Normally when we think of palliative care, our thoughts veer towards the end of life and death, so I’ll start this link letter by telling you about our “first palliative care baby”! Some of you may remember that in a previous letter I talked about a young lady, AP. She had a distended abdomen due to ascites (fluid in the abdomen) which we were able to treat, giving her a flat tummy again.
The icing on the cake was that her husband, who had abandoned her when she got sick, came back to their family home. Well the cherry on the top of the icing on the cake is that she got a distended abdomen again, but this time from a pregnancy, and on Christmas Day last year she delivered a healthy little girl that has been called Noelle. A little while ago she came to see us, bringing her baby. It was just so lovely to see them, AP looking so well and happy and with a flat tummy once again! Of course, she is not cured but she is stable; please pray that she remains stable so she can see her little girl grow up.
AP has a friend, BA, with a similar problem of fluid in her abdomen, due to congenital heart disease. She is also doing very well, and indeed I often see her in the early morning when I take my dog for a walk, going to collect water at our local water source as she currently lives very close to me. Recently I had all the diocesan staff round for a get together on a Sunday afternoon (a monthly event going round different people’s houses) and I asked BA if she would help with the cooking. This was partly because I wanted to show her that she has a valuable contribution to make to life, and partly to encourage her to live as normally as she can (see the photo above of her chopping potatoes to make chips). Incidentally in the background is Joyce, the widow of my former colleague Yobu, who also very kindly helped that day.
I’ve once again been helping at the palliative care initiators course for medical personnel from Francophone African countries run by Hospice Africa Uganda in Kampala; indeed I am starting to write this letter whilst invigilating an exam for one of the participants from Mauritania. He couldn’t sit their exam with the others as that day he was busy looking after his colleague from Mauritania who had just been operated on for acute appendicitis at a local hospital. We have also had someone with a deep vein thrombosis, following a long flight, as well as the usual few cases of malaria and tummy upsets. However, apart from these hiccups, the course has gone well with participants from nine African countries including my colleague Dr Pascal, who is the medical director of our Anglican Hospital in Aru.
It’s so good that he has been able to attend the course, and he seems to be very much appreciating it. Indeed the other day he showed me the rough draft of the action plan he was preparing concerning what he will do in the six months following the course, something that all the participants have to do. These are then followed up after six months. It was encouraging to see his ideas and plans, and I am really hoping that despite his busy workload in the hospital he will be able to be involved in our palliative care work. It will be great to have another doctor, particularly when I am not around. I include two photos in this letter, one of the whole group of students with some of the facilitators (on the front page) and the other (above) of Dr Pascal receiving his certificate from Prof Anne Merriman, the founder of the Hospice in Kampala.
I want to share a poignant story concerning the importance of holistic care in looking after a person at the end of their life. It is about one of our patients, GK. He had terminal liver failure and our palliative care team had been visiting him regularly at home over the past few months. GK had wanted to be baptised and one of our pastors had been walking through the steps with him, but when his condition suddenly deteriorated sharply the first request he made to our team was to be baptised: “Please don’t let me die without being reconciled to God.” His baptism was quickly arranged and GK’s first words afterwards were “now I am healed”. While physically he was clearly not healed, his priority was to feel spiritually “healed” and so ready to die, secure in the knowledge that he would be with God. Indeed he died at home, and at peace, a couple of days later.
Back on Palm Sunday we had a joyful celebration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with almost the whole church parading around the Anglican compound waving palm leaves before entering for the service. We have the joy of having real palm leaves here and people sometimes make very elaborate designs weaving the different strands together. Then on Pentecost Sunday we had another glorious celebration with the ordination of three priests and seven deacons. It’s a very special day for these people who need much prayer as they start their ministry, often in challenging situations.
In April I had the privilege of attending a confirmation service in a small chapel somewhat off the beaten track. The choir I sing in had been invited to participate in the service. The chapel had been started about four years earlier by one particular lady who was determined that there should be an Anglican church in her village and so started it in the front room of her little mud and thatch home. The local community got together to build a chapel, again of mud and thatch, and the church has gone from strength to strength. About 35 people were confirmed of all ages; the chapel was far too small to accommodate everyone so many people sat under some awning outside. We nearly tripped over ourselves and our musicians with their instruments as we sang and danced – dancing is an essential part of any choir! It was a really fun and joyful occasion.
As I briefly mentioned in my previous letter, I will be coming on leave in August and very much look forward to seeing many of you. I will be staying in my usual address in Bristol as from 8 August. I have written the address on a separate piece of paper rather than including it in this link letter, which seems often to get put on the internet by churches. Thank you as always for your continued prayers and support of me and our work which we all so appreciate.
With love from
You can give online to Francesca at: https://churchmissionsociety.org/elloway