This is Why I'm Here

By Volunteer Nurse Barb Dehn

 
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I was standing by the side of an old metal gurney covered in a thin blue pad, holding a small child’s hand. This little boy lived so far from any town or village that he had not had any health care or treatment for a common skin condition that had started four years earlier. His father had carefully explained how the rash started out on the top of his head and was only the size of a small coin, but over time had spread to cover his entire scalp, neck and the side of his face.

What began as small and yet common fungal infection, tinea, was now infected with another infection, oozing and painful, that had completely changed his appearance. The other children in the village made fun of him, so he only went out wearing a borrowed hat, which had never been washed and caused the condition to worsen. 

When we first met, his head was covered in a blood-soaked bandage and he was using an old green cracked mirror to try to see how he looked. I wondered how I might help and later returned to visit him with a few gifts. For some reason, I had slipped a few small handheld folding mirrors in with all the medical supplies I brought to FAME, figuring some of the people in our community might find them useful.

I also had with me a large bag filled with hundreds of colorful Coban self-adhering stretch gauze bandages. I had every color in the rainbow and every size with me when I went back to see him.

He liked the green bandages best and so, through a translator, we decided that I should come with him when his bandages were changed. Because it would be a painful procedure, he would be receiving intravenous anesthesia and pain medication from one of FAME’s nurse anesthetists, Teddie.

I was smiling as I watched the small group of Tanzanian nurses gather the anti-fungal cream, the special yellow gauze and the other supplies. Dr. Badyana and Dr. Jackie, both Tanzanian physicians from FAME, discussed how they would carefully remove the infected skin so that new healthy skin would regrow. 

I was smiling because my job was not to do the procedure or to advise or to interfere. My job was to hold a little boy’s hand and my privilege was to observe what a sustainable hospital and clinic really is. FAME’s highly capable staff of local doctors and nurses were doing what they do every day, day in and day out, 24 hours each day, 7 days each week, providing excellent health care in a remote and rural part of Tanzania. As I watched the dressing change, it occurred to me that this was why I’m here. This is why I am so passionate about raising money and bringing supplies, working on projects and recruiting people who can mentor and share knowledge with the providers at FAME. 

The oxygen tubing he needed to breathe through and the special yellow gauze came out of my suitcases just two days before, not to mention the bright green bandages. It was all necessary to support FAME’s mission – providing patient-centered care to the community. 

If you’re inspired by the care FAME provides in rural Tanzania, near the Serengeti, I hope you’ll consider making a donation directly: FameAfrica.org

 
Kathrine Kuhlmann