It must have been quite a sight for those two Ugandan male technicians. It's not everyday that a young ghostly white American female comes into your hospital room for an EKG. But there I was. Alone in the room. Half-naked and awaiting to find out why I nearly fainted in the remote town of Namulonge only hours prior.
Backtrack to 2010 when I was working with a local non-profit, Project Restore, that worked to provide education and medical assistance to a small community in Uganda. It was my first photojournalism trip on the books and little did I know the stepping stone it was in my journey.
See, I was NEVER drawn to Africa and it never made my list of places to visit growing up. As often as we tend to do in life . . . I made assumptions that prevented me from exploring opportunities because of fear. When I thought of Uganda, all I envisioned were bugs and snakes which kept it way down on my list of countries to visit someday. But, I was now in my early thirties and found myself drawn to the foreign land to help an organization that needed high-quality images to promote their work back home to raise support to continue to make a difference.
I accompanied a medical team on the extremely long trip along with a couple interns that the leader asked to assist me in documenting their work. But even after traveling for over 24 hours with no sleep and taking a Benedryl to make me sleepy, I found myself still wide awake on the dark quiet plane across the ocean. Adrenaline kicked in when we landed late at night in Uganda and thankfully, I caught a bit of shuteye at our first stop in Entebbe. The next morning, we started our long drive to a remote area called Namulonge.
Long story (for another blog) made short, I struggled to sleep the following night as I found myself trying to get rest on a black trash bag on the floor under my mosquito net. Within a couple days of unintended sleep deprivation and dehydration, I found myself being carried down the aisle of the tiny village church during the Sunday service. I suddenly had the cold sweats and was fading quickly. I calmly informed the nervous medical student sitting next to me, "Just a heads up. I might faint." That got him quickly off his feet and I soon found myself being carried out of the church and laid on the ground.
Talk about leaving an impression! Not only did I stop the pastor's sermon, but the entire congregation came out to watch. I surely gave them a story to pass along the campfire and share for generations. "There was this little white woman who was carried by two men out of the church sobbing..." Yep. That was me.
The doctor on our team thought she heard something abnormal in my chest so they took me to the "good hospital" in Kampala (Uganda's capital). Thinking it may be a reaction to my malaria medication, I needed an EKG. Although, first I had to pay the cashier. Then I saw the nurse. Then I paid the cashier again so I could get the test done. And I would have to come back to pay my dues again to hear the results from the doctor.
As the team doctor and I sat outside the EKG room, I noticed the building looked as if a bomb had exploded, taking out the middle section creating a natural skylight for us sick patients to enjoy. As I looked toward the floor, a rat ran past my feet. Thankfully years of international travel and mission trips gave me enough strength to just laugh in my seat at the unusual experience.
These are the events that led to the memorable test. I entered the hospital room alone and found a table with what appeared to be a sheet that needed a good dose of bleach and two male technicians waiting for me to undress. I had an EKG before so I knew to take my shirt off . . . just giving more of Africa stories to pass along to their young ones. And then I was informed that I was still dressed too much. Ummmm. Okay. Why not! When in Rome, right? So, there I lay on the table half-naked and a bit chilly on top, I might add . . . all while listening to a conversation that was as foreign to me as the rodent coming by for a visit minutes earlier.
It's not every day that you can say you were carried out of a church in a remote village, was visited by a friendly rat, and lied topless in front of two male foreigners . . . but this life of mine gave me that incredible and quite humorous gift. I'm not proposing to anyone to take off the layers to create your own memories, but I will say that I've often wondered if my story has been shared in huts and office meetings through the years.
When things don't seem to be going your way . . . when the unimaginable happens, just keep smiling. Accept it as part of your story and move along.
Don't pet the rat. Just watch it run by and wait for your next adventure.
*The blog picture is a medical clinic in the town of Namulonge I served at in Uganda and is not the Kampala hospital.