Today started off with the similar routine we had been through the past two days. We awoke still not fully rested, desperately longing for more sleep, feeling the effects of the brutal combination of a 14 hours of hard work, seven hour jet lag, and only about four hours of sleep. Despite these factors, at seven on the dot, the team was packed up and headed to the hospital, ready to get tackle whatever the day would throw at us. From the moment we arrived we could tell that things weren’t going to go our way today. The hospital had completely lost power from one of Uganda’s frequent power outages, and we spent the first hour stumbling around in the dark, preparing the rooms, praying the power would be restored soon. Once it did we proceeded with business as usual and started our first cases of the day. Running two rooms, Eric and Dr. Kayanja operated in the first while Roman worked with the local orthopedist in the room over. Despite some hiccups in Roman’s case due to a lack of resources, the surgery was successfully completed after 8 grueling hours.
While it was mostly smooth sailing for our cases, the same couldn’t be said for the rest of the hospital. At around 3 p.m. the OR floor went from calm and tranquil to filled with the sounds of shouting, equipment being moved, and rapid footsteps. A gunshot victim was brought in and hurriedly rushed for surgery. Resident surgeon Stanley and an emergency medicine doctor visiting from Boston rushed into action. Despite their best efforts the patient flat lined and no pulse could be found. Refusing to give up, Lance stepped in and gave compressions in a desperate attempt to give the young man another chance at life, and succeeded in restoring a pulse, but at that point too much time had elapsed, and the patient died later in the ICU. At the exact moment, across from the hall, a successful C-section had just concluded; the sounds of a baby’s first cries were mixed together with the monotone beep of a flat line HR monitor. In that moment, the entire circle of life commenced right in front of our eyes, the beginning of one life ushered in by the ending of another. Unfortunately, the 23 year old student was just one of many deaths that occurred today, an even more elevated number than the relatively high mortality rate. Out of a trio of triplets, only one child was successfully delivered, and in addition 6 patients died in the surgical ward. Probably the most striking takeaway from this experience was the differences in the grieving process between Ugandans and Americans. Death has become such a normal part of daily life in Uganda that often times the death of a loved one is accepted without so much as shedding a tear. The sister of the gunshot victim showed almost no emotion, displaying a detached emotional stance is only natural when one has dealt with the loss of multiple siblings. This is in direct contrast to Americans, where with our vastly superior healthcare system, death is such a major shock that we often over-grieve for our loved ones, refusing accept a stage in our lives that is inevitable. After first hand viewing both coping strategies first hand, I’m not sure which method is better than the other.