For our last week in Cavango before our final remote site visit of the rotation, we hit an abrupt onset of malaria season. The hospital was packed with mainly children, who are very prone to severe malaria. We had about 7 kids admitted to the hospital, and each had at least a couple brothers and sisters hanging around. You know what that means… sucker time! We had a mass of children all looking for “pepitos” or suckers, when we arrived. It is so neat to watch a kid eat a sucker for the first time. At first they don’t know what to do with it. They grab it by the sticky side, bite on the other end, and eventually make it to the candy side. It brightens even a day spent at the hospital! Sometimes the adults would ask for one too, and Dr. K would give one to them, calling them big kids!
When coming to the hospital to do our evening rounds, we were approached by a father of a child who was admitted to the hospital. He told us that there is a very sick baby here who just arrived who needed immediate attention. He directed us to a mother sitting on the ground holding a weak little boy with a raspy cry and pencil thin arms peaking out from under her pano. She did not speak Portuguese, only the local tribe language of Nganguela, and our nurses/translators had left for the evening. Dr. Kubacki asked if this man could help translate for the woman, and he agreed. Dr. Kubacki asked his interview questions: “fever, cough, runny nose, diarrhea?” and the man fired these questions right back, translating flawlessly. You would have thought he’d been translating for years! What a blessing it was that he was there that night. We suspected that this baby had malaria, but from his looks, we could tell that this little one was severely malnourished, and had very little reserve energy to be fighting off illnesses. His malnourished state left him prone to additional illnesses. We treated him for malaria, strep throat, and pneumonia, hoping to hit the possibilities that could be ailing him. It was hard to leave Cavango and not get to see how this precious little guy did.
As we left, a 4 year old girl who we suspected had typhoid fever and had been bedridden for the past week, was up walking around and was looking healthier. She was one of the kids who had a questionable survival, and I was thrilled to see her improve so much. What I especially loved about this patient’s stay in the hospital was seeing how her dad cared for her. He was constantly at her side, very vigilant, and always knew what symptoms were worsening or improving for his daughter. So often, the dads in this culture are absent. It is considered the woman’s duty to care for the children. Dr. Kubacki recognized this man’s stepping out of traditional roles for the benefit of his daughter. He used this observation to encourage the father– he told him that he is a very caring father and he is doing a great job. How dignifying it is to acknowledge someone when they are doing something well!
For our final rounds before leaving for our last remote site visit, the husband of our patient Rosaria, was there with a gift for Dr. Kubacki: a turtle! He wanted to give him the turtle as a gift to say thank you. Turtles are a food source, so Dr. Kubacki told him to keep it, graciously refusing the offer. How thoughtful of this man! Although I did feel a little bad for the turtle. 😉
At my last church service in Cavango, we talked with Pastor Jeremias before the service started. He asked lots of questions like, was it my parents’ idea that I come to Angola? (If he only knew..) And when will I be back? The Pastor honored me by having the congregation do their traditional salute to me, where I sat awkwardly not knowing what to do in reply, yet appreciating the send-off and blessing of my travels. He again reiterated how he wanted me to tell all of you in the United States about Angola! They are so proud of who they are. I love it!
For one of our last meals, Betsy Kubacki surprised me with a graduation dinner, since this was my last rotation of medical school. She made me a cake, with the top right corner cut out. She made sure to let me know that this wasn’t a bite taken out of it, but this made the cake into the shape of Kansas, my site of residency! “Dr. Anna” was written on the cake, my Portuguese name being Anna. (Since the Angolans cannot pronounce the H sound, the Th sound, nor the R sound, my name Heather was pretty much not going to work. It came out more like Aaa-ull. Dr. K suggested I go by “Anna” since my middle name is Ann). The Kansas cake not only looked amazing, but tasted amazing as well. Man, do these guys know how to make you feel special!
As we left Cavango to head to our final remote clinic visit in the MAF plane, we flew over the Kubacki’s house and the village. It was almost like the last scene out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where they fly out on the elevator over the town. Our pilot, Brent, narrated, “Look, there’s the church… and there’s the mission house… and Benjamin is wearing a black t-shirt this afternoon”. Ben came outside to wave, and Bella, the German Shepherd, took off down the path to the river, chasing the plane! I didn’t realize I’d see all this again on the way out, what a nice surprise.
I sure am going to miss this family!