Those who know me know I loathe “hallmark holidays”. However, on this Father’s Day week, I will share one way parenthood has deepened my appreciation for the availability of emergency care. As I sit in my office in Tucson, 9,000 miles from Uganda’s Karoli Lwanga “Nyakibale” Hospital, in my mind’s eye I am transported back to late spring of 2011, to the crazy hustle of Uganda’s busiest bus park, in central Kampala.
Six weeks earlier I had traveled to work with Global Emergency Care in Nyakibale, Uganda with my partner, Heather, and our 18-month-old daughter, Kaya. I was heading back to join them in Nyakibale, an eight-hour bus ride, to rejoin them. I was unbelievably eager see Heather and Kaya and to continue working with our GEC Emergency Care Practitioner (ECP) team. Amongst the bustling chaos of the Kampala bus park, a gentleman approached me exuberantly with “Doctor, Doctor,” and the look of someone who is greeting a person they’ve met before.
He clearly recognized me immediately and I confirmed that I had been working with the then new Ugandan Emergency Care Practitioners (ECP) training program in the rural Rukungiri District. He took my hand in his, thanked me for GEC’s work with the ECPs in the ED, and the care they provide for their community. After a moment, I recalled him and his family, as he described bringing his extremely ill 2-year-old twin daughters to Nyakibale’s Emergency Department back in 2010, and how ECPs Felista, JB, and myself cared for his malnourished daughters who fell gravely ill with pneumonia and malaria. His warmth and expression of appreciation was completely overwhelming, especially so far out of context, over 360 km from where our program cares for patients.
Naturally, I asked how his daughters were doing, and he explained that only one daughter survived the hospital stay. Having a daughter myself, I was stood there shell shocked in front of him. I couldn’t believe that even after having one of his daughters die, that this gentleman was expressing gratitude. I’m sure the look on my face revealed my surprise because he explained that his surviving daughter was now 3 1/2 and doing very well. Not only that, but his other children and family were in improved health since being enrolled in a malnutrition intervention/prevention program during that hospital stay.
While I was glad to hear that his family was well and that the care provided saved one of his daughters’ lives, I couldn’t shake the unsettling feeling. The entire bus ride was spent trying to process the exchange that had just transpired. Only with additional reflection did I realize that while my outsider perspective dictated that I see a child’s untimely death as tragic, within his community it was expected that both children would have died if the ECPs had not been appropriately trained to provide timely acute/emergency care.
When I arrived back at the hospital, I found that my own daughter, Kaya, had fallen ill with malaria in the last several days, despite being on medication to prevent this dangerous mosquito transmitted illness. However, she had been diagnosed and had treatment initiated by our ECP team. As a parent, I was devastated that my daughter was quite ill from a deadly parasite and simultaneously endlessly thankful that our ECPs JB and Elizabeth were present to diagnose and treat her appropriately, likely mitigating life-threatening complications from malaria.
I was a bit overwhelmed, as in 8 short hours I had received both an enthusiastic expression of appreciation by a parent for helping care for his children, despite one of them dying, and found out that my own daughter had been very ill with one of the potentially deadly diseases maladies that befell his children.
Having emergency care available when our children are seriously ill or injured is a concept that as parents from a high-income country we take for granted. The twins’ father’s gratitude for the ECP’s long hours training, endless dedication, and commitment to improving care within their community is something that I had never deeply contemplated from the perspective of a thankful parent.
Over the last nine years, I’ve had the privilege of working with our GEC team, both our ECPs in Uganda and my fellow North American-based GEC Board Members and Staff. Many of us have had children of our own and it’s obvious to me that being parents has only strengthened our dedication to working with local stakeholders to ensure that access to emergency care is increasingly available to the most vulnerable members of our global community.
As a parent, this Father’s Day weekend, I sit in appreciation of our ECPs tireless efforts to care for those in need within their community as well as our GEC’s supporters who enable the program to continue training future generations of Emergency Care Practitioners. All of you make a huge difference in the lives of those who have had limited access to timely acute/emergency care.
Today, I hope many of you will join me in recognizing and appreciating the access to quality emergency care that we often take for granted and consider supporting the education and capacity development efforts that groups like GEC provide to help ensure that what we often take for granted is offered to others in a sustainable way.