Uganda Healthcare Expedition Part V

I’ve been spending this weekend back home in London. Unfortunately, it didn’t start off quite so smoothly…

I developed a bout of conjunctivitis towards the end of the week, and was slowly recovering from that. It was also on the Friday when I headed to London, that I heard about the terrorist incident at Parsons Green earlier that morning. People were naturally more cautious about their travels and that included me. What made things more difficult, was telling my family that I was going to the Uganda-UK convention in central London the next day. They were NOT happy.

While I was brainstorming on the train, and trying to think of what I would like to achieve from the convention, I received a certain-toned phone call from the family, asking about the sort of convention I was attending.

Then that classic saying came along:

“We’ll talk about this when you get home”.

No, not an unfamiliar saying. But if anything, it probably fired up my drive more so. Listening to some of my favourite movie themes (yes, this includes How To Train Your Dragon), I was even more focused in my planning for the convention!

I tried to think why it is that parents don’t want us to do certain things. Do they think differently from us? Do they feel like they are losing us? Are they worried that we could fail? Maybe all those things. Or maybe, we’re supposed to be “settling”.

I don’t think such a thing as “settling” exists. To settle and accept things as they are, almost means giving up on life. I actually think that’s somewhat disrespectful to life itself. To strive, however and whatever you decide to pursue, means to live life to the fullest. If you choose to be of service to others, why shouldn’t you? Anything which increases your options is a good decision. If you do the same actions, you’ll get that same results. If you do different actions, you’ll have a different life.

So I went.

After an early morning wake up (6.45am on a Saturday morning is early for me!), I got ready and headed out. The convention itself was quite easy to get to, only a few stops on the underground and just a couple on the railway. Once I got there I signed in, was given my pass and waited around…unfortunately for a long time! It turned out that not only I had gotten there ridiculously early (I thought 9am was quite decent!), but they were running very late. The hall where the convention was being held at was divided into two parts. The front consisted of the stage, the tables at the front and the stand alone seats at the back. Behind were all the exhibition stands. The people who attended were spread across the two parts, though the exhibition area was naturally much louder! Before you realise people approach you, and you can’t help but network as well-exchanging contact details and dishing out calling cards (I was probably one of the few who DIDN’T have one, I don’t think your NHS smart card quite qualifies!).

Sneaky photo before the crowds came

Before the rest of the people arrived 

The chairman opened up the convention with a saying I thought was clever, in the context of us being allowed to use our phones to take pictures!

“Life worth living is one worth recording”.

The convention commenced with the singing of the Ugandan National Anthem. This was soon followed by various speeches given by many distinguished invited guests-such as the Ugandan High commissioner to the UK, and the Vice President of Uganda, Edward Ssekandi.

Vice President of Uganda Edward Ssekandi giving his speech 

One of the presentations which interested me more so, was delivered to us by Dr Ian Clarke-a physician, philanthropist, entrepreneur and the chairman of the International Medical Group. I found his work inspiring, particularly how he used agriculture from his roots to keep his medical work sustainable. I adored his motto:

“Sustainable Development with Social Impact”

I was very fortunate to have a face to face meeting with him, which was just as well as I missed a part of his presentation (because it was during his presentation that we had to register to meet with a specific speaker…funny that!).

The meeting itself was a delight! I had my notebook with my questions written and my pen at the ready, to write haste his answers and advice. However I soon as I sat down, I didn’t even look at my notebook properly. It didn’t seem all that appropriate. I asked just one question, and the rest of the time we just chatted away, completely informal and relaxed. He was taken aback that I was a doctor, as I think he thought like many others, I was seeking for an investment! It was almost like we were uni friends, getting to know each other and comparing notes about medicine and life. I felt absolutely honoured that we spent the length of time we had talking. To me he was like a celebrity, and it was probably my highlight of the convention!

After leaving the meeting room, I walked through a very crowded hallway where out of nowhere, a calling card flung across, hit my face by accident and landed on the floor. I picked it up and didn’t think much of it when a gentleman said:

“I’m really sorry, did that hit your eye?!”

“No no it didn’t, not to worry”

“Oh then you can have it!”

Suddenly there was a loud uproar of laughter and I couldn’t help but join in. But it wasn’t until I left the hallway, that I realised who the card belonged to-the Ugandan High Commissioner!

After a cup of tea and a croissant for lunch (the queue for lunch was incredibly long and I didn’t have the stomach to wait), I managed to speak with some other people in the crowds, before taking my seat at the table. The lecture after lunch was provided by a Ugandan Physician, which captivated me yet again. She first talked about the Diaspora in Uganda. Ignorant as I am at things, I had to look this up. She then spoke about how the healthcare system there is “corrupt and broken down”, and that a lot of work still needed doing. This was followed with a story, one which almost brought me to tears…

A senior physician at her hospital became unwell and needed a ventilator. Unfortunately the ventilator broke down and he was deteriorating. “Hospital X” where he was staying would not let him go to “Hospital Y” to receive treatment via their working ventilator, until he and his family paid the fees. This was in the hundred thousand region and despite appealing to the administration, they would not let him go. “The fees were coming in but his health was getting worse”.

Once the payment was made to Hospital X, Hospital Y refused to take him in. This was because he now needed to pay for the ambulance, and this was even more expensive (in the millions region). SOMEHOW they managed to get this payment sorted and thankfully, he was transferred across. Maybe it was the way she told us this story (which is far better than how I am saying it here), but this sorry horrified me and I was heartbroken.

After a couple more speeches I decided to call it a day. I had taken more than enough knowledge and insight than I could have hoped for and decided to head back, to spend the rest of the day with the family.

My trinkets from the day šŸ™‚ You could only speak with the guest speakers if you applied for a VIP pass-so worth it! 

Attending this convention only reinforced what I want to do with my life. There are many messages which I took home with me, but one of my favourites still is this one, which was mentioned by the Ugandan physician. It couldn’t be put more simply:

“It was just something different and that’s what I chose to do”

Advertisements

Tap Your Heels Together Three Times

I spent this weekend by undergoing a massive clear up of almost all of my possessions. I sieved through my documents, all sorts of books, shelves, clothes and shoes. Hard to believe it took me almost the whole of Saturday and half of Sunday to do it. However, I knew it was one of those things that I had to force myself to do, for it would never get done otherwise! As I’ll be going back home again soon, I tried to take that as a good opportunity to bring back some clothes, and other stuff I don’t use anymore.

I found it remarkable how simply going through your things can bring back such vivid memories. For example, I brought here with me my twenty-something year old figurines, all intact. I took them to university to remind me of home and to brighten up my room. But for some reason since coming here, I kept them all in a box. This was the weekend I finally took them out to display again.

I kept a lot of my medical books , as I know I will refer to these from time to time. They have university written all over them, including the ups and downs. This was the literature we had to study just to keep our places.

Whilst going through my pyjamas, (I wasn’t kidding when I said I went through everything), I came across a PJ top which I wore almost all the time at uni. It was a blue one with white clouds, all in one piece, yet I stopped wearing it. I tried to think why so, and then I realised it was because the trouser bottoms became unwearable. The elasticity had gone, it’s time had run out. I looked at this top and really debated whether I should keep it with me, or take it back home. I distinctly remembered one of the times when I first met this guy at university, I happened to be wearing this pyjama top. I went over to his room and asked him to leave me alone, because I was getting these prank calls from him at midnight, claiming to be Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now he’s my boyfriend.

Today was the day I started seeing patients on my own at a surgery. Probably more nervous than excited, I thought that one thing I canĀ try and get right is how I dress. Last week I was wearing what I call my ‘granny cardigan’. It made me look old and small. How convenient it was that I went through all my clothes just a couple of days ago! (Maybe on a subconscious level, it was another reason I wanted to review my clothes).

I came across smart-looking items encompassing blouses and skirts and the such, some I hadn’t worn in a long time, some surprisingly still fitting me and some I’d never seen before! I made the effort and I do think it showed. My colleagues took notice that I looked a little different and I think I was treated as such. Maybe this is the world we live in. I even got complimented by a patient who liked my ‘ruby red shoes’. I assure you they’re not quite as glamorous as in The Wizard of Oz,Ā but hey it paid off.

Why on earth am I rambling on about things, possessions? Does it really matter? Well I think that depends on how you look at it. Sometimes they prove to be more than useful, given the right circumstances (such as my example of work above). However, there are times when I don’t just look at my things as mere objects but as collections, specific to memories from my past. You grow yet they’ll always be the same. They always remind you of where you came from and will always bring you back to a certain point in time. What makes them special? Well like anything I suppose, they always have a story behind them.

The Story of the Funky Pigeon

Apparently today is my one year anniversary of blogging…yay!

I therefore thought it would be nice to share with you a story which my mother told me a few days ago. I call it, the story of the funky pigeon.

It was on a Friday when my mother was getting ready to head out to work. She was already running a little bit late, so her natural priority was to leave on time. Whilst making her breakfast, she looked through the kitchen window and noticed that a pigeon had entered the bird house. The problem was that my dad had built it so pigeons couldn’t get in. How it did was anyone’s guess.

IMG_5141

The bird house in the back garden, taken in the recent few days I was back home

My mum thought that the pigeon might leave the bird house on it’s own, and so left it alone. She carried on getting ready when she looked out of the window upstairs, and saw that it was still there. She now started to worry a little, it was almost time for her to leave! She came out into the garden and used a milk carton (don’t ask me why) to try and shoo the pigeon off. Unfortunately it didn’t budge. She thought that might still be hungry, and decided to let it be for a further five minutes, before trying to take the pigeon out of the bird house herself.

Five minutes later my mum came out to the garden where to her horror, she found scattered feathers on the floor. The pigeon was wounded and a black and white cat was circulating the bird house. It was obvious that it wasn’t going to leave anytime soon.

Now my mother panicked. She shooed off the cat, but realised that if she left home with the pigeon inside the bird house, the cat would surely come back for it, for it knew that the pigeon had nowhere to go. It was trapped and injured.Ā So what did my mum do? What any loving mother would do, she took the pigeon into our home.

The problem however was that it was injured and it needed medical attention. Not knowing how to rescue the pigeon safely from the bird house without injuring it further, she did the next best thing…she brought the whole bird house insideĀ our house.

My mum rang the RSPCA and after explaining what had happened, she was informed that it maybe a couple of hours until somebody would come to take the injured pigeon. Now that she was definitely running late for work, she had to get reinforcements. Who better to be available than my dad, who was almost finishing his early shift! She rang him and after he managed to calm her down, she headed off to work. It was not long until my dad came home and awaited for the RSPCA team. Once they arrived they took the pigeon from the bird house safely and transferred it to their facility, to receive the appropriate treatment.

When my mum told me of this story down the phone, I literally couldn’t believe my ears. I imagined that it was something you could base a mini movie on, and had it running in my head! The fact that my mum carried that tall bird house through the back entrance of the house, with a fluttering pigeon inside shocks me even now. It was a simple yet sweet story about caring for another creature and doing what you can to save it. Yes it was a story of my mother and a pigeon she saved. But it is also a story I would be proud to tell my children.

Uganda Healthcare Expedition Part IV

After a fun couple of days of vegetarian home cooking (burgers and lasagne!), I had a few days off work and so set off to London. I was a little lazy at home but at the same time, hung out in the high street and enjoyed the summer sales!

IMG_5139

The view from the top floor of the bus, the best seat in my opinion!

IMG_5148

My sales items, totalingĀ Ā£62.75

It was also a good opportunity to meet up with a family friend, one who I’ve known for almost 25 years.

It was on the day that I met up with her, that I had an appointment with the dental hygienist in the morning. Just a typical appointment which I had booked the day before…or was it?

Everything was going pretty normal. My teeth were being inspected and the dental hygienist was doing a ‘deep clean’ on them, when his phone rang and he answered accordingly.

‘Oh I’m very sorry but I had to take the phone call’

‘That’s ok’ I replied.

‘Yeah it’s from Uganda’

‘Oh really?’

It was at this point that my voice changed to one of excitement. Of course I let him finish off the session, and then we talked about all-things-Uganda. We spoke about my trip there last year, his origins there and what we were both hoping to do. I told him about what I was setting up and interestingly, he told me about his plans to improve the dental hygiene there. We exchanged contact details and I left soon after. The very next day, I received an email from him.

He alerted me of the Uganda-UK Investment Convention which is scheduled for this year. I don’t know if I would have even be aware of it, if it wasn’t for the dental hygienist! Did I sign up for it? Well of course I did. I considered it a sign that he was there! Interestingly, I was contacted by two key organisations soon after-The Ministry of Health in Uganda that day, and the RCOG the next day.

So yes, things are still going. My next steps are:

  • Look into fundraising and obtaining the medical equipment.
  • Once this is done, we can set up the services for the cervical cancer screening programme and look into keeping it sustainable.
  • Make plans to go to Uganda towards the beginning of next year.

I wanted to end this post by sharing a Youtube link, because of the impact it has on me every time I watch it. I find it very inspirational, focusing the importance of creating change and making a difference in people’s lives. This is what I want to do.

Gary Vaynerchuk in Ghana, a country I have been to previously and love dearly. The ending of this vlog almost always gets to me. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did šŸ™‚

Live Your Life

As I head back to Leeds on the train again, I reflect on how I spent the last few days in my home city, London. I use train journeys as a golden opportunity to recollect the good memories we made at home. It’s always something I can come back to.

I hadn’t been at home in just over two months, and hadn’t seen my family since I did my exam. It was nice to actually spend a few days with them, not just a weekend.Ā In addition to getting a hair cut, I took the opportunity to meet my cousins. A couple came over to see us and I met up with a close one in the city.

I always enjoy going to central London, and this trip was no different. I love the fact that it’s literally a 30 minute trip on the Underground to get there. I met my cousin at around 5pm in London Bridge, at a fresh Italian Pasta restaurant called Padella. Despite the early dinner and neither of us being particularly hungry, we somehow managed to consume 3 pasta dishes, a chocolate torte and a bottle of Prosecco between us! I hadn’t seen her since Christmas, so there was a lot of catching up to do.

After having our meal, we walked across the city centre. Starting at Borough Market, we made our way along the River Thames and passed many London landmarks-Shakespeare’s Globe, the Royal National Theatre, London television centre, the London Eye, Sea life London Aquarium, Dungeons and Dragons, skateboarding sites, the list was endless. Streaks of sunlight were seeping through the clouds still, yet nobody was cold. Everybody looked happy and was in a good mood. We said our goodbyes on London Bridge at around 8.30pm and we went home our separate ways. My understanding is that the London terrorist attacks took place two hours later.

The following morning, after waking up to numerous Whatsapp messages to check people were safe, I went to a barbeque my sister was organising for me and my parents. We were joined by one of my old family friends who I hadn’t seen in almost a year, and her American cousin who I briefly met at my sister’s wedding. I won’t lie, I thought I had felt a little awkwardness between us, maybe because I hadn’t seen her in a long time or maybe because they were guests. However I think it settled…my sister showed us wedding videos (some of them I knew I’d seen before) and we chatted again like old times.

After the barbeque, we drove to my friend’s house where she was staying with her parents, whilst she was back in England. Her house always reminded me of happy childhood memories and the days we used to hang out there. Her cousin was a medical student and talked about the medical school system. He also invited me to come to America. Yay! My first American friend! It was even more lovely seeing her parents again. Her father is a retired GP and I had the utmost respect for him. He had a very good work ethic which my mother always talked about when I was younger, and I’d like to think Ā that he was proud of me. Hilariously he exclaimed, “ahh Chitra, you look like a 10 year old!”, and we had an energetic conversation. We talked about the hospitals I worked in and he was happy that I can do LPs, (lumbar punctures), stating “yes, you’re a doctor”.

I definitely enjoyed my time in London, I always do. I love trying to make time to see old friends and family, because I want to be reminded of my roots when I tend to forget them. This trip back to London will probably stick to me more, because of what happened in London Bridge. Last time I met up with my cousin was around Christmas time last year. We met up later in the evening and I came home later. What if we decided to meet up at a similar time this year? It’s almost terrifying to think that, and I did lay awake that night thinking about what could have happened.

My mum mentioned that I should stop going to central London often (as if I go often!), and brought up many a time, how I encouraged her to take trips there that very evening, before we heard the news. But really, should something like this stop us from carrying on with normal life? According to her, it almost felt like she believed that. Yes maybe I’ll be a little cautious, but I won’t be living in fear. We have a life to live and we should live it.

Reflections on a train

I am halfway through a train journey back to Leeds, after having just spent the weekend with my family. Because of the time it takes to get to London (up to 2 and a half hours on a good day…try hopping onto a train after an exhausting week of long hours!) and the cost of train tickets, I don’t always get to go home as much as I would like to. However when I do go, I really try to make the most of it. I use the time to be with my parents, relax in the house I grew up in and meet up with a select few friends I try hard to stay in touch with. I also use the time I have at home to refresh my mind and remind myself of my London roots again…for example topping up my Oyster card!

I reflect about the things I have been able to do, what I have achieved so far, and more importantly what more I have to do to achieve my goals. When I come home, it’s so easy to not want to go back to work again. Maybe I can do something similar down here, in the comfort of my own home and family and friends.

So why did I leave? Was it because of an appealing location? Well partly yes. Was it to be with my boyfriend, after working in separate locations for two years? Absolutely yes. But then I remember the real reason why I left. If I stayed, I would be too comfortable. I wouldn’t venture off and do things I would have only dreamed off. And yes if I was at home, I would only dream of the things I want to do. Don’t get more wrong, I did spend one year at home after my foundation training, which I spent to go to Peru, Ecuador and Ghana. So I know you can still travel and do things even if you live at home. But I knew that deep down, I would still get too comfortable. I would take home for granted, and I wouldn’t do more for myself, I wouldn’t challenge myself.

Not all my train journeys have been of reflection. Having been forced by my supervisor to return to work for literally one day during the Christmas holiday, I had the honour of meeting the one and only Jeremy Corbyn, whilst on our way home to celebrate New Years Eve!

As I make my way back to Leeds, I am constantly reminded of the fun I had this weekend with my parents, cousins and friends. I came down especially this time to celebrate Dhane, a Buddhist festival to remember the ones we lost. I’m not the most religious but when I am home, I do try extra hard to pray, make the most of it and make it meaningful. Those days when I was super home sick and I had to leave home, I would confide in my boyfriend that I was missing my family, missing home and whichever location I am in, my opinion of the opposite one goes a little sour. I think one of the wisest things he’s said that day (apart from his many other musings!), was that there was no need to be sad. I literally could go back to London anytime I wanted to, nobody is stopping me but myself. Wherever you are, you can always take home with you, each of these locations is providing me with happiness, joy and love. Then it clicked to me, home is wherever you want it to be.