Please excuse the belated blog post! As always, the wifi here can be a bit spotty 🙂 Enjoy our post from June 6th!
Day one of outreach in Lilongwe began at the African Bible College (ABC), where we split into two teams headed to different destinations for the day. Our team consisted of Dr. Busen supervising, Alinoni from ABC, Elise as team leader, Sara as counselor, Ashley as communicator, and Megan as cheerleader. Our destination was Madisi, about an hour’s drive from Lilongwe.
True to a typical outreach, our day began with a flurry of activity that never really subsided throughout the day. Dozens of people were lined up waiting for our services as soon as we arrived. Setting up took us about 20 minutes, after which each team member jumped in immediately to help wherever needed.
Even with our team working efficiently together, our line of patients grew throughout the day as more and more people kept arriving. Many patients had middle ear problems and needed medical management. Of those who did not, almost everyone had hearing loss and needed a full test battery. Megan worked with Alinoni in cerumen (earwax) management and ear mopping. Cerumen was the least of our patients’ problems today. Many times, excessive cerumen was removed only to reveal drainage from an untreated ear infection.
Elise began the day conducting otoscopy on patients and beginning the screening process. As the day progressed, Dr. Busen took on the sole role of tympanometry/OAE screener, while Elise moved on to programming hearing aids and taking ear impressions. Sara and Ashley were the testers for today. So many people needed to have a full hearing test, and they had a very long line all day! Testing conditions were less-than-ideal, with noise, cramped conditions, and difficult (but interesting!) ears. If Sara and Ashley didn’t feel confident in their testing abilities before, they certainly do now! It is always amazing how our team is able to provide the best care possible, even when faced with many challenges.
Unfortunately, we had to turn away many patients today. There simply were too few of us and too many of them to be able to serve everyone. Anyone who did not receive treatment today has a plan for when and where they can receive treatment another day, whether that is with us at another outreach, at the ABC clinic, or at the same location with a different team another day.
As the final patients were being fit with hearing aids, the students who were not otherwise occupied helped clean and pack the equipment into the bus. Dusk began to settle in as we finally got onto the bus and drove away, hungry and tired, and very much ready for a hot meal and bed. Little did we know, our biggest adventure for the day had yet to begin.
No sooner had we pulled out onto the main road and began to drive out of town than the bus ran out of gas. I don’t mean it ran out, as we-need-to-find-a-gas-station-now ran out, I mean it fully ran out of gas and stopped moving in the middle of the road. As luck would have it, we had just passed a gas station only a moment before, and our ever-optimistic bus driver Laz promptly revved the engine back to life, threw it into reverse, and drove us backwards for a quarter of a mile. And yes, there were other cars on the road.
We managed to get the bus to the gas station, but only just. Here we were, a mere 100 yards from the pump, with a bus who had given its dying breath to get us there, and it wasn’t enough. But we weren’t ready to throw in the towel yet. With 9 passengers aboard, we had more than enough brawn to strong-arm our way to the pump. We all got out and helped push, first backward, then forward, then backward and forward again until the bus was placed just so in front of the pump. We made sure to get picture and video evidence of this little episode!
Still tired, but bolstered by our recent success, we loaded back onto the bus and prepared for the long drive back. But this adventure was far from over! With the bus fully gassed and (seemingly) ready to go, Laz turned they key and…it wouldn’t start. In that moment, I think each of us had a little voice in our heads telling us to be ready to spend the night in the bus. Never was our saying This Is Africa (TIA) more true than in that very moment. As dusk faded to twilight around us, we sat in rapt attention, wishing with all of our might for the bus to start and take us on our merry way.
After a few moments, when it became apparent that we would be there for a while, the ASU team members gathered round to discuss the day. There was no sense in sitting around and waiting for the bus to start without doing something productive. We promptly assessed what still needed to be done with our paperwork for the day, what needed to happen in the morning for a successful outreach tomorrow, our highlights from the day, and what our roles would be tomorrow. Always prepared, Elise pulled out her headlamp as the light faded and we began sorting paperwork as the Malawian members of our team set to work on figuring out what was wrong with the bus.
The bus did eventually start. We all cheered as it roared back to life beneath us. It turns out that there had been fumes in the engine from when Laz had forced the bus back to life earlier, and they just needed to be released before it would start. Now fully dark, we finally got back on the road and headed towards the rest of our team and Mabuya Camp.
It was, overall, an eventful day, and one we will not soon forget! And at the end of it, we all arrived safe and sound, ready to tackle whatever tomorrow will bring.
TIA, and good night!