18th of March 2017, by Valerie Buijs
I’ve been in Malawi now for more than two weeks, and it’s been great. I’ve been writing a research proposal practically on the beach of lake Malawi under a thached roof with a gentle breeze passing by. A large part of the day I am typing, occasionally flicking ants off my laptop, and when I have to think, I can stare at the lake, its islands and its boats. During my breaks I watch the local children play in the water and I make my boyfriend and fellow Medpacker Tom lunch when he comes down from the clinic. Sounds pretty great, right? But the beautiful location and presence of my boyfriend are not the only reasons I am having such a great time here. Medpacker is responsible for a large part of it, and I want to tell you why.
So first of all, the main reason I travelled here is to visit Tom. If you are one of those lucky few who have someone close to you doing something medical in some weird exotic country, you will probably understand the willingness and ease to go and visit. And if you are that medical person: awesome! Invite your friends! As Tom is a Medpacker, it was a logical step for me to become one as well. But as I got the wish-list from the local clinic, the first difference for me as a non-medical Medpacker became apparent: I didn’t have the foggiest idea what they were talking about. Polly pockets? Tegaderms? And I don’t think I want to know what bolus fluids are and what you need to make it flow. I had to send an email to Tom to please translate what they were asking for.
That worked out great and I could start collecting my donations. It turned out a friend of mine had a friend with a mother who knew someone who worked in a pharmacy, who could give me many of the different kinds of bandages, dressings and sutures that were needed! I also emailed our partner, the Medic Foundation, for some special small equipment such as emergency breathing equipment for children and special reservoirs that, if I understood correctly, are used to collect surplus mucus out of children’s noses (hope they’re happy with that, ew). As last, I took some medical clothing from the Medpacker depot, and my backpack was full! I was very happy to see that, as a non-medical Medpacker, I could still get the donations that were needed.
So I went and got on my 19-hour flight trip to Lilongwe, Malawi, where Tom came to pick me up at the airport and I arrived grumpy and tired. We drove through some beautiful mountains, past some cute villages, past some wonderful rocky nature, and then we drove more over a sandy putty road, and after what was in total almost 30 hours of travel, I finally arrived at my destination in the middle of nowhere: Cape Maclear. Totally worth it!
And now we get to why I love that I became a Medpacker: I instantly had a group of people that I sort of knew already from the clinic, who could show me around, who I could eat and socialize with, and who could tell me all sorts of things about local highlights, culture and people. Had I thought of it before, I would have asked them whether there was any volunteer work that I could do. Think of simple tasks, like fixing things, or building or painting fences. A risk with volunteer work is always that you take a job from someone local, but when you ask a bunch of doctors who have been around for a long time, they will probably take care not to do such things (but check anyway). True, you’ll get a menial job, but you might still be of great help. And I think that can be a great addition to an already amazing trip. An additional benefit is that you get to hang around the clinic for a little longer and see how your donations are put to good use.
Another good thing about getting to know the people of the clinic is that tropical doctors, pharmacists, and nurses are generally very idealistic, kind and helpful people. You kind of have to be if you go to a tropical country to help people you don’t know for practically no money, with the added risk of getting all sorts of awful diseases. There is loads of malaria here, which some of the crew have indeed suffered, as well as a high prevalence of HIV. Furthermore, practically everyone gets bilharzia and terrible, terrible diarrhea at least a few times. The doctors here get to see and experience some pretty bad things, but they get through it together. They make a really big difference and they know that. It feels great to have been of some help, no matter how miniscule it might be.
Oh and on a last note, bolus fluids turn out to be not that bad. Its just a method of administrating medication, really.