Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Barfing in Nigeria

Let me set the scene: We’re in the operating room and I’ve never even seen an operating room – unless I was on the table! It was full of rows of steel beds covered with a piece of cloth. Young girls with sad eyes sitting and recovering from the operations to fix their fistulas.

I conducted roughly nine or ten interviews with these young girls. Clearly, I don’t speak the language where we were in Zaria, Nigeria, but we somehow communicated.

Suddenly I was overtaken by the stench, the smell of urine, feces and blood – it became overwhelming. My cameraman Renato told me that suddenly all he heard in his Mickey Mouse head phones was “BLEEEHHH." He’s doing an extreme close up on a baby and he hears another "BLEEEHHH" and Renato tells me he asked himself “Where the hell is she?” At the time he was going in close on the baby.  

Then Renato tells me all he sees is this little white hand, with perfectly manicured fingernails that's attached to a 5-foot-eight 120-pound woman (me), push Dr. Sa-ad Idris, a gigantic-jolly-intensely-talented-Nigerian surgeon, out of the way and watches her sprint down the aisle past rows of very confused Nigerian girls. About 30 yards later I found a sink and just started puking – puking my guts out. I haven’t puked like that since I had the ‘flu last fall.

Well. What does my pal Renato do? He chases me down the aisle while I am running, and dry heaving at the same time. It’s actually hilarious when I look back on it. On the tape, all you can hear is me puking and Renato laughing his ass off as he pulls in on an even tighter shot of me puking. He laughed and said: “This is great TV.” 

The following morning Frances, one of the EMT nurses, said to me: “That cameraman, I thought he was your friend. You seem so friendly together. Why would he film you when you were vomiting, instead of helping you?” She was truly confused. 

“It’s just TV honey,” I replied, dryly. “It’s just great television.” 

Monday, July 14, 2008

Physicians for Peace: Nigeria

I am back from Nigeria; what an experience. Among the many lessons I learned was that we have so much to be grateful for here in the United States – education, health care, social services. Hey, it’s not perfect. But I think we often forget what to be thankful for. Well, sometimes, at least I do.  

According to costofwar.com we have spent 

$536,637,282,851 on the war in Iraq.

All I could think of when I was in Nigeria was if we spent that amount of money – the huge waste of capital in Iraq – with NGOs such as Physicians for Peace we could spread international goodwill and help out those less fortunate. Perhaps then the international community would be less inclined to bomb us.  

So, back to Nigeria. I tagged along on a mission with Physicians for Peace. Ron Sconyers is the CEO and he was the one who delivered the invitation. I accepted. 

I was there for eight days. And, for lack of a better description, it changed me – forever. I’m including a photo album with this blog … because the old cliché is that pictures are worth a thousand words. 

Being a scribe myself, I sort of resent that, but it’s the truth. What I experienced was unimaginable – for me, anyway – and the pictures tell it better than I can.  

We began in Abuja – the capital. I flew out there with my camera man/director/producer Renato Moore. We pulled two back-to-back red eyes. LA to London; London to Nigeria. Not fun. 

My idea was to get there early to acclimate but we just hit the ground running. We then traveled to Kaduna and down to Zaria. The story I was covering was that of a medical condition called VVF: “A VVF is an abnormal communication between the urinary bladder and the vagina that results in the continuous involuntary discharge of urine into the vaginal vault...” 

Okay. Now let me tell you the short answer. A young girl gets pregnant and the baby is often stillborn. Because of the obstruction in delivering the baby, she basically ends up with a tear between, I don’t want to be too graphic here, but let’s just say the tear is from the front to the back – where we ladies sit.  

She spends her time walking down the road dripping feces and urine. When we attended the clinic in Zaria, I saw a line of young girls that looked like children to me – with buckets – sitting in line for an operation. 

Let me tell you about the team. These doctors, nurses, an EMT technicians, etc … do the flight on their own dime. They are folks in the medical practice and they are at the top of their game; they are volunteers.  

Jaya Tiwari is the Director, Global Health Programs, Physicians for Peace. She made the whole mission work. She was the project manager from HEAVEN!  

What was fascinating for me, was that very few of the people knew each other before the mission, I knew Renato, of course,  but by the end of the trip it felt like we were a family – in an amazing, amazing way.  

Well, you already know about Brigadier General (Ret..) Ron Sconyers; who is a man to be recognized and admired. 

The Team Leader was Ogubuike Emerjuru, M..D. – a doctor who was so smart and talks so quickly that I was very much minding my P & Qs. Then there was Dr. Margie Corney, M.D, who I just fell in love with. She’s an OBGYN from Virginia..  

Dr. Mark Helbruan, M.D. was also a special soul. I got really, really sick and he and Evan took care of me. Evangeline Epper, RN was one of the nurses on the mission and she quite literally spent 24 hours with me after I threw up my guts – over and over – but that’s a story for the next blog! 

Frances Dargan, S.A. was a dream. I am still getting my feet wet about the whole OR thing … but, let's just say, I would want Miss Frances by my side if I was lying on the gurney! 

I have to send special kudos to Nurse Tim Harrison, RN, EMT.  When I was barfing up my guts in the OR he threw an IV into me with saline and an anti-nausea injection. He’s what is called a “flight nurse” meaning he does medicine on choppers. His sense of humor? So dry. I just love him. Full stop.  

Enjoy the pics!  

To be continued!