Africa Outreach: Observations from the Waiting Room

Friday, February 15, 2013

This guest post is from Children’s National's Melissa Jones, a nurse practitioner specializing in Cardiac Surgery. She is one of many members of our Cardiology team who are in Uganda.

Wednesday was another successful day! Two children with Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF) were surgically repaired. In the US, we repair children with TOF by 6 months of age, but the patients today were a 6 year old girl and an 8year old boy. Because of their heart defect, they would tire easily and were not able to keep up with their friends. Now that they have undergone repair, they will regain their energy levels and have a normal functioning heart.

In addition to our cardiology, ICU, and cardiac catheterization teams, we have a primary care pediatrician, geneticists, and a genetic councilor on our team. For many of our patients, our primary care physician is the first primary care physician that some of these children have ever seen. And because children with congenital heart disease may have associated genetic defects, our geneticist and genetics counselor are diagnosing genetic disorders and providing the families with information and guidance.

One of the most memorable parts of the trip is going to the large, open air waiting room to talk with families and play with the children. I was sitting with a group of children, giving them pages from a coloring book and crayons, asone little girl watched us suspiciously while holding onto her mom’s leg. As she watched the other kids playing and laughing, she made her way over to us. I handed her a piece of paper from the coloring book that had a small kitten on it, she giggled and took it back to show her mom. She didn’t even take a crayon! She was whole-heartedly amused by the one piece of coloring book paper.

There are many things about the waiting room that are striking: families sitting on blankets on the floor waiting for hours and not complaining, a cat running though the chairs or a bird flying through and no one batting an eye at it, children running around the hospital floor without shoes on, babies sleeping on the floor next to their mothers wrapped in blankets, the list goes on. It’s also odd to experience the lack of phones, iPads, and hand-held games. Many parents have cell phones, but I haven’t seen one child playing with them or any other piece of technology. The children play with each other and are amused by coloring books and bubbles.

Do you have any questions on what it’s like for our team to work in Uganda?

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