From Patient to Hospital Administrator at Nkhoma Hospital

A Letter from Martha Sommers, serving in Malawi

May 2018

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Dear Friends and Family,

Greetings from my new Nkhoma, Malawi home! I arrived two months ago, and am enjoying adjusting.

Tonight, we had electrical power, which means we had lights in the front room. So, I decided to sit in the front room, use the dining table for my desk, and sit down to write you all. My mind wandered to how the high-pitched crackly sound that accompanies the electricity sounds like crickets. Then, I heard a knock on at my front door. “Hello. Who’s there?” I called out as I walked toward the door. To my delight, my neighbor Agnes Nyanda, and her oldest son, Takondwa, responded.

They live with their family in the other half of this long, old brick mission house with a high tile overhanging roof. When my lights went on and theirs did not, they explained, they realized they had run out of prepaid electrical units. They went through the process of buying units by telephone and entering the code into the charging unit, which should work, as it has a battery backup. But that failed. So, they thought of plugging the charger into my socket, and trying the process again. While this was done, we chatted and I commiserated with her about how my flatmate and I had experienced the same predicament the previous week, and it is so disappointing not to have electricity during the few hours each day when electricity is available. Thankfully, utilizing my socket, the process worked, and the lights on their side of the house went on!

Agnes’ son’s name, Takondwa, means “We are happy,” which is true each time I see my neighbors. We’ve discussed many mutual house challenges: water, stray dogs, nearby thefts, and mice. Agnes always adds laughter and wisdom to our problem-solving.

Last week, when Agnes came for dinner, she captivated us with her 27-year history at Nkhoma hospital. Twenty-seven years ago, Agnes had an eye operation that did not go well. She doesn’t know the details, but was told she would need to come to the hospital for daily dressings of her bleeding, oozing eye wound. She had just finished high school. Her father, a minister working as a missionary in neighboring Mozambique, arranged for housing at Nkhoma so this could be done.

Telling this part of the story, Agnes reverts to the voice of a shy teenager. She arrives at the busy outpatient area, waiting in line, and is approached by the missionary doctor who was then hospital director, Dr. Bruno. She tells how Dr. Bruno gruffly greets her and tells her she should not be arriving so early, but should go home. As Agnes lives close to the hospital, she should come in a few hours, after those who have to travel far have been cared for. When she does return hours later, Dr. Bruno tells her she has come too late, yet he will see her. She is seen that day and every day, and there are hours of boredom and waiting around for this 17 year old who is sad that her friends have moved on and worried that she might lose her eyesight.

One day while Agnes is waiting, Dr. Bruno tells her she should not waste her time — instead, while she waits she should make calls to the patients he needs to contact. So, she does. After some weeks, he tells her she should use this waiting time learning to type. Agnes shakes her head, laughingly telling us how he brought a typewriter in, “and it was a very, very old typewriter, but anyways, I learned.”

When she was finally healed, she was offered and accepted the post of secretary to the hospital director. After a few years, she was sent to train in accounts and run the accounts department. She was again sent for training, most recently to get her Masters in Business Administration, and last year was named Principal Administrator of Nkhoma Hospital, an institution that serves a population of greater than 250,000 and is growing as a teaching and referral center.

Agnes states that she knows her friends with similar qualifications make more money, yet she is happy to be able to serve Nkhoma. This is the hospital where she was healed, the hospital where all her children were born, and the hospital that sponsored her training.

Please pray for Agnes, for all of us who work at Nkhoma, and for our patients. We have struggles much more difficult than intermittent water and electricity in our homes. These challenges include reducing neonatal and maternal death rates; addressing the sharp increase in the country of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes; and growing as a teaching hospital to assist in training health workers who can work to address these challenges. May we be guided by Isaiah 40:31: “Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” As we persevere, pray that our problem solving can be infused with laughter and wisdom.

Thank you for your financial support, which makes my work with our partners at Nkhoma possible. Please continue to contribute as you are able as we journey together.


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