There is an extraordinary uniqueness to the Land called Africa, its inhabitants, the climate, topography, atmosphere and culture. Liberia is no different. The wave of warmth and heat that greets you once you disembark from the airplane jolts you to attention that you are on a different part of the earth. The ensuing experience is permanently etched in one’s memory – tropical food, warm people, adventure, cultural shock and a sense of wonder. I spent 2 weeks on the ELWA campus, in Paynesville, Liberia and it will be pleasure to return soon.
The ELWA campus essentially houses several missionary homes and guest houses, a radio station and the ELWA hospital. The proximity of the guest houses to the peaceful beach is breathtaking, even for one living in Ventura. The new state of the art hospital is only a few months old, but teems with the air and bustle of any seasoned healthcare facility. Although currently the best in the nation of Liberia, it lacks an ICU and the entire country is yet to get a CT or MRI. However, lack is no excuse here; people perform and give their utmost best, a general theme across lifestyles. The day starts with hand sanitization at the hospital entrance (with 0.05% Chlorine solution), then Chapel, my favorite part of the day, where there is an uplifting message on life, medicine and purpose. It is then followed by housekeeping announcements before everyone disperses to their respective responsibilities that make daily hospital work a success. Another uniqueness to ELWA is people’s openness, both patients and providers, to engage spiritual life and medicine in their outlook of curing and healing. Took me by surprise each time it happened (it is certainly rare to hear a surgeon acknowledge his limitations with resources, staff etc and ask for wisdom and success from a higher power). From the Peds, Men’s, Women’s, OB, OR, ER wards, Labs, X-ray, to the clinics, there is a fair share of common tropical as well as typical western conditions (malaria, HIV, DM, headaches, hepatitis ) but importantly, a disproportionate number of strokes and HTN in both the young and the old. Noticeably absent are alcohol withdrawals and homelessness/daunting social service needs. And ever-present are the undercurrents of the post-Ebola era of medicine, eliciting the occasional scanning for elevated temperatures in perfectly well looking individuals.
At the hospital all the units are functioning in full swing, but there is a lot to offer across the board in the areas of equipment, skills and training. The facility is soon going to have a residency program that will help bridge some of the areas needing growth and personnel. Personally, it was an opportunity to get a taste of medical missionary work, a survey of what hospital administration looks like and what important skills I’ll need to thrive in a foreign land as a physician. By the end of my 2wks, I was satisfied in all 3 goals. Dr. Fankhauser and his family were fabulous hosts. So were all the Samaritan’s Purse and SIM personnel. They all helped to make my stay meaningful and homely.
I urge anyone who wants to be involved in teaching, in tropical medicine, in giving to a unique population of underserved, or wants to experience African hospitality/beauty to certainly consider an elective at ELWA. Icing on the cake will be the time spent with war survivors/victoms, Ebola survivors as well as many of the Ebola legends who were in the news.
My trip was made possible by Fmed/VGHP. I hope to return to ELWA soon.