I've been so busy lately that I decided to recap my past few days in one big post...enjoy!
Days 10 & 11
On Wednesday morning, Prof and a small team left for Ethiopia to visit partner organization American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. There he will perform easier procedures at the local hospital that the organization uses, as well as refer more severe cases to return to FOCOS for complete treatment. More complex cases need to follow Prof back to Ghana so that they can utilize halo traction for a few months before going into surgery, followed by recovery and rehabilitation. Eshetu and Mengistu, whose procedures I observed on Tuesday, are recovering well. Eshetu is unable to undergo a motor assessment at this time, but likely will by the beginning of next week. They are unsure if it is because she is tired and not wanting to exert herself just yet, or if her motor function has not improved post-operatively compared to her previous state, which is a possibility that I discussed previously. Both patients have been moved out of the ICU and into the wards, and I will have more details on their cases on Monday. On Thursday I visited Eshetu, Mengistu, and Mubarak, an Ethiopian boy who had surgery on Wednesday, in the wards. All of them were in high spirits for their physical states, and the young boys were excited to receive their own crayons, pictures, and activities to occupy them while they're primarily bedridden.
Every Wednesday all of the children at JB House come to the hospital for weekly height and weight measurements and halo screw tightenings. It's so rewarding to see the patients grow taller and put on much needed weight as their treatment progresses. After their routine was completed, I headed over to JB House with Auntie Pat to organize the new bookshelf installed there. We discarded completely destroyed books and organized the rest into educational workbooks and reading books by level. Many of the books so generously donated are advanced novels for a typical American teenager or adult. Every child here is learning English as a second language, likely for the first time in their life, and many can only listen to others read. Thus, story books and simple picture books are greatly appreciated. You can contact FOCOS to send old books to the New York office so that they can be used here in Ghana. Later we did some reading and, of course, coloring.
On Thursday I had a great time hosting a spelling bee for the kids. We had the patients from JB come over so that everyone could take part in the fun. Abilities ranged from those unable to understand English to those at "Level 3" here, which is around a mid-elementary school level in the US. The spelling bee was conducted in an untraditional format to cater to the children's learning abilities. Each student was given a word at their level and asked to spell it. They were given multiple tries and helpful hints. If the student could not spell the word, others were allowed to quietly raise their hand and give it a try. I would choose another child of the same level and keep going like this until someone spelled it right. We went around in a circle three or four times with almost every child present, so the game lasted a few hours! Each time a child spelt a word correctly, they got a point. Quickly after the game started and our first word was spelled, all of the children did a special clap that Auntie Pat has taught them. I've seen the kids do it before when they're quieting down, but it was so amazing to see how supportive they are of one another. Though the patients got competitive and were eager to try to spell, they always made sure to do their special clap for every peer after they spelled a word right. It was heartwarming to feel the support for every patient, from those who could only spell "no" or "dog", to those who took on tricky words like "tomorrow" and "kitchen". Every child got a box of crayons, a tattoo, a pencil, and a lollipop for participating. The first, second, and third place winners got a little bit extra. I was very impressed by one boy in his young teens, Shepherd. Shepherd learned some English at his school at home, but was noticeably ahead of all of the children, spelling words like "strawberry". When I asked Shepherd where he learned to spell and speak English so fluently, he told me that his Canadian sponsor has been extremely involved and helped him tremendously with his English. He was so happy that he succeeded at the spelling bee, and I was so happy that his sponsor made such an impact on his life in addition to their generous contributions to his treatment.
After lunch, we played a spelling bee of sorts with pictures for those who struggle greatly with English. The children were shown a picture and had to say what the image was in English. Then they would try to spell it, and if they could not a peer would help them. After that, we played word bingo. I would show a card with an object and its name on it and read it aloud. The students would then put a chip on their card if they had the object. After we exhausted all of the options and every student had filled their entire card (this isn't your traditional bingo), one by one they'd spell all of the words on their card. First they'd spell the words while reading them, and then they'd cover the object names and spell them again. The children got such a thrill out of yelling "Bingo!" every time they connected a line and it was a useful exercise for all, from those who are working on identifying words with images to those progressing in spelling.
Another child who has struck me is Edmond, the six-year-old Ghanaian boy with a kyphosis-causing spinal tumor whom I originally described as "a little shy". I have come to learn that Edmond is anything but shy once he opens up to you. Edmond was previously having a difficult time adjusting to the hospital, as he is one of the only Ghanaian children and cannot speak any English, so nobody understands his dialect. In addition, he is younger in comparison to most of the children currently at FOCOS and has just started his traction and living full-time at the hospital. Earlier this week, the nurses brought Edmond to me in tears while I was teaching in the wards. He had been crying in his bed all day and this was his first time interacting with the other children. After helping him color and exchanging a few stickers, Edmond warmed up to me and showed me his mischievous humor and bright personality. Now Edmond greets me every morning, participates in the learning activities though he cannot understand (yet), and hangs out with the other children. I have helped convince him to eat more and practice his walking traction, and he has taught me to trust a six-year-old boy with nothing! I am fascinated by how a child that cannot verbally understand you can connect with you so quickly. There are many ways to communicate besides written and spoken language. Showing someone that you care about them is easier than it seems and makes a huge difference. Being compassionate and showing love is the strongest language, and I know this is true by how the children both treat me and respond to me.
On Friday I traveled to Cape Coast, a fishing port city in southern Ghana. I first visited Kakum National Park, a tropical rainforest with monkeys, antelopes, elephants, and many diverse birds and butterflies. There I hiked and walked the famous canopy walkway, an elevated hanging path that stretches for 1,150 feet, showing you the park from above. Then I stopped by a crocodile pond to pet one, which was as scary as it sounds. Afterwards I enjoyed a beautiful lunch on the beach before I headed to Cape Coast Castle. The castle is over 540 years old and was once a major slave castle where Africans were brutally abused and held captive before being sent to the new world via ships arriving in Cape Coast's ports. The castle tour was filled with heartbreaking stories and extensive information about the slave trade, as well as other purposes that the castle has fulfilled before it was taken over by Ghana and became a World Heritage Site. It was so special for me to explore this country outside of the hospital to see its culturally relevant wonders. I learned so much yesterday and was yet again taken aback by the beauty of this nation, both in the geographical context and in reference to its inhabitants. I am so grateful for all that I have seen thus far, medical and non-medical, and all of those who have been so kind to me on this journey.