The Pediatric Wards of Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre

Written by Chris Warner-Carey

Every day is a mixture of gift, challenge, heartache and hope.

As Lisa has already shared, our group visited the hospital, accompanied by Bayana and some of his youth and young adult team. We visited several pediatric wards, where we offered words of encouragement and blessings, if desired, and distributed small gifts of soap, which the hospital seems to be unable to supply. We were welcomed by the parents and other relatives of the children, who are responsible for much of the hands-on patient care, so they are at the bedside much of the time. The hospital is too understaffed to provide much in the way of personal care, so the nurses must limit their care to the pressing medical issues.

As much as we had tried to prepare the team for the realities and conditions of a hospital in a very poor country, there is no way to truly describe the realities-one must personally witness them. Even those of us on the team who have medical experience and have traveled in developing countries were taken aback by much of what we witnessed in the pediatric ward. The most heartbreaking sight were the numerous children suffering from hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus (from Greek hydro-, meaning "water", and kephalos, meaning "head") is a medical condition in which there is an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain. This causes increased intracranial pressure inside the skull and may cause progressive enlargement of the head if it occurs in childhood, potentially causing convulsion, tunnel vision, and mental disability. It was once informally called “Water on the brain” (from Wikipedia) Even in well-developed healthcare systems, hydrocephalus can be difficult to treat and manage. The treatment often involves the surgical placement of a shunt (a flexible tube), to drain the excess CSF and relieve the pressure on the brain. Unfortunately, the tubes can become clogged and the swelling returns, requiring multiple surgical procedures. It is truly amazing that the surgeons and other medical staff are able to provide the care that they do, given the constant shortage of medications, equipment and other supplies that we take for granted.

When we visited the ward, we all swallowed hard-to get a sense of it, see the photos that Lisa posted. We share these images, knowing that they may be disturbing to view, but the thing you may find surprising is that the mothers wanted us to take the photos. I had brought a small portable photo printer with me, and I was able to instantly print out photos for the mothers. As soon as I printed one photo, all the mothers clamored to have a photo of themselves with their child. I printed photos for all the mothers in the ward, and then the hospital staff asked for photos as well, but by this time I had run out of paper. I suspect that most of the mothers have never seen a printed photo of themselves or their children.

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