Day 1

This morning my alarm went off at 6:30 and I sprung out of my bed ready for the first day of work!! Just kidding… the alarm did go off at 6:30 but I struggled to tear myself out of bed before 6:45 when I proceeded to run around making my breakfast before racing downstairs to catch my 7am shuttle. I arrived at 7:01 only to realize the shuttle actually left at 7:20. Wonderful start.

After a packed ride to Khayelitsha (4 other interns in the clinic and 1 elsewhere in the township) as the sun rose, we arrived to the clinic. I’m not sure what I expected but it definitely wasn’t what I saw. The township of Khayelitsha has grown from 400,000 to 2.4 million people in the last ten years with 50% under the age of 19. Additionally, 70% of residents live in temporary housing (shacks). If you Google this township, the pictures will speak for themselves. It’s nothing short of devastating.

The six of us entered the clinic, eagerly observing our surroundings. After meeting the facilities manager, David, we were given a tour around the facility’s six units: Dental, Emergency, Maternity, Pediatrics, HIV/TB, and OPD (outpatient care). While the single-story buildings may seem small from the inside, they’re packed wall-to-wall, seeing 45,000 patients every month (one of THREE clinics in Khayelitsha). I was most struck by the differences in sanitation and technology. Sinks were scattered across the facility and some medical materials came in individual sterilized packages but, for the most part, it lacked resemblance to any American health facility where Purell dispensers are stationed every three feet. As for technology, all patient files are on paper. Throughout the entire clinic, I spotted five computers and only two of those were in actual units (the other three were in administrative offices). At first glance, I was shocked that a health center of this caliber had such a huge capacity, but I soon came to realize that the passion and drive carried by every staff member pushed this clinic beyond its physical boundaries.

After a quick introduction to some of the heads of departments, I was placed alongside Austin (one of the other Connect interns) in the Emergency Unit. After meeting the other two interns working in the same unit (from Mercer), they told us some stories from yesterday when they started working. However, yesterday all ten beds were full and today they were almost all empty. The first hour this morning were pretty much spent standing around and waiting for cases. However, around ten things picked up as we watched the one doctor on staff set three bones (humerus, tibia, and ulna) and put them all in casts. The ulna was actually a compound fracture with a puncture wound as well so she set him in two places as well as stitched up his wounds before putting him in a temporary cast and sending him to the bone specialist at the local hospital. On that note, most patients in the Emergency Unit are transferred to the hospital for further treatment after temporary care in the clinic.

After a few lunch breaks (everybody at the clinic takes lunch breaks as well as shorter ~tea breaks~), we continued to literally watch over the doctor’s shoulder as she did consultations and tended to patients. Most everybody who came in (all lovingly called “Mama” or “Tata”) received fluids or oxygen and had nurses (“sisters”) attending to them. One girl came in with hot water burns that needed to be dressed, another man had a stab wound that needed stitches, and, finally, a woman needing resuscitation (who lived!). All in all, I was pretty quickly thrown in the ring and was lucky to see some serious cases. The staff members were all so gracious to welcome in untrained interns but let us know what they were doing and taught on the go, even if that meant switching languages from the native Xhosa (a clicking language!! pronounced here) to English.

Around 3:30, we headed back into Cape Town all sharing stories about our days and the different cases we saw. Now, after a trip to the gym, a warm shower, and a viewing of Tangled, I’m ready to hit the hay and prepare for another wonderful day tomorrow. Sala kakuhle! (ya ok I had to look that one up but the Xhosa will come eventually)

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