr Liz; let us see who is needing our help today. There is Swaibu, 26 whom many of you met through our recent mailing(see http://cairdeas.org.uk/alternative.htm), initially abandoned by his family with no one to meet his most basic needs in hospital and crying in pain. When the porridge arrived on the ward this hungry young man could get none as he was unable to walk because of the cancer and infection in his legs! After many weeks and many obstacles he has now been discharged to his sisters home having successfully started treatment. He says God has taken care of him and brought the PCU team to help him. Here he is reading Psalm 103. Or maybe meet Sharon, a 7 year old child from a rural village who is crying in pain and very frightened. Her cancer cannot be treated but we can help with her pain, support her young mother, make sure she can access help when she goes home and perhaps the sweetie and the colouring pens will bring back her smile. Next we will talk with Joseph who is 41 and is waiting for us with his family. We give them help to make decisions about his treatment and investigations, check his pain is still controlled and come to terms with the devastating diagnosis of liver cancer. We also need to work out how he will receive support when he goes home to the far east of Uganda. Fortunately there is a palliative care service in the nearby district. The majority of our patients come from outside Kampala and may not have any access to palliative care or oral morphine. Then there is Faridha, 23 who is semi-conscious with a severe headache caused by meningitis associated with HIV/AIDS. She lies on the floor and has no one to care for her or even to give her the morphine we can provide. Sadly there are many 'Faridhas' in Mulago.
Does that give you a taster? Next time I will introduce to you to more of our work and tell you about the other roles I have in helping develop research, supporting training, offering leadership to the proposed Degree in Palliative Care and so on.....have a wonderful Christmas with time to remember the Saviour who was born for each one of us.
What treats will you be eating? How about a Ugandan delicacy - freshly roasted grasshoppers collected by my neighbour Justine!