I close my eyes and listen to my fellow Malawian VIP team member recite a prayer in chechewa at the start of my first day of clinics. All I could think about was that I, an American nursing student, would be providing care for the sickest of sick and I had no idea what I was doing. My mind was racing in a thousand directions and I was overwhelmed. As the work began at our clinics, we started off at a slow pace. As I took vitals, I made sure to look each patient in the eye to say “muli bwanji” – “how are you.” The connections I made with each patient helped me get through my work in triage. Our work progressed and as we began to work efficiently as a group, we were able to make deeper connections with our patients.
When doing vitals, I saw a little girl with her grandmother who flashed me a smile. I could see it in her face that she was ill and in pain. My translator and I asked the grandmother what the little girl’s chief complaint was and she told us she had a fever, headache, and stomach pain. As the grandmother was explaining the symptoms, the little girl brushed her hand up against mine to hold it. As I held her in my arms I could feel her distended belly and her pain. The grandmother then explained how the little girl had a twin sister who passed away from the same symptoms and she was worried about this twin getting sick. She explained how her mother left after her twin sister passed away because she was so sad and was now in the grandmothers care. As tears rolled down her eyes, we comforted the grandmother as she told us her story. The well being of her grandchild was secondary to the rashes and burns all over her body. The story of this family and the care I provided on the first day will be something I will never forget. Each Malawian smile, tear and heartbeat I heard were all joyful in the midst of sickness.
- written by Sarah Herr