As the time went by, I got to explore the region around the hospital. We had our Saturday ritual of going into Rukungiri, the closest town, to buy food for the week. Often times while we were in town, a person would approach Bill and thank him for taking care of him, showing off the injured hand Bill had repaired or how well he or she could walk on the leg Bill had casted. Other days I would go for short runs in the villages around the hospital, which usually attracted some attention from the locals, as there are few white people in the area. Sometimes, as I would run by, a group of local children would line up by the edge of the road and run along with me for a few hundred yards, smiling and laughing as we tried to out-run each other down the path.
I also got to spend a lot of time learning about the area from the students and nurses we worked with in the theatre. One of the nurses had me over for lunch several times so I could sample the local food. This kind of generosity was typical among the local people. In fact, every day when the students would bring food for a mid-morning snack, they would offer some to Bill and me.
As the time approached for me to head back home and finish out the last months of residency, the nursing students kept asking whether I would return. Although I was not quite sure how, I said I would knowing I was going to have to find a way to make it happen. I still felt that I had gained so much from the trip and given so little back. Despite this, as Bill and I ate our lunch on my last day, there was a knock at the door. The son of the nurse I had worked the closest with walked in with a cake decorated with the words “Thanks Dr. Mark.” When I thanked her for the cake later that day, she replied, “No, thank you for caring and coming to help us.”
Back at home and entrenched in my job hunt, I felt at a loss for how to really stay involved with Nyakibale. Although I would have loved to join MDA for a three year mission, financially I couldn’t do that at this point, and clinically it would be difficult to work abroad for three years and then return to a US-based job. After a few meetings with some of my more senior colleagues, I settled on a solution. A few months later I signed a contract for an 80% time job that would allow me two blocks of 1 month a piece to go work with Mission Doctors at Nyakibale. Currently, we have a grant in the works with the hope of obtaining funding for the construction and equipment we will need for the new emergency room.
This fall and again next spring, I will return to Nyakibale. Hopefully, over the course of the next twelve months, we will succeed in getting the emergency room constructed and functioning. It is going to be both exciting and gratifying to work with MDA on this project. As for me, after feeling lost for so long, I now have a new direction. Although I am still not sure where this path will lead me, I know now that I have at least found the right path.
NOTE: Mission Doctors Association is working to find funding to build and equip an emergency department for Karoli Lwanga Hospital in Nyakibale, Uganda. If you would like to learn more, or are interested in helping with this important work, please contact Elise Frederick directly at (213) 368-1875.