“Stay well, Malawi”
Fireside chat by Abby:
It is hard to say good-bye to Malawi. But I also know, that I will be back here someday. Malawi has moved me and molded me in a way that is irreversible and priceless. This experience has changed the way I see myself as a PT and as a person. I will always call upon these experiences and relationships with my patients and colleagues at St. Gabriel’s as I develop as a clinician. Throughout my time here, and despite the many challenges on both a physical and emotional level, I have never felt so supported, so appreciated, and so welcomed into an already close-knit community. I am so proud of what we have accomplished here, and how hard we worked to help our patients and share our knowledge with them and their caregivers. Zikomo kwambiri to Dr. Nesbit for providing a safe and nurturing environment for us to encounter difficult situations and rise to meet them on our own terms and in our own time. Thank you very much to all of the nurses, clinical officers, and staff at St. Gabriel’s for warmly welcoming us as physiotherapy students, and enthusiastically employing our skills to enhance patient care. And zikomo kwambiri to all of my patients, for putting your trust in me and for bringing me wholeheartedly into your story of recovery. Mwakhoza, mwakhoza, sure!!!
A personal note from CJ:
It has been awhile since I’ve written…this move was not intentional but mostly driven by exhaustion. Each night was a moment of personal reflection for myself and I often found it difficult to visit those thoughts again to write them down. Our short time in the hospital is difficult to articulate. We had moments of success followed by moments of difficulty. I found myself quite connected to a few patients here and on the last day of treatment I felt like I was in a haze. Like time had just warped past us and suddenly I found myself unable to treat and spend time with the patients I began so dearly to love. I found peace after talking with the group and recognizing that our efforts to rehabilitate our patients will not terminate once we leave. The culture in Malawi is so different from the United States. It’s a culture I’ve grown quite fond of even though our stay here was so short. Here – guardians, caregivers, brothers, mothers, fathers, and sisters stay at the hospital with their loved ones. The hospital even has huge infrastructure where the caregivers can cook and stay. Even though having a family member at the hospital often causes financial burdens that seems to be besides the point…
What is especially unique is each caregiver watched us intently. Each treatment session included the caregiver so that they may continue to care for their loved one when the therapist is no longer present or when they go home. It was such a rich interaction between people. It was personally and emotionally alive. A team. A family. A group that shared a common goal. To bring someone back to function. Back home to their village. After our last treatment session Dr. Nesbit gathered us all around and I found it difficult to summarize our stay. To put a final point on all that we had gone through. Ultimately the experience allowed me to simply feel human. To understand something beyond myself…beyond my everyday naggings and to understand something greater. To fall in love with a culture, and a system despite being so very different from the system at home. Even though we leave tomorrow morning I already feel the draw to come back. So – it will happen. A returning journey.
A side note from Sarah:
As I pack up my last “chitinje” in my overstuffed suitcase, it’s unbelievable to think that this experience is coming to an end. I can recall when my second year buddy first shared with me over a year ago how she was going to Africa to provide physical therapy education and treatment. Due to my passion for public health interventions in the physical therapy setting, I quickly jumped into the application process. After finding out that Abby, CJ and I were going on the trip, I heard many stories, read books, and attended weekly classes all in preparation for this exciting experience. I was not prepared for interactions I would have with this country and it’s people that brought me to a place of humility and vulnerability. At times, I was filled with optimism for these patients as they had a favorable prognosis. In other moments, I was heart-broken at the social injustices present, as I knew that if these patients just had different resources or circumstances, their rehabilitation would be quite different. However, after my interactions with the clinical officers, nurses, and doctors at the hospital, my hope for these patients was restored. St. Gabriel’s Hospital is filled with individuals who are working with the patients and their caregivers to achieve the best outcome. To say it was difficult walking down the hospital corridor one last time would completely minimize how the three of us were feeling. We have been given a honestly life-changing experience from these honest, genuine, and kind people. I look forward to my return to this country knowing that I will be warmly welcomed again.