After years of planning the day finally arrived. The Shoshong pilot project opened its doors today, Wednesday, August 22nd. After all the planning, meetings, discussions and preparation, it is very exciting to see the doors open for the first time, a milestone in the future of spine care in the developing world.
The site preparations had begun in June, with some hard labor from Doug Brandvold and Grant Winter who helped clear all the garbage and level out the future site for the clinic. The contract for construction of the portacabin was won by Team engineering in Gaborone, who did a fantastic job building to our exact specifications. Unfortunately, a miscommunication led to Site preparation with Dr. Doug Brandvold and Dr. Grant Winter Team delivering the portacabin with no intention of hooking it up to services – power and water.
The day they were to finish (2 days before we were to open) I had to convince them to hook up the power, and I had to run and scrounge armoured cable from a Mosque construction site in Mahalapye. Back at the site Dr. Becky Carpenter and I began to help dig a trench for the power cable but were brought to a halt when we hit a water pipe (there are no warnings or drawings to indicate the location of water pipes). After sealing the leak and calling water utilities to come and turn off the water, another worker managed to hit the main water pipe to the entire clinic facility. Although this caused a considerable flood, the strike managed to hit the pipe exactly at the main water shut off valve that the water utilities had not been able to find after 3 months of looking. Eventually it was all repaired, but a 2-hour electrical hook up kept everyone at the site for an entire day. That was Monday.
Tuesday morning we went to the village Kgotla – the main meeting place for the village, where we were on the agenda to speak along with the chief and a local MP. We sat through long speeches in Setswana until it was my turn to introduce WSC to the village. My words were met with great enthusiasm, but we could not stay to chat as we had to gather and move all the furniture and supplies that had been collected over the past several months in anticipation of the opening. Again, through miscommunication, some of the furniture that was ordered through Mahalapye Hospital had not arrived (in fact it had not even been ordered) so we instead took our camping tables and furniture for something to work on.
By the end of the day, we had brought most of the equipment to the clinic and had a final load of furniture in the trailer ready to go for the drive to the clinic the following morning. We arrived at the clinic Wednesday morning with our translator Temo who has been working with us at the Mahalapye clinic since January and is familiar with our protocols and forms. We have been very lucky to have someone who is so competent, hard-working and personable.
Within 10 minutes of arriving, villagers started to crowd around the front of the clinic. As I unloaded furniture and set up the clinic Becky began to book patients and Temo began to interview.
By the time the first patient was ready for an exam, 29 new patients had been booked, we had run out of intake forms and had to tell the rest to come back Friday to book.
We saw 7 new patients on the first day while also trying to get everything working and set up properly. We still have a lot of little problems to resolve but enough is together to run the clinic as we slowly fine-tune and decorate.
One of Becky’s first patients presented with a specific set of signs and symptoms. The patient was happy to learn that a diagnosis of menopause was completely normal and timely for a woman her age and was eager to learn more about it – something we take for granted as
general knowledge made for a big relief in this woman’s day.
We have also recruited a spinal cord injury patient to start an exercise program for others in wheelchairs that will be run twice weekly, the days when the clinic is open. The program will be run in the property beside the clinic with exercise equipment that I brought from Canada.
The pace and environment in Shoshong are peaceful, the people are warm and quick to smile and laugh. If the first day is any indication, this will be a productive and pleasant site for the future of the clinical, research and education programs that WSC is developing.
Thanks to everyone who helped move this project forward, in particular, the volunteers who have come to Botswana to help on the ground – Sarah Potthoff, Doug Brandvold, Grant Winter, and Becky Carpenter.