LWW woman joins Ugandan medical effort
They are people Meghan Mayhood remembers by how close they were to peril, and by how easy it was to nurse many of them back to health.
The boy with a yeast infection in his eye that, left untreated, would lead to blindness.
The woman, delirious with cerebral malaria, yearning for something to stop the fever and pain.
The people in the village, noticing a Caucasian woman with a stethoscope and clamoring for aspirin, for penicillin, for anything that would make them healthy.
It’s all as vivid to Meghan Mayhood now as it was in August when the 20-year-old 1999 Nevada Union graduate left the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she’s a junior premedical student, for Uganda’s thick forests to help heal the sick.
Mayhood joined Dr. Scott Kellermann, a long-time Nevada City travel medicine specialist and general practitioner, near the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where Batwa pygmies grind out a subsistence living.
Mayhood spent time teaching the Gospel, and teaching the natives a little about herself.
“My impression, before coming there, was pretty much what you see in National Geographic magazines, though I tried hard to go there without any preconceived notions,” she said.
Mayhood, who lives in Lake Wildwood with her family during school breaks, saw an untamed land where people live beside dirt roads in homes with straw or mud walls, and race around the streets on bicycles even in the dead of night.
Their mission included buying supplies for 13 clinics and administering to people unaccustomed to doctors, let alone those from the United States.
Many of the clinics in existence had no one to run them before Mayhood’s group arrived.
“They were all proud of the fact they had buildings, even if they didn’t have the staff or medicine to run them,” Mayhood said.
“They have very few trained doctors,” she said, noting that doctors in Uganda do attend medical school, but have no residency program, “so they do a lot of training while they are doctors.”
Her routine included inoculations and administering of antibiotics – procedures Americans do without the slightest thought.
During the trip from Aug. 1-24, Mayhood saw congested lungs, enlarged liver and spleens (a telltale sign of malaria) and malnutrition. Most people could be cured of their ailments – but not all.
“At one clinic, we visited a pastor’s wife who was as thin as a toothpick, but with an abdomen full of about 20 liters of fluid,” Mayhood wrote in a letter to friends days after her trip ended. “Her liver stopped functioning and had stopped processing all fluids. In the U.S., she would have a liver transplant. In Africa – we prayed.”
Mayhood picked up the language, Rikiga, and ate the potatoes, rice and banana diet of the natives, taking time to pray with them and spread the word of God.
“You have to be careful (in the United States) whenever you mention God,” she said. “Over there, we started every day with a prayer. It’s a different kind of prayer, the faith that they’ll have food or get paid that month.”
One night, the natives prayed for someone they could trust to help them, and the next day, a nurse arrived who had started a school and promised to help the pygmies.
Mayhood had but one worry – mosquitoes the size of a pinky. She slept with netting over her bed every night to ward them off.
Her father, Bruce, said he had doubts, too, warning her about the Hutu tribe, finding out later she had befriended a Hutu.
“It’s a crying shame what’s going on over there,” he said. “Here, we turn the tap on for some water. Over there, they’re drinking death.”
Mayhood’s experience will certainly stand out more than just about any other resume builder when she graduates.
“It was really weird being called doctor, because there’s no way I would be called that back here. I learned much more in three weeks than I ever could learn in school.”
Contributions to the Uganda Project may be made to Trinity Church, 201 High St., Nevada City, CA 95959.
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