Nick Stadlberger, a fourth-year medical student at Dartmouth College spent four weeks this spring in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, working in the infectious disease ward at Muhimbili Hospital as part of his school’s global health program.
Each day began at the gates of the hospital, where Stadlberger watched people come and go – from families visiting their loved ones to patients with crutches that seemed to be made of sticks found in the road. Then he’d go in and do his rounds, helping treat HIV patients suffering from tuberculosis, renal failure and infections that take advantage of the weakened immune systems.
Here’s what he saw outside the hospital in Tanzania — and the advice he has for volunteers-to-be.
Something you wish you’d brought from home?
Bug spray, totally forgot that. I had a lot of bites, and there was a time when I felt like I was getting sick, which made me worried about malaria. I had gotten malaria previously in Ghana and I really didn’t want it again.
What woke you up aside from your alarm clock?
The heat. Or my itching bug bites.
There was a dish called chips mayai – essentially a French fry omelet. They always served it to you with a huge mound of salt on the side. I’ve never put salt on anything in the U.S., but there I took up the habit of eating a ton of sodium. I would cover my French fry omelet with that and be about as unhealthy as you can be.
We got on a dala dala bus to go to a soccer game, and our driver apparently wasn’t watching the traffic. All of a sudden, everyone ahead of us came to a stop and he swerved out of the way, almost hit a bus, swerved again, ran into the back of a man who was biking — pedaling a whole bunch of corn – and there was corn everywhere. He swerved again, and we careened down into a ditch. All the passengers flew to the left side, the seats came loose and the entire interior of the bus came apart. We all had to crawl out of the window. Luckily, I don’t think anyone was severely hurt.
What happened afterward?
I limped home that night and told one of the gatekeepers that we had been in a car wreck. I don’t know what I was expecting – some type of sympathy or “Oh my gosh!” – but he just nodded. He said, “This is the type of thing that we have to live with every day.”
Best thing you brought back home?
We went scuba diving off the western coast of Zanzibar and I brought back a scuba diving certification.
In the U.S. we take our good health for granted, and people place a lot of blame on doctors who aren’t able to fix things, whereas in Tanzania, any health care they get is considered a privilege.
Tweet of advice?
Go with the flow. Don’t make rigid plans because they’re not going to work out.