Safari, St. Mary’s, and Seme

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Last weekend, the interns and I took a roadtrip to St. Lucia to do a Safari on Saturday. I was pretty impressed when we showed up at the town because I didn’t know what to expect, but the main street had plenty of hotels, hostels, and restaurants. Our “hostel” cost each of us $10 a night and was a 2 story flat with 6 beds, a kitchen, refrigerator, and an awesome view of the estuary that is filled with crocs and hippos. Good thing lodging in South Africa is extremely cheap, because I would have expected to pay around $100 a night per person for the place in America.

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Our all day safari started with the 8 of us getting picked up at 5 am by our tour guide Theo in his safari vehicle (I don’t know what else to call it, just look at the picture). After a bumpy hour long ride to the game reserve, we began our search for the best wild animals that Africa has to offer. Theo warned us that the day prior had been a horrible day for spotting game, but the weather was great for us so he stayed optimistic. The gigantic park that we were at consisting of thousands of acres holds all the members of the big 5 (lions, water buffalos, elephants, rhinos, and leopards), but they are wild animals and can be very unpredictable. In the morning before our breakfast of yogurt, bread and jam, fruit, and of course coffee, we saw a pack of water buffalos, a giraffe, and 2 elephants about a half mile away. After breakfast, we came up on a group of about 6 giraffes feeding, and even saw one that was pregnant. We then saw a mother white rhino with her baby and the dominant male for the area. Throughout our trek, we saw many impala, wildebeest, zebras, and warthogs as well. When we broke for an awesome traditional, South African style braai lunch, we had seen 3 of the big 5. Leopards are very hard to see during the day, so we made it our goal to spot a lion in the afternoon even though no tour groups that we had talked to had seen one all day. After searching for about 2 hours for a lion without success, it was time to head back to our hostel. Even though we only saw 3 of the big 5, I was still very happy with the experience and I would definitely recommend using a tour service to see and learn about the animals. For $80 for an all-day safari, including transportation to and from the park and breakfast and lunch, how can you go wrong?

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After being disappointed that we didn’t see any hippos in our backyard or walking down the streets of St. Lucia like sometimes happens, we booked a hippo and crocodile cruise on Sunday morning. St. Lucia sits on the biggest estuary in the world and has the largest collection of hippos in the world, so we saw plenty on the cruise and even got lucky enough to see them out of the water which is pretty rare this time of the year during the day. We saw a lot of crocs and birds which was cool as well. After leaving St. Lucia at about noon, we enjoyed the best part of Durban on our way back until the sun set, the beach. I’m going to miss the sunny, warm weather here when I go to Cape Town in a few weeks, which consists of mainly clouds and rain.

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I’ve also started my rotations at St. Mary’s hospital this week, which is an 80% publicly funded small hospital, with the other 20% of funding coming privately mainly from the United States. St. Mary’s delivers about 450 babies per month, less than the big hospitals which deliver about 1,000, but since there are few doctors at St. Mary’s and many nurses, anything that they can do that takes the pressure off of the big hospitals is a huge help. I am not assigned to a department at St. Mary’s, and can walk around as I please to see different things. I spent Monday in Pediatrics with a really great doctor (whose name escapes me) and mainly learned about the 3 main problems facing South Africa: HIV, TB, and malnutrition. A lot of the malnutrition is not due to lack of food, but rather children eating the wrong food because parents want to cut costs or are uneducated. I spent Tuesday in the labor wards, and missed a delivery by about 5 minutes when I got there, but I did get to see the placenta get delivered. I went to the examination room with the newborn baby and learned how to give ABGAR scores and calculate how many weeks along the baby was based on different things in its appearance, such as how much of the bottom of the foot is wrinkled. The rest of the day was spent evaluating patients and sending them for C-sections, which is why I spent Wednesday in theatre. I saw 3 C-sections in theatre, and was amazed at how quickly and efficiently they can be done. All 3 babies got ABGAR scores of 9 (out of 10) both at 1 minute after delivery and at 5 minutes after delivery. Most of the mothers at St. Mary’s are “easy” cases due to the limited resources at this small hospital, so high ABGAR scores are very normal. There was a bit of a scare for the surgeon when he accidentally stuck himself with the needle he was using to suture the mom. The reason a C-section was done was because the mom was HIV positive and HIV is usually passed on to the baby during a normal delivery due to mixing of blood, but is usually not passed on in a C-section. The surgeon had to go to the clinic to start post-exposure prophylaxis, pills that he will take for the next 28 days reducing his chance of contracting HIV. The chance of infection with a simple needle stick is only about 2% without prophylaxis, and is lowered to a mere sliver of chance with the treatment, but it is scary nonetheless and happens pretty often to these surgeons. I went back to the labor wards on Thursday and got to see 2 deliveries, and even assisted in the second one by holding the mothers head up to help her push with the contractions. There are some nasty details about how they do deliveries here in order to keep it moving and avoid 10 hour labors, but I’ll leave that for a personal conversation when I get back to the states.

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We had some guests at lunch

Working with babies has been really cool over the past couple of days, and it is really exciting being able to see new life brought into this world. The personal care given by the doctors, midwifes, and nurses at St. Mary’s to the mothers has been phenomenal, which is one of the advantages to coming to the small Catholic hospital. This week I am taking a trip to the biggest mountain range in all of Africa, in Drakensburg. It has been hard to find time or a gym to work out here, so hopefully I make it up the mountain without keeling over. It will be good practice for when I climb on of the most scenic mountaintops in the world in Cape Town in Table Mountain. That’s all for now because my host mom is telling me it’s time for dinner, which consists of seme tonight, a dish with beans and corn kernels that are quartered for texture with beef on top. A lot different from what I’m used to eating but I can’t complain!

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Sunrise at the Park

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Look whats for lunch

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Sunset in our backyard

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Our awesome accomodations