Georgann Macdonald recently returned from Afghanistan where she worked with Doctors Without Borders.
By Amy Woolvett
When Georgann Macdonald signed on to work with Doctors Without Borders, she did not know where in the world she would go for her first mission.
She was surprised when she learned she would be spending the next nine months in Afghanistan.
“I was a little surprised but excited,” said Macdonald. “I always thought it was going to be Africa.”
In 2005, Macdonald was a registered nurse and decided she wanted to work with Doctors Without Borders.
She worked full time and studied, turning her diploma into a degree and then a masters.
By 2011 she was a nurse practitioner working in Barrington.
“I felt I would never be able to get to this point,” said Macdonald.
In order to go on the mission she had to first say goodbye to her husband where they live in Beaverdam Lake.
“He was a little nervous but totally supportive,” said Macdonald.
Her first impression of Afghanistan was how culturally different it was.
“I didn’t know how to act,” she said. She was dressed in full garb worn by women in Southern Afghanistan and met with the team she would be both working and living with for the next nine months.
Macdonald’s placement was in a hospital where she was responsible for the female in-patient ward, emergency and outpatient ward.
Often, she would see and treat up to 200 people per day in the emergency and up to 300 in outpatients.
While most of the war wounded would go to a different hospital, Macdonald treated a vast amount of emergencies with the bare amount of tests or supplies.
“It’s one of the hardest things,” she said. “Knowing there is nothing you can do.”
She would see children dying of diseases most Canadian children do not get including typhoid, measles, TB, polio, meningitis.
“Certainly, the most difficult part of this mission, for me, has been the child deaths,” wrote Macdonald in her blog she kept up while in Afghanistan. “Of course, everyone dies, but I am not accustomed to so many pediatric deaths. In Afghanistan, about one in 10 children die before their fifth birthday. While I knew this before coming here, nothing could have prepared me for the reality of watching it day after day. Some die of trauma, some burns, some disease, or malnutrition.”
Despite limited supplies and testing abilities, the hospital has improved drastically since Doctors Without Borders arrived.
“Before, it was a place to come to die,” said Macdonald. “Now, it is a place of life.”
Doctors Without Borders in Afghanistan is run 100 percent on private donations because of the political unrest.
Macdonald and her team were never allowed out of the compound except to work, where they travelled each day with three convoy trucks to and from work. The sound of bombs going off could be heard every day.
“Once I felt an explosion,” said Macdonald. “I opened the door and felt the wave go through my body.”
But no one made the team feel like they were ever targets, she said.
Macdonald, now home, said she is looking forward to another, albeit, shorter mission in the spring.
“I have become a better nurse,” she said. “My clinical skills have heightened and hopefully I have become more empathetic.”