Follow up on Mesfin of the ‘3 Teenagers’

boy's home
The home in which Mesfin grew up.

Mesfin, Tadessa and Solomon all have fascinating stories beyond what was written in A house full of teenagers. Mesfin was the first to come to us.

In countryside areas of Ethiopia birth certificates were not issued at that time when children were born. You could buy them and supply the details which you chose to have put on them. So it is a guess as to how old Mesfin was when he came to live with us. He didn’t know his birth date either, it not being the custom to celebrate birthdays; so we appointed my father’s birthday as his and guessed that he was maybe 16 or 17. I am writing this on his ’41st’ birthday! He was in grade 9 in the local high school. Schooling was for half a day – one group of students had classes in the morning and a second group had class in the afternoon. They alternated from morning to afternoon weekly. There were so many kids to be educated, and this arrangement allowed each school to double its intake! Mesfin was bright. He had a cocky, cheeky nature but was delightful and wanted to learn. His English became very good with an Australian accent.

I managed to get him a job as a part time cleaner in the hospital operating area. They wouldn’t pay him, which didn’t matter much because he was living with us. Not being paid by them gave him some freedom with work times. I paid him a bit. I’d often use him during night time emergencies.

I had to give my own anaesthetics much of the time. (which might make an interesting post some time!) We had a wide range of surgery and I needed someone to watch the patient when they were asleep and I was operating. We had a wide range of surgery on heads, thyroids, lungs, abdomens, bones, obstetrics etc. Later we had an obstetrician and an anaesthetic nurse appointed to the hospital but by then we were often using 2 operating rooms at the same time. I averaged, personally, 50 operations per week over 5 years. So I needed a competent even if not trained helper for my anaesthetics. He was excellent. Obviously he couldn’t watch all cases, but he was the best. {One of the GPs became interested and went on, after further training, to Head the Dept of Anaesthetics in one of the Universities. He is still a close, if geographically distant, friend.}

I even used a visiting school teacher relative as an anaesthetist when he visited us.

Over some months Mesfin got to the point where I could leave him to resuscitate a shocked patient in one theatre (for instance a woman who had came in with a ruptured uterus) while I finished another case in a second room. He even got to give me an anaesthetic while I had a large abscess drained! I remember a time when 3 ladies with ruptured uteri came as emergencies within 15 minutes of each other!

Eventually we sent Mesfin off to Addis to a private school and after that he went to University and now has several qualifications. We had to pay for the schooling but fortunately the government paid for Uni students, at least for their first degree. His English was so good that the University used him as an interpreter for foreign visitors from time to time. They would not accept him into the medical course, although I think he would have made a good doctor.

Somehow he borrowed money to buy 3 buses to use in Addis. This was against my advice because he’d have to trust someone to drive and someone to collect the fares and I couldn’t see that working. With accidents and being short changed he only made money in the one which he drove himself. So with many headaches and financial loss he sold 2 and survived and eventually made a success. As I mentioned in the other article he rose to be Head of the private bus driver’s association in Addis Ababa, and he still is.

There was a stage when he made some money on the side teaching English at a night school.

I’ve met his wife. She is very beautiful. I’ve met his oldest son when he was younger and he was a great kid. Maybe, but unlikely, I will be able to return and meet the family again sometime. We keep in contact with internet.

modern equipment
The pulse oximeter seen here was a God send in helping me assess anaesthetics while I was operating with an inexperienced helper! 

A pulse oximeter, as seen attached to the man’s thumb above, measures the oxygen saturation and gives an audible ‘beeping’ of the pulse. While operating I could hear the pulse beats and assess the oxygen levels by the pitch of the sound.

Dominic Cartier

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