humedica team intervention Togo

ight in the team intervention journal

by Kristin Teubner, 2020/01/19

It is approximately 9 am in Togo.
Sweat trickles down our body. Our clothes are completely soaked and we still haven´t even started to work. We landed two days ago. Five nurses, three practitioners and one dentist. Now we are standing in front of the prison in Lomé. About 2000 inmates and all sorts of people, whose name and functions I have already forgotten, are standing with us under the blazing sun and pray for us and the 12 days to come. We are well organized and quite well prepared I think to myself. After felt long, for us more or less incomprehensible organizational procedures, finally the doors open. Our work has begun.

Joyful and motivated, the humedica medical team starts its intervention. Photo: humedica

We were able to care for 10 prisons and 2,400 patients in total. With regard to these numbers, we mastered the nearly impossible. Nearly every day of the intervention started with a prayer and a short song including a more or less sophisticated choreography, which helped to build a bridge to the inmates. Even so we Europeans had our difficulties in applying the appropriate enthusiasm to this task, after the initial reticence the inmates took to it very much against the background of the dreary everyday prison life. The procedure always brought on first laughs and cheers, which in return motivated us to go full throttle. „J'ai une melodie dans mon cœur…“ - „I carry a melody in my heart …“ was one of the catchy tunes, which would stay with me for a long time afterwards.

Overcrowded jails and bad hygienic conditions belong to the everyday lives of the prisoners. Photo: humedica

After the heat came the rain. And that was why, for the first time in my life, I saw so-called „trench feet“. Feet, which do not only swell, but become blue or even white and dead feet with serious inflammations due to having stood in the water for a long time. The inmates had to spend the nights like this – upright, because there is no room for all to lay down. Especially not for newcomers. We were shocked. Some of them were still mere children.

We were shocked and speechless, this experience stayed with us for quite some time. But the intervention continued – in the North of the country, where the conditions did not really improve. We saw many bad things, even inhuman distress, but we could also experience that situations can change. That the work of humedica and Prison Fellowship can bring sustainability and improvement, even so the mills ground really slowly.

It happened sometimes that inmates recognized some of our team members. They had been there two years ago and had been able to treat former pains successfully. The days passed by in a flash. Blazingly fast important drugs ran out and we had to improvise, but we also lived to see how our prayers were answered.

All of a sudden, our medicine against scabies ran out. The alternative drug was used up to the last drop and we still had to work for several days. There was nothing left to do than to pray. In fact, till this date nearly all inmates had suffered from severe skin deteriorations, which surpassed even the pictures contained in our university course books by far. To our great astonishment, after that day virtually no more inmates suffered from scabies. Praise God!

Diseases, which have nearly vanished in Germany, are common in countries like Togo. Photo: humedica

We treated Malaria, infections and parasitic diseases, most of all scabies, as well as wounds, chronic diseases, metabolic disorders as best as possible, split abscesses, pulled out about 200 dents and distributed thousands of pills. We encouraged, consulted the Togolese colleagues and wrote medical attestations in the hope, that some inmates would receive medical treatment in a hospital. And all the time we were met with unbelievably much gratitude.

Scabies are common in jails in developing countries. Photo: humedica

Two intervention weeks in Togolese jails are now behind us. They have left their marks, in all of us. Good marks. Our team consisted of „old hands“ and me – the „newbie“. It was my first intervention as „medical doctor“. And I still believe it to be destiny that exactly this team members joined for the intervention in Togo.

The work group was tight-knit from day one up to the end, the team spirit and also the personal closeness was invincible. The collaboration with the local practitioners, the nurses and all the many people from Prison Fellowship, who were really interested to make this journey as convenient as possible under the conditions on site, were really impressive. Not to be forgotten: Eric. Our slightly eccentric, seemingly never tired Togolese project leader on site – he put in a felt 200 per cent to convince us to make this mission in his country our own.

Daily briefing session of the humedica intervention team. Photo: humedica

At the moment we are at the Brussels airport, where our joint journey has once started and will end today. And me? „J'ai une melodie dans mon cœur…“ - „I carry a melody in my heart…“ – for Togo, for Prison Fellow Ship and for all the people we have met. And the rest of my team does the same.

P.S.: I could write so much more, but that would go beyond my scope here. As we as a team had incredibly much fun together, I would like to share a little anecdote, with the consent of the named person: „Where is Silke?!“

The whole humedica intervention team was glad to be able to help. Photo: humedica

We had just finished our work for the day and were packing our things together. I had to relieve myself and therefore left the inner premises of the prison. When I arrived outside, I saw a group of excited soldiers – in front of the toilet. My asking glance fell upon our female dentist, who was sporting a wide smile. A question crossed my mind: „Where, actually, is Silke?“ All cried in for me incomprehensible French that Silke had locked up herself in the toilet, that the door handle had broken and that it was not possible for her to escape through the window due to the iron bars. Our dentist confirmed this report of our Togolese colleagues puffing with laughter: Silke was inside.

At the same time one of our nurses suffered from horrible diarrhea. Rising panic and the mounting intuition that it would be not possible for her to wait till the door would be opened and the toilet could be used again, left only one solution open for her: flight into the bush. While the soldiers used force to open the door and I reckoned that any moment they would take out their Kalashnikovs to shoot at the door, when facing total destruction the door relented and set Silke free again, beads of sweat on her face and speechless. In the meanwhile the team was complete and everybody, virtually anybody, was informed laughingly about the scene, which had just taken place. We nearly split our sides laughing while the soldiers were not sure whether to laugh or to cry with regard to the broken door. Silke´s short-time imprisonment in the toilet became a „running gag“ for the whole journey and each time, when Silke was not there or just a bit late, we asked ourselves: „Where, actually, is Silke?“.

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