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Beyond the Hospital Walls

Written and submitted by Lisa Bowers, RN

Last October, I had the opportunity to organize and participate in a medical mission trip to Ghana, Africa. I have been a nurse for over 33 years and have worked the past 13 years in the Cardiovascular Holding Unit at WMC. Wendy Burns, NP, another Valley Health employee, also joined our team of NPs and RNs from across the country.

The nursing organization, Show Me Your Stethoscope, sponsored this trip to the Volta region of Ghana where there is little or no access to medical care. We set up clinics in 4 different villages, and saw over 800 people over 5 days. The Ghana Health service provided interpreters, pharmacy personnel, and a nurse or NP to assist us. The biggest complaint of all was “waist pain” which we learned was low back pain and headaches. After seeing how everyone carries loads on their heads and bends over to cook and work, it made sense. The most prevalent disease we treated and the number one cause of death in this area is malaria. We tested anyone who complained of headache, vomiting, diarrhea, fever or chills, and treated around 80 people who were positive for the disease. A few were obviously end-stage and close to death when we saw them, which is tragic since testing for malaria costs $1 and treatment costs $5 per person. Sadly, getting treatment is challenging for most since hospitals are too far away for most people to get to.

We also treated a lot of respiratory infections, skin infections and an assortment of burn wounds. High blood pressure (it was common to see BP’s as high as 200/100 or greater!), STDs, strokes, and malnutrition were rampant. We also saw cases of probable AIDS, but we had no testing kits to confirm a diagnosis.

Wendy and I made several home visits, which meant so much to our patients even though there was very little we could do for them. We visited a lady with end-stage throat cancer. Cancer is virtually untreated in this region as there are no cancer treatment centers except in big city hospitals. We saw two who had had paralyzing strokes. The one lady asked us if we had a pill that would make her walk again. Another elderly lady was blind and confined to her bedroom which consisted of a cinder block room with a mattress on the floor. It was heartbreaking, and although we felt so inadequate in not being able to help everyone, we know we made a big difference to some.

The people were gracious, accommodating and generally a lot of fun to be around. We made lasting friends with the health care workers there. It is something I definitely will do again!