It’s Mary Kate. I’ve finally made it to Malawi – working on two devices for two years in Houston has been exhausting and, at times, frustrating. It’s very exciting and surreal to finally come to Malawi and see them in action.
When I first arrived, I felt very out of place in the hospital, but everyone has been quick to make me feel welcome. I’ve found myself walking around Queen Elizabeth and seeing people I know, or meeting people I’ve only ever known through email up until now, or even noticing people wearing Rice 360° t-shirts.
While I’m here, I’m working in the neonatal ward on a study involving a low-cost neonatal temperature monitor used to detect hypothermia or fever. I was nervous about being the only person on the project for this study, but Prince, a nurse at Queen Elizabeth who has worked on several Rice 360° trials, is an amazing partner for brainstorming ideas and keeping us on track.
Sometimes it’s unclear whether I’m running the study or Prince is. His work ethic is unparalleled, and I have yet to ask him a question that he doesn’t know the answer to.
Some of my favorite Prince include: “I’ll rest when I’m dead,” “I’m an unstable electron—I never stop moving,” and “If you don’t shape up, I’m going to fire you.” We keep each other laughing all day.
He’s more of an engineer at heart than I am, and he has so many great ideas about how to improve care in the ward. I seriously can’t say enough good things about this guy. Getting the trial up and running has been easy peasy thanks to him.
Day-to-day, I sit in the neonatal ward collecting temperature data. The ward has limited equipment and staff, but they work hard to provide the best care possible for the babies. Patricia, the head nurse, keeps the ward in tip top shape and seems to always be on her feet buzzing around the ward. It’s surreal to see Pumani CPAPs being used on babies rather than just sitting in our lab in Houston.
Prince and I are currently working on some modifications to the temperature monitoring strap so that it doesn’t slide around on wiggly babies. Everyone is curious as to when the wooden incubator will arrive and everyone wants to know when can they get a Bilispec. It’s exciting to see the projects we work on in Houston are devices people here know and care so deeply about.
On a personal note, I’ve been working on my Chichewa — a very slow progress. I did finally master the morning and afternoon greetings in an effort to impress Thandie at the CPAP office, but I still have a long way to go. I can also say, “I am hungry” and “the baby is hungry”, which are surprisingly essential phrases.
In the ward, the mothers come in every 3 hours to breastfeed, so I’ll practice my phrases for the mother of the baby we are testing. Whenever I speak any Chichewa to anyone they cackle at me and then say a bunch of words that are way over my head, but I’m more than happy to be the source of some amusement.
Edson, my favorite taxi driver, has been teaching me Chichewa, also. Sometimes I’ll hop in his car and he’ll hand me a handwritten sheet of phrases and words. I’m still figuring out how he chooses which ones to teach me. What do “maize flour,” “Today is hot,” and “I like dancing” have in common? Time will tell…
More to come!