In Storm-Ravaged Malawi, a Dose of Hope

Katie Ahmann

A nurse battling malaria, cholera, and chronic health concerns in southern Africa after Cyclone Freddy gets a taste of her own medicine.

The day I touched down in Malawi with Team Rubicon, I felt a sense of purpose that I haven’t experienced in years. As a critical care nurse, I currently work in the surgical ICU at UCSF in San Francisco, CA. When I’m not in the ICU, I spend much of my free time volunteering as a public health nurse, doing street outreach in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco, and deploying domestically to disaster events with the American Red Cross. Service to others is a passion—it’s my soul food, in a way. Still, even in doing all those things, there is something else in Malawi for me. 

Nurse and Greyshirt Katie Ahmann in Malawi. Photo by Chris Council.

When Tropical Cyclone Freddy hit southern Africa and moved into Malawi on March 12, it brought massive flooding with it. The storm not only killed hundreds, it also displaced more than 650,000 in southern Malawi—and the country was already in the grips of a historic cholera outbreak. So, when Team Rubicon spun up a response there and asked if I could join, I jumped at the chance. It may be my first operation with this veteran-led disaster relief nonprofit, but it quickly became obvious to me that Team Rubicon is a force for good that Gets $h!t Done! 

Already we are making such a massive, immediate difference in the lives of the most vulnerable here. We are supporting the recovery of an extremely fragile healthcare system. We are relieving suffering, reducing harm, and inspiring hope. The care we are providing in storm-ravaged Malawi is renewing my love for medicine and excitement for the future.

Team Rubicon is providing services that the local clinics and hospitals do not have the capacity to provide—services they didn’t have the capacity to provide even prior to the Cyclone—such as ultrasound, IV fluids and therapy, incision and drainage, suturing, and more. We are stabilizing severely ill children with malaria with medicine that is extremely difficult or impossible to obtain for these rural populations. Many of the illnesses we are seeing are directly or indirectly related to the storm and are completely treatable, yet the patients have decompensated simply due to their inability to access care. Simply put, these are conditions of poverty that are making bad situations far worse.

As we work together to care for these survivors of epidemics and Cyclone Freddy in Malawi, I feel empowered and inspired by my teammates. Every day we take on dynamic situations which present unique challenges. We are learning, collaborating, and growing together. And in doing so, we are making some impact on the lives of these men, women, and children. All of which makes me feel lucky to serve.

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