The start of our adventure in Addis Ababa Ethiopia
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We arrived in Addis early in the morning on Sunday. We were greeted by our friendly guesthouse staff and escorted directly to the guesthouse where we are staying. The drive to the house was quite remarkable. Addis is a unique mix of the new and the old. There are many modern buildings and tons of newly developed freeways. However, dispersed between the giant buildings are old crumbling churches and small slums with houses built of tin and used items. Everywhere you look, there are locals bustling about their busy days, walking the streets selling everything from brooms to sponges. When you are stopped due to traffic, they peer through your window and work on you with their sales tactics. It’s difficult to turn your head in the other direction. In almost equal quantities as sales people are those begging for money and food during slow traffic. Some of the people are difficult to turn your eyes away from. There are many crippled people who drag themselves across the busy roads and many mothers with multiple young children walk by trying to gain a few cents to feed their children. Sometimes there are young children working on their own with cloths in hand, trying to wash the windows of idling vehicles.
Addis reminds me a lot of Accra, Ghana. The people make the place beautiful – the atmosphere is rich to the senses. In the background you can hear roosters crowing at all hours of the day, the "clank clank" from labourers tools is always present, and traditional music is always blaring in the background. The people here are so friendly. The children always have gaping smiles and try our their English on us wherever they go. The word we have gotten most often is “Friend” which brings smiles to our faces. The smell here is like no other – it is a musky, humid scent and is very comforting. We felt at home here within minutes of arriving.
Our guesthouse is located centrally in the perfect location. It is owned by an amazing, welcoming family, who have been nothing but accommodating. We have the entire third floor of the building to ourselves. We each have a comfy room with a bathroom. There are two balconies located at 90 degrees from one another. The view from each is breathtaking and we have found ourselves sitting outside on the balcony whenever we have down time, soaking up the sights down below. Shopping for groceries has been quite the struggle. It is difficult to find fresh meat that hasn’t been sitting for days on end. Fruit and veggies seem to be a luxury here, and when found, are often decaying. The other day we went on a mission to find coca-cola lite (the closest thing to diet coke in these quarters). We drove to 5 supermarkets before finally finding a place that would allow us to put a 1000 birr deposit ($75.00) on bottles so that we could bring them back to the guesthouse…..we put a deposit on 40 bottles! Better to be safe than sorry when it comes to these sorts of things!
Our first journey to St. Paul’s Hospital, where we will be working for the duration of our time in Addis, was interesting to say the least. The landscape changes from block to block. Some areas are dense with vegetation and others are bare and filled with concrete. People crowd the busy streets where traffic moves at a snails pace. When traffic finally speeds up, it is a dodgeball game. I can’t tell you the number of times I was sure we would end up in some sort of collision. There are so few public washrooms here that you often see people urinating in open view. On our first day, we saw at least 10 people doing this very thing. In addition, there are a lot of pedestrian fatalities due to the chaotic nature of traffic. On our first trip to the hospital, we passed by a deceased man lying face down in the middle of a busy road. People carried about their days walking by within inches of his body. There are also a lot of stray animals in this neck of the woods. Often you see packs of dogs walking around. You can tell which ones have been surviving on the streets for a while and which ones are new at the game.
The Emergency Room in St. Paul’s Hospital is small and congested. They have one resuscitation bed, 2 treatment rooms, and 15 acute care beds. They use a similar triage system to ours and only see the very ill in this particular Emergency Room. There is very little privacy in this department. There are no curtains separating the beds and patients are examined in front of other patients and families. People in this department are very sick and the cases are incredibly interesting. Malaria, Tuberculosis, and Retroviral illnesses flood this hospital. Often these presentations are complicated by concurrent pneumonias, among other things. We’ve seen gunshot wounds and multiple trauma patients. A major difference between the system here and in Canada is it’s private nature. Patients must pay for all of their own treatment including IV fluids, medications, CT scans, and MRI. A CT scan here is approximately $150.00, which is an outstanding cost when even most of the staff physicians here make $150.00 per month. Therefore, it is not uncommon for a patient to leave the hospital without investigation of their illness. It is for this same reason that many patients wait until they are very ill before they seek medical treatment. This often means that there is little that can be done in the way of medical care by the time they reach the hospital. In Addis, luxuries that we have in Canada such as TPA treatment for stroke and cardiac catheterization for a heart attack are nonexistent. When patients present with ischemic strokes, they are kept in hospital on supportive therapy and there is no intervention that takes place. These are only some of the observations that we noticed during our first day working in hospital.
We have found the doctors, interns, and residents to be incredibly helpful, friendly and accommodating. They are very intelligent and are resourceful when it comes to patient care. They do whatever they can to provide the best treatment for their patients within their means. They have openly welcomed Carissa and I to their healthcare team and have allowed us to take an active role in patient care. We are loving this working environment and are looking forward to the days to come.
The weather so far in Addis is unpredictable to say the least, they are stuck in an awkward transition period following the rainy season. It will be boiling hot with the sun beating down on you one minute, and windy with a chill the next. We have also experienced some pretty intense torrential downpours while here, which run on and off sporadically during the day and night.
On another note….This morning I woke up very sick. My stomach was in knots and I was unable to bear the pain that I was experiencing. I have never been that sick in my life! I took antibiotics right away and a nice dose of pain medication. Nothing seemed to help me. When I started to become pale and couldn’t walk, we looked in to visiting a private hospital. Me being a typical health care worker, I decided to wait it out to see if I would get better. With rehydration, antibiotics, and pain medication, luckily I did! I am on the mend and feeling better every moment. I am hoping that was the first and last time I get sick here in Addis. Here’s to hoping.
Despite this morning, it has been an amazing journey thus far and we can’t wait to see what the next few weeks bring!
Love <3 Andrea and Carissa