Typical weekday in Naggalama

by Lorien E. Menhennett

Dining room table

The table in the guesthouse where we ate our meals.

While I’ve written extensively about my experiences in rural Uganda, it occurred to me that I never made it clear what a typical day was like. And that’s an important piece of my time there. Although I have listed times here, these varied by day. We learned to expect the unexpected.

7:30 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. — breakfast. Our group gathered at the table in the main guesthouse for this very important meal. I say “very important” because during the week, we never ate a full lunch, merely snacks on the go; we were out in the community all day. Breakfast usually consisted of hardboiled eggs, toast, fruit, and coffee or tea. (And after two straight weeks of daily hardboiled eggs, I still have no interest in eating one.)

8:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. — hospital rounds. Randi, Howard, Jemella, and I headed to check on the hospital patients who had been referred for palliative care, mostly pain management.

Typical home

The view of a typical home in the rural community, seen through the window of the palliative care team’s van.

10:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. — house calls. After hospital rounds, we met up with the local palliative care team (a nurse trained specifically in palliative care and her two nursing assistants) to head out into the community for palliative care house calls. Some patients lived in nearby towns; others lived in villages an hour away on rutted, dirt roads. The distances we often traveled, plus visits that might last 30 minutes to an hour, meant we usually saw no more than four or five patients a day. I knew that these visits would be emotionally challenging. Some of them were. But I learned, through watching Randi, Howard, and Jemella, how to better listen to patients — and how rewarding that kind of intimate interaction could be. What I wasn’t expecting were the physical challenges of being out in the community for six or seven hours. We all got hot, sweaty, tired, hungry, and thirsty (and didn’t drink much water because there weren’t any bathrooms).

5:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. — decompress. After a long and intense day, we’d come home to both unwind and to process what we’d experienced. This usually happened over cheese, crackers, and hummus — delicacies procured in Kampala, the capital city. Sometimes we sat in the living room; sometimes outside on the lovely back patio.

8 p.m. — dinner. Meals in Uganda consist of a lot of starch — potatoes, also called “Irish,” as well as rice and pasta. Vegetables and meat were accents. That was a big change from my diet in the United States, which is mainly fresh produce and protein. So food was a challenge for me. Though I must say, the housekeeper certainly made some mean french fries.

10 p.m. — bed. Growing up, I always wanted a canopy bed. That never happened. But in Uganda, I slept every night under a mosquito net, which is pretty much the same thing, but with a purpose!

My "canopy" bed.

My “canopy” bed.