While in Cape Town I looked for opportunities to be more hands on in the medical world, and with the help of another pre-med student in my program, we found SHAWCO, a University of Cape Town student-run, non-profit community outreach organization relying on over 100 volunteer doctors and over 800 medical and other related health science students to visit under-resourced communities at night from six to nine PM on a weekly basis.
These clinics are not only one of the only options for many people living in the visited areas, but they are a place of firsthand learning and teaching experiences for young doctors and volunteers alike. The first night I volunteered, young woman, whose name I will not disclose, came in complaining of nausea and back pain, asking for a pregnancy test. We went through the normal check up routine of asking health history, living environment, and current issues before providing a pregnancy test. She said she knew her HIV status was negative, as her and her long time boyfriend had been tested within the last year, but she agreed to go ahead and be re-tested. After performing both tests, we learned the woman did not want to be pregnant whatsoever, as she already had a son and at the moment was not prepared for another. Despite this, we had to inform her that not only was she pregnant, but she was also HIV positive. Less concerned about the HIV status, and visibly upset with the positive pregnancy, I had never seen someone with such a look of concern about what to do next.
Luckily, she was knowledgable about the maternity clinic she needed to go to, and the life style changes she would have to make over the next couple of months. Not only was there no continuous income for her and her family, but her mother was sick, already having to help out with her first son, and could not take on another child. Sitting in the room with her after telling her the news, my friend and I spent the time talking and listening to the concerns of this young woman, only a year older than both of us. Neither one of us could relate to the worries that were taking over running through her mind, but all we could do was give her support and care as she sat waiting for the doctor’s discharge papers.
Another patient I had a few weeks later, an older pregnant woman who has having a difficult pregnancy, came in with complaints of nausea, horrible back pain, and abdominal pain. Ignoring my excitement at the expense of the pain of someone else, I learned how to perform an abdominal exam on a pregnant woman, and also learned how to find out which way the baby was positioned by feeling around the abdomen in a certain way.
It was extremely important for us to investigate the back and abdominal pain with different tests, because it could be symptoms of a multitude of issues, including Crones Disease, kidney stones, a UTI or kidney tube infection, or an ectopic pregnancy, something that occurs quite often in the complicated pregnancies I am presented with in the registries. This woman was given medicine, but due to her location, if she continued having pain or if the pain worsened, she would have to travel quite far to the nearest hospital without personal transportation, or wait until the next week for the mobile clinic to come back around. These moments were two of the most humbling experiences I had working in the medical field in Cape Town, as I realized how privileged I have been growing up in the United States.