When I walk down the long corridor of the Galmi Maternity ward in the morning, it’s normal to stop to greet staff members and patients’ relatives along the way. Sannu likita, ina kwana? Yauwa, lahiya lau. An tashi lahiya? I have to pay attention carefully to make sure my morning brain responds in the right way. Each morning I wonder which empty beds I will see when I reach the end of the corridor. On the right is the special care nursery, and on the…Continue Reading “Empty beds”

I could write for days about the hard stories I’ve encountered at Galmi Hospital. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the reality of life and death here. Yet, in the midst of suffering there is hope. This is a story of hope and encouragement. Last year in Galmi, a tiny wriggling baby was born, way too early. This little person weighed just a tick over a kilogram, and came into the world about three months before the due date. Her mother had already lost…Continue Reading “Hope and Encouragement”

It’s two in the morning when the phone rings again. I stand at our front door for a while looking at the cascading rain pouring over the edge of the tin roof and wonder how I will make it to the hospital. It’s the rainy season here in Niger. The rain has been patchy this year and people are worrying about their crops. But tonight the rain could rival any good monsoon downpour in the Northern Territory. It doesn’t show any signs of easing, so…Continue Reading “Making tracks in the night”

The maternity nursing station was empty that morning. I found someone and asked where everyone was. “A baby… premature”. In the delivery room the activity was centered around a tiny bundle. Oxygen connected, a cannula in a hair-like vessel, counting drops of glucose water infusion. The baby was four hours old and for such a miniscule person he was doing well. He was pink and wriggling, and his chest rose and fell without significant effort. Perhaps there was hope?

Continue Reading "Too little, too late"

My hands are shaking as I try desperately to close the gap that has unexpectedly opened up. The operation has not gone well and the patient is in bad shape. Sweat drips down my forehead as I shoot a concerned glance at my assistant. She is shaking her head in dismay. “Have you got any ideas?” I ask. She suggests using a knife. I’ve already tried that option and it hasn’t worked well. She passes me the pliers as I watch yet another unidentified piece fall out. “Watch where that goes, we might need it later!”

Continue Reading "Emergency Surgery"

My eyebrows have been getting a good workout at Galmi Hospital. Every day there have been surprising situations that have made them rise incredulously despite my best attempts to appear unfazed. On my way back from lunch I see Tassala standing at the hospital gate, waving urgently for me to head that way. I was expecting to meet her back in the outpatients clinic but maternity have called – they have an emergency. There is a woman who is six months pregnant and desperately short…Continue Reading “Trying not to act surprised”

“Bonjour doctor!” The guard greets me at the hospital gate as I weave my way around the groups of patients and relatives waiting around the outpatients department. Galmi Hospital is laid out like a giant letter “E” with three separate parallel wings. I head for the middle section, the Maternity ward. It’s a long, white-tiled corridor, with a high roof and patient rooms on each side. It feels new and clean. People with colourful outfits line the corridor on each side, waiting with their sick…Continue Reading “Galmi”

First a disclaimer. This post is a rant: pure and simple. Why have a blog if you can’t complain every now and then? So, you’ve been warned – read on at your own risk. The cover of the Medical Journal of Australia’s recent issue carried the headline “Manna from Country”. It was an issue timed to coincide with NAIDOC week, and is full of good articles relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. My problem is with the way that we use grammar when we…Continue Reading “An Unapologetic Rant”

Do you know any logisticians who want a job? Sometimes I wonder if being a logistics expert would be more helpful than being a doctor in East Arnhem. This week I have been spending most of my time directing traffic, or at least pointing vaguely in a direction and hoping that the drivers will understand. I spent a long time with a pregnant lady near term explaining why she needed to travel to Darwin. When she very reasonably refused to go by herself, I spent…Continue Reading “My Life as a Travel Agent”

The Care Plan – super or superfluous?

For GPs in Australia, an increasing amount of time is spent managing patients with chronic health problems using tools called care plans. There are GP Management Plans, Team Care Arrangements, Health Checks, Mental Health Care Plans, Asthma Management Plans, Diabetes Annual Cycle of Care and others. Most of these involve filling out a lengthy document outlining the patient’s health issues, medications, progress and goals. Often these plans are produced collaboratively between the practice nurse and the doctor. At the end of the process, the patient…Continue Reading “The Care Plan – super or superfluous?”