Ghana Blog: Hardship

July 7th, 2017

Shadowing the physical therapists has definitely been the highlight of my week. I had never been in such a setting where I was able to not only watch the exercises that the therapists performed on their patients, but also get the opportunity to perform those exact same exercises. It was very hands-on, and it is an experience that I will carry with me forever.  Many of the kids who came to see us had cerebral palsy, where their muscles are very weak and they are unable to crawl, walk, sit or even just support themselves. Because of this, many kids are delayed; there were kids who just did not know how to walk or even sit up by themselves. During my time there, all you heard were kids just screaming at the top of their lungs as the physical therapists performed the exercises on them. They did exercises that would encourage them to raise their heads, turn their bodies, sit up, and much more. For the kids who did not know how to walk because the joints in their ankles were fused together were given braces. The physical therapists advised the kids to wear them to help put pressure on it. Also, some of kids’ feet were set incorrectly, so the brace was also there to fix that.

The kids only come once of week because the therapists are just so backed up with patients. The parents of these children are supposed to be performing these exercises every day while they are at home. Many of them do not do this however.  They do not do it because they either have work or they have trouble getting their child to cooperate or because they just do not want to do it. This slows the progress down for a lot of the kids. One physical therapist even told me that some abandon the help that they receive at the hospital and seek out spirituals instead. They believe their child’s ailment is due to bewitching and would prefer to spend their money at the spiritualists. This also delays the child’s progress since they are not practicing the exercises they learned. They eventually just forget it.  This in turn causes the parents to be very frustrated.

One of the physical therapists described to me why cerebral palsy was so common, and she explained to me how many pregnant women carry their babies longer than they need to. The baby often undergoes fetal distress and can experience birth asphyxiation where not enough oxygen reaches the brain. When a C-section becomes necessary, many of them refuse it because of the belief that surgery is evil or because of the tragic stories they may have heard about women who have had C-sections. This can worsen the babies’ condition. Some pregnant women do not even receive any care or won’t visit the hospital until it’s almost time to have the baby. Some do not have the time or money to visit the doctor. Some just do not care to keep up with their health while pregnant.

Hearing these stories and witnessing these kids doing their exercises has definitely given me a new perspective on the way many Ghanaians have to live. No one is really unaware of the tough life Africans have to endure, but seeing it first hand is definitely an experience.  I am grateful for this hands-on experience because it definitely helps me to think about the path I want to take in my life, if healthcare is something I really want to get into to. Seeing the way people live here definitely cultivates a desire to help somehow. I do not say all this to sound like I am pitying Ghanaians or to sound condescending because I know the people here are resilient and are only doing the best that they can do. However, I am seeing how much the people struggle here when it comes to healthcare, and as I continue to immerse myself in these different fields, I only become more and more certain that a career in healthcare is the type of career I want. 

Florence Urum 

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