I spent 4 years of my childhood in western Africa and always knew that when I became a doctor, I would go back to Africa to help. When I actually got into medical school and subsequently into emergency medicine residency, returning to Africa was still my goal. I was lucky enough to find Dr. Frank and the FAME clinic through a friend who had worked with him. Dr. Frank was gracious enough to take on an emergency medicine resident.
After months of correspondence with the volunteer coordinator, I found my way to Karatu and the FAME clinic just in time to go off on my “African bush” mobile clinic experience. I didn’t know what to expect or what we would see. The 4 hour road trip to Babati was spent picking Dr. Frank’s brain apart. At the mention of snakes, I began to wonder what I was thinking.
We hopped off the bus when we got to our clinic destination. We were given a tour of our ‘clinic.’ The building had several rooms but no windows. I looked outside and saw the farm animals walk past our examination area. I kept thinking, what did I get myself into.
The first day of the clinic, after seeing the 2nd patient, any apprehension I had was gone. I was reminded why I wanted to come to Africa. We had a father bring in his 2 young sons, a boy of 8 or 10 and a young man of 16 or so. His younger son was brought in with an infection cut to his leg. His friend and he were playing with a machete and he was cut. Luckily, the cut was not deep, but he was developing infection to the leg. While I was tending to the younger son, the older brother was sitting in the chair and initially I could not understand why he was “ill.” It was when I turned my attention to him that I realized that he was guarding his right arm and had an improvised bandage around his arm. As I began to unwrap the ‘bandage’, I noticed the drainage coming from the wound. When we finally exposed the area, we found that he had an old extensive burn to his arm which had exposed bone. I was shocked. He was an epileptic who was unable to obtain his seizure medication, had seized and fell into fire. This had happened at least 4 months prior and he had not obtained any medical care. We were able to make this young man comfortable, clean his arm, and bandage it properly. We gave antibiotics to him and were able to refer him to a hospital for proper follow up care.
This was just one of many incredible stories that I experienced. I have only begun my journey as a physician and my time in Africa will stay with me forever. Even before I left, I was planning when I could return and work with Dr. Frank again. The work he does and the care he provides is life saving for many of the patients. The people in these regions don’t have access to medical care and being able to see over 800 patients in 6 days was life altering not only for the patients, but for those of us taking care of them.