Necessity, that dear old mother

by Lorien E. Menhennett

The room where I presented my educational modules at Masaka Hospital in Uganda. Setting up for a technology-heavy presentation in rooms like these can be a challenge.

If I were presenting my educational modules at New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York, I would take several things for granted. Access to a projector, for example. A screen to project images or videos on to. Electrical outlets. Electricity.

In the hospitals here in rural Uganda though, things can be a little more challenging.

At Nakaseke Hospital, for example, the electricity went out during a rainstorm. There went my access to power, and to my projector. Thankfully my laptop and little Bose bluetooth speaker had been charging the whole time. So Howard held up my laptop to show the videos, and I held up the speaker. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked.

Electricity was an issue at Masaka Hospital too, but in a different way. Electrical outlets here are sparse. Many rooms have only one. At Masaka, the only outlet was at the back of the long, narrow room. The projection screen had been set up at the front of the room, near the door. It was hanging from a nail tacked high on the wall. My cords wouldn’t reach to the front of the room where I needed to place my projector, not even with my extension cord, and they didn’t have another one.

Rubber bands connecting the projector screen to the nail underneath the window casing.

So a couple of the nurses who arrived early for my session helped me improvise. We carried the screen over near the outlet and balanced it on three heavy, wood chairs. But there was no nail here to hang the screen from. Not in easy reach, at least. And without something holding the screen up, it simply flopped to the floor.

There was a nail above the window, behind where we were trying to hang the screen. But the nail was obscured by a piece of window moulding. The hanger on the screen wouldn’t reach into the tiny, tight space.

One of the women asked if I had a piece of string. I didn’t have string. What I did have was rubber bands. It took a few tries to figure out how to combine them (think back to physics: in parallel? in series?) to hold up the screen. But we got it to work, as evidenced by the photos here.

My most recent adventure brought me to Gombe Hospital, this past Wednesday and Thursday. When I arrived Wednesday afternoon, I was ushered into the lecture room, and began to set up my equipment.

“Do you have a screen?” I asked the administrator who was helping me. “Or should I project onto the wall?”

I crossed my fingers for a screen, because the wall was a mint green color. Both the patients and the palliative care team in my videos would look permanently seasick if I projected their faces onto this background.

The taped-up paper “screen” at Gombe Hospital.

“We will use the wall,” she said. “I will get some paper.”

She disappeared. A few minutes later she reappeared, with sheets of butcher block paper and masking tape. We taped two of the sheets on the wall, contiguously to make a reasonably sized “screen,” as you can see from the photos.

The first day, participants told me it was hard to see the videos. I realized there was too much sunlight in the room. For Day 2, I closed all the curtains, and it was much better.

Would it have been easier to have projection screens and accessible outlets at every hospital? Of course. But being able to use what you have rather than what you wish you had is an important life skill, wherever you are.

This was good practice for me. It was also a reminder that when put to the test, I readily adapt. That’s a good feeling.

The room where I presented at Gombe Hospital, with the improvised, taped-up paper “screen” at the back of the room.