Our first remote clinic was in Mukwando, a small village at the top of a mountain in a crater thought to be a dormant volcano. The goal of this mission is to reach remote people who do not have access to health care. It is about a 45 minute flight from Lubango, flown by Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). There are so many areas in which to serve!
As we flew high over the country, all of the sudden the ground rose right up underneath the plane. A large plain a short distance down from the peaks was visible: the crater! Our runway was a strip of dirt that the pilot often has to swoop down upon to clear away the goats as well as the people who come out to greet the plane after hearing the loud engine. We landed cleanly and turned around on the runway to taxi back to the site of the clinic. All of the sudden we made a sharp turn due to a tire catching in a patch of soft ground. Our plane was stuck! The morning did not turn into a morning of seeing patients, but rather a period of trial and error in figuring out how to get the plane out of the mud. 50 people from the village, all non-English, mostly non-Portuguese speaking, rallied to help pull the plane with two ropes and by pushing on each wing and doorframe. As we pulled, the plane only sunk further. After a few hours we decided to give up and get help. The pilot and co-pilot left on a ~4 hour hike to get help while Dr. Kubacki, the other medical student, Becca, and I got started with the clinic.
Dr. Kubacki starts clinics with a short talk. He tells the people why he comes to them by saying he cares about their physical health as well as their spiritual health. He then discusses a health concern, such as when to be concerned about fever, and then gives a spiritual teaching. The teaching at Mukuando was about the Good Samaritan. How nicely that fit into our plane experience, with the village coming to help us foreigners!
Some of the people we treated had malaria, which has the red flag symptom of fever, and can also have an array of pretty much any other symptom ranging from upper respiratory infection, to vertigo, to gastrointestinal symptoms. One particularly memorable patient we had was a young boy about 12 years old, who had tuberculosis of the hip. He walked with a cane. The doctor had seen him before, and recommended that he go to the nearest hospital to be treated, which involved a couple of days worth of walking. At this follow up visit, he had been unable to get to the hospital, and the hip was worse. He will need a hip fusion surgery to prevent pain, and the hip may even fuse on its own. If his infection spreads, it will end his life. The fact that there is a treatment for tuberculosis makes this occurrence that much more devastating. Another memorable patient was a pregnant woman who came in because she had not yet felt her baby move. We did an ultrasound and found a tiny baby floating and flipping around in her uterus, and it was too early and small for the movement to be felt. The excitement and joy that seeing a baby on ultrasound provokes crosses language and cultural barriers most definitely.
Night began to fall, and help for towing out the plane was not going to be available until the next day. The community made dinner for us and set up tents complete with sheet and blanket. A few of them slept outside our tents next to the fire to assure we were okay throughout the night. The stars were astounding. Never had I thought I’d be sleeping on a dormant volcano.
The next day, we had some help arrive as well as a jack. The pilot brought back some wooden planks to roll the plane out of the mud, he emptied some 50 liters of fuel to make it lighter, and had the people from the village pull again. The plane was out within 20 seconds! Everyone who had pulled and all those observing broke out into clapping and cheering. It was quite the heroic end to an unforgettable trip.