Christmas at Butabika Mental Hospital Top story

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In short
With birds beautifully chirping in the trees, patients walk around the compound just like any other normal day. There is no tinsel, Christmas lights or trees. Assimwe, a patient at in the Alchohol and Drug Unit slowly walks to the Anglican Church to join 14 others attending the Christmas service.

While Christmas is filled with fun and feasting for millions of people across the world, it was business as usual for patients and medical workers at Butabika National Mental Referral hospital.

 
With birds beautifully chirping in the trees, patients walk around the compound just like any other normal day.  There is no tinsel, Christmas lights or trees. Assimwe, a patient at in the Alchohol and Drug Unit slowly walks to the Anglican Church to join 14 others attending the Christmas service.
 
 
He is one of the few patients that have been allowed to attend the Christmas service. In the Church, which is located at the postgraduate school, Assimwe chooses a seat by the window.  His neighbor is a lady from Kabale who has come to visit a member of staff at the hospital for the festive season.

 
There are no specific sitting arrangements in the church. People sit wherever they want regardless of their mental health status. Patients intermingle with members of the public and staff as they celebrate the birth of Christ.  The 28-year-old Assimwe has spent the past six months at Butabika National Mental Referral hospital trying recover from his alcohol addiction problem.
 

 
This is the first Christmas Assimwe is spending away from his home. According to Assimwe, the Christmas at Butabika is very different from what happens in the outside world. "Christmas here is like any other day. There are no decorations. Minus the decorations, it is a celebration that mainly takes place in the heart. Nothing outside shows that it is Christmas," he told URN.
 
 
Despite the glaring differences between Christmas at Butabika Hospital and outside the facility, Assimwe says he is glad that he is celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. 


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Another patient, Ochola, in Kireka ward spent his morning basking under a tree talking to two other patients about the political situation in the country. For Ochola, today is the day that the National Resistance Movement took over government. "Today, Museveni is going to be sworn in as president and we are going to eat rice and meat," he told his colleagues.

 
Mohammed Mutalage, a Senior Nursing Officer who was on duty told URN that although there wasn't any decoration, at least most of the patients knew it was Christmas.


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On why only a few patients attended the Christmas service, Mutalage said they only allow those who can understand what is going on to attend the service. "We do not want patients to go to church and disturb people. So, we only allow people who know why they are here and can understand to attend the service," he said.
 
However, some of the patients get the chance to return and spend Christmas with their loved ones at home. While 628 patients spent their Christmas at the facility, more than 100 others were discharged ahead of the festivities.



"During this time, a good number of patients get to go home either because they have been discharged or have been picked up by their family members for Christmas," Mutalaage said. Ideally on Mondays, lunch would comprise of posho and beans.
 
However, on Christmas the patients were served Matooke, rice, posho, beef and chicken accompanied by Safi soft drink. Assimwe told URN that he was eagerly waiting for lunch to be served because it is the only thing that reminds him of being home. 


"If I was home, I would more less, be eating the same food. The food on my plate is the only proof that today is Christmas," he said. While Ochola and Assimwe celebrate Christmas quietly at the hospital, Mutalage says that they are ready to receive more patients. By 6:00pm on Christmas, they had admitted four male patients. 


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A total 61 members of staff spent their Christmas on duty attending to patients in 11 units at the hospital. 26 worked during the morning shift and 20 more worked evening. Another 15 others will take over in the night.

 

Mentioned: butabika hospital