what could be worth running 150 miles across a desert…

Training has taken a back seat over the last four days as I have been in the depths of working the night shift over the weekend… a training of a different kind, I still have to be on my feet for roughly 12 hours, and whilst I am not carrying a backpack as I walk around my patients, the heating on my ward must have been at least as hot, if not hotter, as the desert will be.

My colleague on one of the night shifts said to me, “nothing on earth could make her run 150miles across any desert”. And whilst we clearly have different opinions, this led me to pondering what does make running across the desert for 150 miles, lugging everything  I need on my back, suffering from the heat, exhaustion, dehydration, blisters and anything else the desert cares to throw at me.  Yes there is the personal challenge of testing my body to its physical limit, which I appreciate is a relatively uncommon desire in most people, and something I am increasingly enjoying doing.  However, there is a bigger reason, by doing a race of this nature I can potentially make a difference to the lives of some people who lead very underprivileged lives – and hopefully inspire some of you who read my blog or my website to help me do so. 

I am running the Marathon des Sables 2012 to raise money for the Tiyanjane Clinic, a palliative care clinic based at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantrye, Malawi.  I first visited Malawi when I was 16 years old, staying with my great school friend Rebecca Neeve (now Rebecca Marquis) and her wonderful family.  Since then I have spent many years over the last 20 travelling and working in various countries in southern Africa at various times.  When I ran the race in 2007 it seemed only right that I should raise money for something in the country that I first visited in Africa, where my somewhat cliched love affair with the continent began.  I raised a fantastic £10,000, with a lot of help from many of you who are reading this blog.

I went back to the hospital in 2010 as a student nurse to work for 4 weeks.  For some of that time I worked in the Tiyanjane Clinic where I was overwhelmed by the work I witnessed.  In the hospital where I work in London we have wonderful palliative care services, with many options on offer to patients who are at the end stage of their disease.  The options in Malawi are slightly different.  The resources for one are so minimal it is simply amazing how much they achieve as they are under constant strain from the increasingly large number of patients, many with advanced disease.  As you can imagine facilities are constrained and the staff to patient ratio is very poor.  The clinic provides the privacy of a clinic room where the team can listen to patients and offer advice and support to not just the patients but their families as well. 

The community care offered by the Tiyanjane Clinic is fantastic.  The focus is at Ndirande, a township on the edge of Blantyre with a population of roughly 200,000.  There is one palliative care nurse based at the health centre in Ndirande and she spends the majority of her time travelling (by foot) to patients’ homes to deliver support, advice and clinical care.  Just twice a month the community team has a doctor’s visit.  I spent a day with the palliative care nurse at Ndirande and was truly overwhelmed by the miles covered on foot to reach patients at home in the township, in just one day.  One of the patients I met was a young man, of 30 years, with HIV and Karposi Sarcoma, a rather unpleasant skin cancer than can be virulent in HIV sufferers.  It was not a disease I had ever come across before – below is a picture of the young man’s leg:


I appreciate it doesn’t make for pretty viewing.  Another patient had the most enormous tumour on the side of his head, which made his head so heavy he could barely hold it up:


Both conditions for these patients are excruciatingly painful.  If they were being treated in the UK, there are all sorts of pain relief that would be made available to them, in reality for these two patients often the only form of analgesia available to them is Ibuprofen.  To be able to only offer ibuprofen to someone with advanced AIDS or cancer is almost unthinkable in this country, or any Western developed country.

Just raising a small amount of money for this clinic will be amazing.  Any amount will do some good.  But with enough funds greater and more adequate pain relief can be provided for patients, greater disease understanding and also training more volunteers and staff so that more people can be reached and helped, and the work of the clinic can spread further throughout Malawi.

To find out more about the Tiyanjane clinic please go to www.palliativecaresupport.org .  You can read more about the work the clinic does and also some patient stories about their experiences.

You are able to make a donation on this website, however if you have been encouraged to make a donation because you heard about the charity through my endeavour to run the Marathon des Sables 2012 please could you contact me to make the donation, my contact details are on my website at http://www.hurryharry.com

In Chichewa, the local Malawi language, Tiyanjane means “let’s come together”.  I ask you now, please come together in helping me support this wonderful clinic, knowing I have your support in this will make a difference to the hard lives of many very sick patients and their families, and it will also of course inspire me as I reach the top of one sand dune only to see another 50 spread out before me.



1 Comment

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One response to “what could be worth running 150 miles across a desert…

  1. Catherine Pillonel

    You are unique darling – proud to call you my ‘little’ sister.
    Love you always,

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