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Barrhead teen returns from Tanzania a changed woman

A local teenager has had a life-changing experience. Kyrie Bauer returned several weeks ago from a two-month trip to Tanzania, where she spent her days working in a hospital dealing with trials and tribulations of the pediatrics ward.

A local teenager has had a life-changing experience.

Kyrie Bauer returned several weeks ago from a two-month trip to Tanzania, where she spent her days working in a hospital dealing with trials and tribulations of the pediatrics ward. It was the difference between the practices of medicine in Canada compared to Tanzania that proved to be an eye-opener for Bauer, who is contemplating pursuing a career as a doctor.

“It was an amazing, yet very tough experience,” Bauer said. “A lot of people have been asking me how my holiday was, and by no means was it a holiday. It was hard to walk into a hospital every day and experience heartbreaking scenes, and then to see people dying of things that would be unheard of here in Canada because we have the technology and the knowledge to prevent those deaths.”

Bauer’s first experiences in Tanzania led her to question her decision to undertake the journey. When she first arrived at the airport, she waited for two hours before representatives of the hospital picked her up. At first, she said she thought the whole thing was a scam, “but it all worked out.” This was followed by a nine-hour bus ride to Iringa Town, where she would spend the next two months of her life.

When Monday morning rolled around, Bauer and the other students were up at 6 a.m. and preparing for the hospital. They had to be there for a staff meeting at 7:30 a.m.

“That was quite an experience to sit in a room full of doctors and nurses all discussing the reports from the night before about who died and from what, who are the serious patients, what they have and which wards they are in, as well as how many babies were born and any complications experienced with the delivery of those babies. This happened every morning.”

After that, Bauer met her mentor, who had to run off right away for a C-section delivery, so she was left there with the other students until her mentor returned.

That first day at the hospital came with a steep learning curve, she said.

“All of the wards there are separate,” she said. “Here, our wards are all separate, but they’re in the same building. In Tanzania, each ward is located in a different building. When we walked into the pediatrics ward, it smelled, and we later learned that it was the nicest-smelling ward out of all of them.”

The pediatrics ward was equipped with just over a dozen beds, but there was something like 30 women using them, she said, with three to four pregnant women on each bed. There was an unsettling, eerie kind of silence to the ward, she said.

“You would figure with a ward where women were giving birth all the time, there would be babies crying and the moms would be in pain, but pain isn’t tolerated in this culture. It’s seen as a sign of weakness.”

Bauer and her peers also watched a natural labour. She said the soon-to-be-mom was only 20 years old, and she was alone. Family isn’t allowed in the ward, because there is no room for them, she said.

“You could tell just by the look in her eyes that she was scared, and she was in a lot of pain. She started screaming, and the nurse slapped her in the face and shouted at her. That was really tough to watch. Here, in Canada, women are allowed to express their pain, and the nurses try to help relieve pain and stress. The only time they use drugs in Tanzania is after the baby is born, and it’s used to help stop the bleeding, or an anesthetic is used for a C-section.”

Her first day on the job was on an emotional rollercoaster, and by the end of it, Bauer said she began to doubt her ability to handle it. Even now, she said she finds it difficult imagine women being abused like that.

“The more I thought about it when I was there, the more I realized that it’s their culture, and one of the things I learned to do was to embrace their culture. They weren’t going to cater to my own cultural background; rather, I was being immersed into their culture, and I had to adjust to the way things were done there. Now, I’m finding it difficult to adjust back to my own culture,” she said with a laugh.

Watching newborn babies die a preventable death was the toughest thing Bauer said she had to watch. She said she has seen death before, but, in Tanzania, it was something people walk through on a daily basis.

“A lot of it was preventable if they lived in a country like Canada. There was never really a day that I walked out of the hospital and said to myself, ‘that was a good day.’”

She said it was also difficult to watch mothers show very little emotion after having a baby. For people in Tanzania, having a child adds a lot more stress to a family, because it’s another mouth to feed. Even worse was to watch a pregnant woman come in, and walk out of the hospital with nothing but a death certificate, she said.

“You can see how much they want to grieve for the loss of their baby, but they can’t, and they just have to accept it.”

A lot of the deaths were caused by hypothermia, she said. The hospital was equipped with only one full-sized incubator. There were heaters located on the wall and it would have to heat four bassinets at once. Compounding the situation is the fact the majority of the babies there are born underweight in comparison to babies here in Canada. Most weigh only one to two kilograms, and if the mothers aren’t healthy, neither are the babies. Bacteria in the blood were another major contributing factor.

“These babies aren’t really given a fighting chance to begin with,” Bauer said.

On a more positive note, working with the doctors in Tanzania was a highlight for Bauer. She said doctors in Tanzania aren’t valued, and most of them can’t afford a vehicle. In fact, they hardly get paid at all, yet they spend days at the hospital without going home.

“The passion they have just oozed from them, and it was amazing to see how some of the doctors cared so much about their patients. Some treated their patients like they were family.”

Performing a C-section was a definite highlight, she said, and it’s something she never would have been able to do in Canada.

“Being 18 years old and scrubbing in for a C-section will be something I remember forever,” she said. “The only thing I didn’t get to do was make the incision, but after that I was able to get right in there.”

Bauer performed three C-sections in total after being trained for about a month on how to do the procedure.

“Being able to stand there and to cut the umbilical cord was really cool. To deliver the baby naturally was also such an amazing thing of which to be a part. I helped with a lot of deliveries, but I was able to deliver one baby on my own.”

One woman who gave birth to a baby was so pleased with the company Bauer and another student provided to her, that she decided to name her baby Kyrie. Bauer said she was honoured by the gesture.

Following her duties at the hospital, Bauer and her peers would attend lectures in the afternoon on topics such as malaria, complications with pregnancies, surgeries and any other topic they chose. She said the lectures were extremely helpful in preparing the students to deal situations in the hospital.

Having other students in the house with her was a saving grace for Bauer. She said having someone there who was going through the same experiences was a tremendous benefit, as they could talk with each other about what they saw and did.

“I saw a lot of students come and go during my two months there,” she said.

When she had some spare time, Bauer said she was able to go on Safari and take trips to Zanzibar. She also went horseback riding and played volleyball, and visited several of the villages around Iringa Town.

Now that Bauer is safe and sound back in Barrhead, she has a better understanding of the world. She said she still isn’t sure whether she will seek a career in medicine, but if she does, she knows she will specialize in pediatrics.

“I came home feeling a bit disappointed, because I thought I would have a clearer direction, but I have realized two things: Tanzanian medicine cannot be compared to what we have here in Canada, and their practices are vastly different than what is done here in hospitals. That made me realize that no matter what my career decision is, this experience has opened my eyes to so many different things. This wasn’t just a career experience, it was a complete life experience.”