It’s been a rough few days at Panzi hospital. The attack on Dr. Mukwege last Thursday night and the death of his employee, who was a long-time friend, was shocking and heart-wrenching. You can read the press release from Panzi Foundation USA in the previous post. No further statements are being made at this time.
Today was the first full day back at work for most staff. People are solemn and concerned but clearly committed to the mission of the hospital and providing quality medical care. Even though the staff number over 350 people, they are like a large extended family that has rallied around the Mukweges. Equally impressive is the calmness, professionalism, and team approach used by staff in response to Thursday night’s tragedy.
Thanks to every one who has emailed or called to make sure we are all doing okay. The out-pouring of support has been tremendous. Many of us have had little sleep since Thursday as we grapple with what’s transpired and the implications. But I feel safe here and have no security concerns beyond the usual for day-to-day life in a city.
My time in Congo, 2 months now, has been productive but is winding down. I have this week at the hospital, then to Nairobi for a week-long conference of African women activists. I will return for one final week at Panzi. While I look forward to the conference and being home, I’m incredibly sad about leaving. There’s so much work to be done.
Last Thursday, the same day as the attack, a few of us got involved with a particular case at the hospital. There is a 5 year-old-boy with terrible burns on his face and body and a malformed hand, likely a birth defect. We’re hopeful that one of the doctors (who offered to perform the procedure for less than $100) can do skin grafts this week. He’ll need plastic surgery after that for severe disfigurement but there’s only one doctor with limited experience at Panzi. We may need to look elsewhere for an appropriate surgeon. This is the most difficult situation I’ve experienced in my life. It’s hard not to look away. But Mukamba is my buddy now and today I got a high-five when I asked him if he is my “rafiki” (friend). He’s been at the hospital with his dad since June but money ran out. I feel fortunate that we can help this little guy.
Then there’s the young woman at Panzi with what appears to have a paralyzed arm who asked if we could help, and my taxi driver’s sister-in-law who, according to the 4-year-old scans she gave me to have a doctor review, has some sort of tumor behind the eye. The fact that she’s still alive means it’s probably benign but it’s causing her debilitating pain. There’s no neurosurgeon at Panzi so she’ll have to go to Uganda or Rwanda. There’s no way they can afford that.
Of course I’m worried about all 24 “moms” too, who participated in my focus groups last week. They are plagued by stigma, poverty, and the struggle to accept their children born of rape.
I know that all of this is horribly depressing. And some days it is emotionally draining. Right after I met Mukamba the first time, someone asked me, “How did that go?” I walked into the office and burst into tears. I can only imagine what it must be like on a daily basis for a Panzi doctor or nurse.
That’s why the attack on Dr. Mukwege is so maddening. The man who dedicates his life to saving others, almost lost his own due to senseless violence. His days are filled with illness and injury at Panzi yet he and his staff keep going, inspired by those they serve and their passion for medicine. This is what compelled me to co-found Panzi Foundation USA. I wanted to help Dr. Mukwege realize his vision for healing bodies, restoring dignity, and improving lives. While the assault last week resulted in tremendous loss, the spirit of Panzi remains intact for the mamas and the Mukambas of Congo who deserve life and hope.