Yakob

valley lake
The Rift Valley has many large lakes. The leprosarium was on the  Eastern side of the Rift Valley

Well, young Yacob* isn’t young any longer. He has seven children and two grandchildren; he lives in Australia and holds a significant government appointment. He was offered an ambassador post in an African country but refused it. But he was just a school kid when I met him.

He was a mid-teen at that time. He was going to school, I think, in grade 3. After that He did 2 grades each year and eventually had to leave our area to do grades 11 and 12 in a bigger school. He was bright. Then he was forced into military service and eventually got to Australia with a bit of help. He had hoped to become a doctor but wasn’t allowed into medical school here.

But I didn’t meet him because of his studies. In the evenings and during the holidays he worked in the leprosy hospital operating room complex.  Working in a leprosarium 1968-74 There were, of course, others working there too. Most of them were treated or being treated leprosy patients. One had no fingers  but he looked after the sterilising system. Sterilising was done there for the whole compound – 2 hospitals with an OR each, and 2 outpatient departments. It ran almost 24/7. The nurse from the leprosy hospital came into the operating room when we were operating under a general anaesthetic to watch at the anaesthetic end, after I had put the patient to sleep. (This was at a hospital about 20 years before the time with the 3 teenagers). Follow up on Mesfin of the ‘3 Teenagers’ She didn’t scrub. If Yacob* was there he did. We didn’t have an assistant scrub also, so he had to do both the scrub nurse and the assistant’s duties. Often I didn’t have to ask for an instrument because he was watching, knew what I needed, and put it into my hand. He was good! I only had 2 people scrubbed with me for two types of operations – open prostatectomies and spinal fusions.

Later he did small procedures like suturing and removing dead bones from leper’s feet. One of our sons fell and cut his head while I was away. Yakob sutured it up.

We had a number of kids come in on whom we had to do tracheostomies (ie open into the trachea through the neck) because they had obstructed airways from inhaled foreign bodies – usually corn or beads. We didn’t have all the fancy instruments available to do it through the mouth. The problem was that after surgery they needed intensive watching with frequent aspiration of mucus through the trachy tube before we could remove the tube and let the wound heal. Maybe for 3 or 4 days. There was no other worker apart from him who would watch the patients overnight. So we used to bring a suction machine, an oxygen bottle, and the patient into our home lounge. We had a timer to wake Yacob* up at regular intervals and he slept on our sofa – all 6’3” of him! (For people with head injuries and with regular observations ordered if we happened to go back to the hospital – say at 2am – the obs would be written up until 6am, and the worker asleep.)

He knew 7 languages and in a hospital where they spoke 15 different languages, as the patients came from all the southern parts, he was often used as an interpreter. He was a great kid.

In Australia he became a nurse; did a bachelor and masters’ degrees in medical science; studied admin, and has been CEO of a rehabilitation department for over 30 years.

Surely he must retire soon.

Shash street
Street scene near the hospital – taken more recently. There were few cars in those days.

*Not his real name

Dominic Cartier

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