Blog: Daily life in Kampala

Dr Mhoira Leng
23rd May 2014

Often these posts are about travels and adventures rather than the day to day clinical rounds. Some of you asked for another wee peek into a typical day and some of the people who make life so rich, unexpected and challenging.
The traffic in Kampala gets worse and worse but if you get up before dawn, arm yourself with a large mug of spicy Indian tea and leave as the sun is just rising you can almost keep your sanity. The beauty of a soft red sun rising above the busy morning activity and the smart youngsters on the way to school makes getting up early worth it (almost). The small team office fills up as one by one everyone arrives though as it is rainy

season they can be delayed. For the past few years we have been privileged to have UK volunteers working with us and they add to so much to our great MPCU team. Anna has just left but Eilidh and Gurs are with us right now and have joined me on the early start. Each day our priority is the patients and families we support on wards throughout the Mulago site. Last year we saw more than 600 patients and their families and many many more were also supported through the volunteer and link nurse programmes. Today Mulago is as busy as ever but has got some smart new beds, mattresses and even hand sanitiser containers (not always full but a good step forward). The nurses look smart in their uniforms and red belts and seem to keep going even when the number of patients seems overwhelming. Let's visit some wards together. Here is a young girl from the west of the country who has had very traumatic events in her childhood and now has an unusual type of cancer and is receiving chemotherapy. Her parents are with her constantly to do all of her personal care and at least she is sleeping quietly today. We can now go and see a young man of 23 who has been diagnosed with liver cancer that is very uncommon in the UK but sadly common here. It is associated with hepatitis B and

perhaps one day vaccination can stop this cycle of infection, inflammation and cancer. Today we need to speak with him and his family and break the news about how far the disease has progressed. At least his pain is well controlled today with the help of oral morphine that is presently in good supply. Our next patient has several problems that are linked; stage 4 HIV/AIDS which drops the immunity and leaves people vulnerable to other problems such as the advanced TB he is being treated for and now a kind of cancer, Kaposi sarcoma. We have some  colleagues with us today who are going to be pioneers of palliative care in their Francophone countries; Tunisia, Senegal, DRC and Benin. Chedly from Tunisia has never seen a patient with KS which shows the huge difference in this continent of Africa. They are adding a whole new dimension for the round and stretching my rusty French language skills. Come with us too and see a young girl that has advanced heart disease (called endomyocardial fibrosis) that is fairly common here but very rare in the UK. She has responded to treatment overnight but remains very ill. We have suggested to her mother that we ask for Hospice Africa Uganda to help with her care at home and the mother claps her hands. Why? She is also a patient at Hospice and knows how much care and love they will offer. Still sad for this lovely family but glad Octivia from Hospice is on our round today as she is several times a week. Lastly we prepare to lead a clinical meeting, called the grand round, to talk about difficult conversations at the end of life to help our colleagues think about how to handle these situations and to explore the ethical issues   involved.  We are going to tell the story of a courageous little girl we looked after recently who agreed to let us share her words. She was very ill with advanced lung fibrosis and had many questions. Am I going to be OK? Why do other children get better and go home but not me? She also got
very frightened at night and asked 'Is Satan coming to get me?' 'Can you help me go to a church?' She was too unwell to go to church but we listened to her fears, supported her family, prescribed some medication to help her breathing and then suggested we brought church to her thanks to our great volunteers. They came with songs, stories, a radio, some ice cream, a children's bible and prayers. Holistic care in action. It was also encouraging to see how many came to the teaching session and were willing to explore and learn how to respond to these very important questions. It underscores how much our colleagues appreciate palliative care and are willing to develop their own skills with enthusiasm and compassion.
Its been a busy day and now we have plenty paperwork, examinations to set and mark, panicked students to support who are trying to get their research work in for marking, planning for our next THET project support visits to Uganda, Zambia, Kenya and Rwanda, looking to see how we can manage the budgets this year, answering the hundreds of emails and of course the prospect of battling with the Kampala traffic to get back home to my wee house.