Experiences of a med student with an incurable travel bug.

Kampala, Uganda

During our last few days in Kampala, I shadowed doctors at Mulago hospital for three days, one day each in Endocrinology, the Labor Ward, and Pediatrics.

Monday: Everyone in Endocrinology had Type II diabetes, often with other afflictions and always with the diabetic foot; several patients had gangrene. We went to some of the local craft markets on Buganda Road and at the National Theatre to have a look around and then met Annette for dinner (liver, rice and chips). Annette was the other doctor who showed us around last year with JB, and she’s incredible. Quite the life story, but she’s one of the only Ugandans I know who likes schedules and organization — it’s a nice change!

Tuesday: The Labor Ward was positively overflowing, with women on the floors and in the hallways nearly ready to give birth. I even saw a live birth, it was amazing! Now I’ve held the youngest baby in my life; the baby came out, it’s cord was cut, it was wiped off a bit and put into a blanket, and then the sisters let me pick him up! Less than three minutes old and he was holding my finger and trying to suckle the air — it’s amazing! That night we went to Krua Thai with Regina, another woman we met last year. She runs the CHAIN program that a few of us visited and that I looked closely at for my research project last January. She took us to her house afterwards for drinks and to show us the promotional video they’ve made for CHAIN.

Wednesday: In pediatrics the doctor would see each child for maybe 10 minutes before the next one came in, and he was still hardly able to make any progress through the huge line of people waiting. Nearly every child we saw had a herniated umbilicus (I believe that’s what he called it), and of course there were TB and other illnesses. Their pediatric operating room wasn’t able to be used for a month already when I was there as sewer was backing up into it, and they figured it would be at least another month before it would be open again. This lead to many cases that should have been operated on being postponed indefinitely, with only the most emergent being refered. Just the previous day they had someone come in with a severely broken foot, with one of the bones cutting through the skin. The doctors had want to properly set the break through surgery, but as they were unable to they just filed down the protruding bone, set the foot and sent the child on his way. Unfortunately it seems as though this is going to continue for some time. That night we met up with Miriam, a girl who came to the UW for a month last year and Molly got to know, for tea and sandwiches at her home. She’s married and pregnant now, so that was exciting!

That night we finished up our packing and got ready to leave at 5am to catch our flight to South Africa.

The morning of our flights was sufficiently chaotic. At 6am we were checking in for our flight to Johannesburg, at which point the woman behind the counter informed us that my luggage was about 20 kilograms overweight. uhhh, what?!? Having checked all the luggage restrictions before leaving, I knew that I should have been allowed two bags at 23 kilos each since my origin point for the trip was the US; however, since we were checking back in at Entebbe/Uganda, they decided we should only be allowed 23 kilos total, the limit for flights within the continent. After attempting to sort it all out with the one South African Airways person working at that hour, I redistributed weight as best I could and ended up paying ~$200 to get everything here, as did Molly. Positively ridiculous, but I’m working with SAA to try to get it refunded.

The layover in Joburg was relatively painless apart from the impressively pushy employees. Porters insisted on pulling our luggage, literally wrestling it out of our hands, even after we told them several times that we had zero money. When we got to our point to check back in as we had to go through customs, they lingered and insisted we tip them for the 50 foot journey. Nope, we told them we didn’t have anything and we weren’t lying, we hadn’t been able to exchange or withdraw any cash yet. In our line to check back in we were surrounded by two big groups of bikers, likely heading to Cape Town to train for the upcoming race. A uniformed employee ushered us through to the counter since we’d be quick and the bicyclists were going to take a looong time. Of course, after we checked our stuff he follows us half way to our gate, demanding a tip. As we still didn’t have money, and he really didn’t do anything, there was no tip for him either. After all of this and Joburg’s reputation for losing the most luggage of any airport on the planet, we were convinced that our luggage would never make it to Cape Town. After the two hour flight, we waited for quite a while for our luggage to come off the plane, and miraculously it all made it!! We couldn’t believe it, so many other people I’ve met here lost luggage coming through Joburg.

There was someone from UCT waiting for us at the airport, and after a few more students arrived a big van took us to all our different houses, dropping each of us off on the curb with our luggage and driving off. Apparently they had called ahead to all of our landlords, so there was someone to let us in.

So, after three weeks of constant travel, I arrived in Cape Town! I’m living a beautiful old historic Victorian row home, just two houses down from the first house my Aunt Mona lived in when she moved to Cape Town!! Small world. My room is on the second floor at the top of the stairs, overlooking the back garden. It’s painted green and has old wooden furniture; it’s very nice. The living room is painted a deep red with white covers on the couches, and the kitchen is in good condition. This place is so much nicer than any student housing at Madison, and cheaper! I even have my own room, and it’s almost twice the size of the room I’m going to have next year!
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