Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Ramatu's Story

On the day our penultimate team of volunteers left Andy and Heidi took them to the airport while Maureen and I stayed behind to clean the team house at King George to get it ready for the final team of volunteers who would be arriving just 4 days later. We had decided to go for a meal at the 5-10 Hotel, so once we'd finished clearing up we set off to walking around to the 5-10 - looking forward to a relaxing evening doing nothing.
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In the same road as the King George VI home is a convent, I don't know much about it, but there are always queues of people outside on Mondays and Fridays, they run some kind of medical clinic there........anyway, as Maureen and I were passing the convent one of the kids who was walking with us pointed out someone laying in the gateway of the convent. We went over to have a closer look and there was a girl lying there, she had open sores on her arms, legs and head, there were flies buzzing all around her and she wasn't moving - we thought she was dead. No one else seemed to be taking any notice of her, and as we stood decided what we should do she had a seizure.......at least that let us know she was alive. When she came around we tried talking to her, but all we could get out of her was her name 'Ramatu'

We decided we'd get her to hospital, the closest one was the UMC in Kissy. We went back to King George to see if we could borrow a wheelchair to take her to the hospital. We asked our friend Amanda who is the head teacher at the school in the King George compound to come with us in case we needed someone to translate...........we were also lucky that a man who helps look after the King George residents, Abdul, was there and he agreed to come with us too. We made our way back to the girl (without a wheelchair, we'd decided it'd be better to get a taxi). When we got back a lady came forward who seemed to be the girls mother, she told us Ramatu was 12, had been ill for 5 to 7 years and she couldn't walk. The gateman at the convent explained to Amanda that they couldn't take the girl in, and she should come back the next morning. We attracted quite a large crowd who gathered round trying to see what the apoto's were up to.

We sent someone off to find a taxi for us and all bundled in......Ramatu's mother in the front (heavily pregnant) with the girl on her knee, me Maureen, Amanda and Abdul in the back. Luckily it was only a 5 minute drive. I'd been to the hospital a couple of weeks before visiting someone so I knew the layout and we went straight into admissions. We settled Ramatu in a wheelchair while her mother checked her in........just then she had another fit - I was standing to her right and that's the way she fell so I instinctively caught her head......before that day I'd never seen anyone have a fit and this was my second one in as many hours - I was scared and praying, and I was also vaguely aware she had a big open sore on her head and my hand was touching it - luckily my time in Sierra Leone had knocked a lot of the squeamishness out of me. A doctor came to talk to us to let us know that they couldn't admit her to the hospital, he suggested that we take her to the Epilepsy Association of Sierra Leone which is in Rokupa.

We hailed another taxi and all piled in again and went off to find the Epilepsy Association. Luckily for us when we got there Mr Max Bangura who runs the association and is the main man in Sierra Leone as far as epilepsy issues are concerned was there. He assessed Ramatu and told us that with medication she could improve. As well as the epilepsy Ramatu was very underweight, which was what was making her so weak. Her mother was scared as when she had seizures she thought it was due to demonic possession.....she was scared to touch her - in fact the only time we saw her touch her in all the time we were with her was when they sat in the front of the taxi together. Maureen and I arranged for medication and food for Ramatu until the end of the year. The field officer for the Epilepsy Association will be visiting and checking on her progress. As the medical office at the association was closed for the day the only medical supplies available where what I had in my backpack, so Adbul and I cleaned and dressed her woulds as best as we could. During the time we were at the association Ramatu had another two fits........this gave Max the opportunity to show Ramatu's mother (and us) how best to deal with someone who is having a fit, and to explain to the mother that it wasn't contagious or the effects of possession. Ramatu had her first dose of the medication while we were there as well as something to eat. Max explained to us that is was likely that Ramatu was going to be abandoned outside the convent until we showed up.

By the time we left she'd definitely perked up a bit - although she still couldn't stand unsupported, she could sit up and made some effort to communication......she asked Maureen to give her 1 bloc (100 leones)! As we made to leave it was decided that Adbul would take Ramatu and her mother back to where they were staying and Maureen, Amanda and I would go our separate ways. As we were trying to flag taxi's down I was standing with Ramatu giving her a cuddle (and holding her up) when she had another fit. This was a busy time of day on the main road into Freetown so created a lot of attention. In the 3 or 4 hours we were with Ramatu she had 5 fits - with that and the malnutrition it's no wonder she was so weak. It was such an intense time when we were with her that we didn't really have time to stop and think about how desperate the situation was for the girl or how awfully sad it was - while we were with her I held it together quite well......but as soon as Maureen and I were alone in the taxi it hit me. Ever since then I've not been able to get her out of my mind.

I've emailed Mr Bangora asking for an update on Ramatu, when I hear from him I'll post the details.

(Maureen and I went to the 5-10 for a meal a bit later than planned, but neither of us could find anything we fancied on the menu so we ended up going to out usual haunt.....The NP.)

Also posted at minklemar.com

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