My month in Mombasa, getting to work alongside so many other brilliant and encouraging inters, was truly an experience of a lifetime and was only made possible through the incredible love and support of the staff. The way they cared so deeply about every intern who walked through the front door, ensuring safety, proper hospital placements that matched each interns desires and needs, and being of major help in situations big and small, truly reflects their outstanding desire to make this a unique and memorable trip for all. From the food to the hospital, and the medical clinics to the beach and everything in between, allowed for one of the greatest months of my life. Leaving more full of growth in both my knowledge of medicine and culture, I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything.
The most valuable aspect of this program was having the opportunity to rotate through multiple wards in the hospital. Before arriving, I never thought I’d even have an interest in orthopedics or in A&E. Yet after my week in each of those departments, I gained a new appreciation, love, and respect for both specialties, giving me the desire to keep all my options opened as I move on to the next stages in my desire to become a physician.
My safari experience was out of this world. I never thought I’d be able to say that I had completed an African safari. Truly a once in a lifetime experience that I will cherish forever. Masai Mara was beyond beautiful and our driver was very engaging, allowing for the best possible time.
During my time in Mombasa, Kenya, I’ve lived more life, gained more knowledge and experienced more medicine than I ever thought possible when initially embarking on this adventure. Through my month at Coast Provincial General Hospital along with my time at the International Medical Aid residence, I’ve learned what it looks like to care for people deeply; not only those that are sick, but those that express different beliefs, religions, lifestyles and cultures. I think the most valuable thing I’ve gained since arriving, has been the understanding that sickness is the universal connector, a lot like O- is the universal blood donor. The hospital is a place where everyone congregates, seeking care for a wound or disease that they most definitely don’t want. With that being said, I can attest that no patient at CPGH chooses to be there. That was made very clear during my weeklong rotation in the Accident and Emergency Ward. I saw patients with tumors the size of baseballs walk through the front doors. After a quick history, it was made clear that this patient’s mass had been growing for over 3+ years. Due to skewed beliefs of medicine, lack of money, and ignorance, led to case after case of patients arriving to CPGH with diagnoses far worse than they would have been if they had just shown up to the hospital when initially symptomatic. Yet, even in the midst of the frustration, knowing that what was actually being treated could have been alleviated by simply showing up, the doctors I got to shadow showed them grace, understanding the patient more than I may ever understand. It was a beautiful picture of community, people working together to offer the best care they could. One of the doctors in A&E once said, while treating a man who came in after theft and assault, “It’s not up to us to judge a patient, only God can do that. We are here to treat.” This quote, simple yet so profound, completely shaped the way that I view medicine and shaped the future physician I hope to one day become.
I learned that as a physician, your job is to care and to treat. It sounds obvious, even as I write it down, but an art that I’ve seen been lost in the US. My initial desire to be a physician, for as long as I can remember has always been rooted in my desire to interact with people and love them in the midst of suffering. Giving them hope when hope can be received, and to provide a plan when everything else seems to be spinning out of control. My time in Mombasa has shown me that to be a doctor is the most rewarding profession. It’s by no means the most glamorous job, and far from a job with “good hours.” Yet it somehow continues to draw me in. Intrigues me to my core. I’m convinced that has to do with the fact that the good ones, the doctors who have made an impact on me, are the doctors who act out of love. The doctors who see patients as people who are hurting, yet are also people who can heal. From that, stemming the desire to treat, even in situations far less than ideal. During my time at Coast General Provincial Hospital, I saw a lack of resources that left doctors helpless to use techniques far from ideal. Yet they were beyond brilliant. The doctors at CPGH had the most incredible critical thinking skills, having to constantly think on the go. Most doctors in the departments I got to observe, would even stop to tell me what they “should be doing at this time” given the proper equipment and resources. For example, a patient with abdominal pain from a stab wound on his left side, needed to have the FAST method performed on him, to indicate the location of fluid they knew was in the cavity of the body. Yet, due to lack of equipment, it took 4 hours before this patient could be x-rayed and have ultrasound performed, leaving the patient at larger risk for infection and even fatality. The resident in charge showed his frustrations, yet worked when possible, and didn’t complain once. I’m more grateful for the resources the US has to perform medicine, yet am shocked at some physicians who have lost the necessary skill to critically think in situations where the brain is required to create a proper diagnosis, apart from technological tests that at times are wrong. I will be leaving Mombasa with the desire to increase my critical thinking skills, knowing that medicine is a never-ending classroom, with new knowledge and techniques to learn every day. I owe such a desire to my experience with the doctors at CPGH and the IMA program, as without it, ignorance would still ring in the ears of an American boy, thinking western medicine could fix any problem.
It would be a shame if I didn’t reflect on the culture I had the opportunity of being immersed in. Culture that not only changed the way I view medicine and treating patients, but culture that changed the way I view people and life and freedom and community. I had the privilege of going to a local market at what locals call “Old Town”. I was with a smaller group, so we had more opportunity to embrace what it may be like to shop and buy as a local Kenyan, without the large stigmatization of being the “mazungu”. I watched as people bartered and ran from shop to shop helping mothers find the right size dress for their children and walked past mosques were Muslims get the call to prayer 5 times a day. I was overwhelmed by the sights and the smells. It was raw and it was beyond beautiful. It’s so easy to get caught up in the monotony of western culture. The day in and the day out of what I’ve come to call comfortable. The second I stepped outside of “comfortable” into what I once saw as “unknown”, I was overcome by joy that exceeded any and all tiny expectations I may have held a month prior. I think there’s value in traveling and immersing oneself into the daily lives of people who may seem so different, only to find that maybe we all aren’t so different after all. From patients and doctors at CPGH, to beach goers at Nyali beach, to the meat butchers in Old Town who think it’s funny to make a severed goat head look like it’s talking, to the school kids who’s community I got to interrupt and intercede in even for only a few hours; I learned more than I ever thought I could, simply by listening and watching. Movements and phrases, handshakes and smiles, they all seem to speak this universal language that brings me back to the reality that we are all human. We’re all in need of being the patient, and other times get the opportunity to be the hero. I’ve come to learn that nothing is as grand and nothing as beautiful as the little moments in life where we get to say “yes” to the once in a lifetime opportunities that end up changing our lives in ways we didn’t think possible. In ways we didn’t expect. To be a physician, to be an advocate for the sick and needy, to possess the power to heal. I’m convinced it’s the most powerful yet humbling profession in the world.