Growing Pains


By Eric McLaughlin, MD

Currently, there are a lot of patients at the hospital.  A lot. Alyssa Pfister, MD, one of our team members here in Burundi, posted this on Facebook the other day:


Eighty-four patients on the pediatrics service.  A year ago, a heavy pediatrics service was 35 or 40.  The year before that it was 25. Malaria season does make a big difference, but half of these 84 are either on the malnutrition service or the neonatology service, neither of which existed a couple years ago.  As Alyssa said, it is “another” record-breaking day. The record just keeps on getting broken.

She is not alone.  All over the hospital, there are more and more patients.  More people coming from farther away.  More hospitals transferring their cases to us.  (We used to only get transfers from health centers, but now it is just as often from another hospital.)  Less places that we can transfer them on to.  And this is challenging.

  1.  Not enough doctors.  We are very blessed to currently have five specialist Americans working with five Burundian generalists.  That is a lot of doctors for a hospital of our size in Burundi.  However, it is taking its toll.  The patients keep coming, and there is no one else to shift the responsibility to.  We are set to hire a few more generalists, and there are a couple of Americans in language school in France, but they are not here yet!
  1.  Not enough staff.  Alyssa rightly asked for prayers for perseverance and endurance for all the hospital staff.  Everyone, from registration to nursing to lab and administration, is being asked to do the work of a hospital 40% smaller.  Again, more hiring is coming, but the process takes time.
  1.  Not enough beds.  Alyssa has 84 patients in 31 beds.  Actually she has 84 patients, 84 mothers, and a score or so of the patients’ siblings who came along for want of someone else to care for them.  So that is about 180 people in 31 beds.  Don’t worry, they’re small.  =)  We have broken ground on a new ward building.  It’s exciting to watch the footings get poured, and to think about what that space will represent in terms of function and accommodation when it is finished.  Next year.

All this can feel simply broken and insufficient.  And it is.  But there is another side to it. This is growth.  These are our growing pains.

The reality is that we have more usable space in the hospital than ever before, and we have way more doctors than a couple years ago.  Our staff is also growing.  The infrastructure of our facility is greatly improved.  Our water supply hasn’t been this good in decades.  Maybe ever!  Our systems are also improving.  When things go wrong, there is more attention paid, and more desire to find a solution.  We are better organized, and our leadership skills are growing at every level.

We have moved significantly up the slope.  It’s just that the demand has moved even faster up the slope.  I guess this is natural enough, and the fact that the demand is moving songswill probably be the strongest impetus to keep the growth going.  It’s just painful, that’s all.  Growing pains.

But if there is anything that we have all learned from Growing Pains, it’s that great things can one day result if we can find the strength to persevere.  Like Leonardo DiCaprio winning an Oscar, for example. [MedSend note: DiCaprio played homeless teen Luke Brower on the 1985-992 sitcom.]

Dr. McLaughlin and his wife, Dr. Rachel McLaughlin, are MedSend grant recipients serving at Kibuye Hope Hospital in the impoverished rural interior of Burundi, where they care for patients while training national doctors as professors for Hope Africa University, a Christian Burundian University. “Growing Pains” was reposted from their ministry team’s blog, “Word and Deed.”




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