Not At All What I Was Expecting

By Hannah Korn


I had all of these ideas in my head about what our mission to Ghana was supposed to do. We were supposed to be providing the highest quality medical care we could, and we were supposed to be providing it at the lowest possible cost.  We were supposed to be filling the gaps that couldn't be filled by the Ghanaian hospital staff.  We were supposed to be performing complicated cases, and scary ones, and easy ones, and on, and on, and on.  But for some reason, that's not what our mission became for me.  When I think about those weeks, and all of the work that we did at Apam Catholic Hospital, I think about a little boy, and everything that we couldn't do for him.

I'm running through the hospital, in all of the heat and humidity, pulling on gloves as I go.  I push open the doors of the  Accident and Emergency Department and rush down the hall, looking in each room for one of our team members who had called for me, over our radios, saying that someone needed CPR.  I find her in the last room, bent over an empty bed.  I freeze in the doorway.  The bed's not empty.  There's someone there; A little tiny someone; A baby.  Not at all what I was expecting.  After a few seconds, I get my feet working again and take over compressions from her.  Over the next two minutes, the most of our team arrives.  We "code" that little boy for almost 15 minutes before deciding to call it.  Age: 8 months.  Cause of Death: cardiac arrest secondary to severe malaria.

I've worked with adult cardiac arrest patients before.  My training and work as an EMT has prepared me to put my hands on a dead person's chest and make their heart beat, but a little baby in that condition.  That’s something that I always hoped I'd never have to see.  And the worst part about that little boy's death:

It was entirely preventable. Entirely.

I was able to teach several Pediatric First Aid style classes to the groups of new mothers who came to the hospital while we were there.  I would guess that I spoke to over 40 women about burns and cuts, fevers and choking, and most importantly when to recognize that the problem was too big to be managed at home and that it was time to come to the hospital.  I'm not sure how my words were translated, or how much I had to tell these women that they didn't already know, but I hope that by talking with them, I was able to, in some way, help a little baby survive.

When we first arrived at Apam Catholic Hospital, the doctors told us that they didn't want us there if we were just going to work and then leave.  They told us that they wanted to learn from us, and that they wanted us to learn from them.  They wanted us to leave them something, and they wanted us to take something home. I know I took something with me.  I took an incredible sense of admiration and respect for the bravery of the women, and the nurses and doctors, who face the threat of infant and child mortality so frequently.  And I took a new appreciation for just how precious the resources and systems and capabilities that we have in the USA are.  I know that I learned something good from our mission, and I hope that I left something good behind.