Pandemic Funerals

African sunset

Pandemic limitations have reduced the numbers at funerals, but have also made it possible to attend (or at least listen to) funerals without travel. In 1968 we arrived in Ethiopia. The man who had been station head at the time when I had to leave in 1973 for health reasons, had a funeral last Saturday in Canada. My wife and I attended the ceremony. Well, not quite, but we watched it on U-tube last night.

Seventy years earlier he had travelled by ship with two other young men for their first term of missionary service. So it was interesting to remember not only my contacts with the man who had died but also with the other two.

The dead man had married a beautiful lady and by the time we knew him had 4 children. He was a good leader, but what I remember most was that his youngest child, a daughter was about the same age as our oldest son. We had a platform type swing in the front of our place, and his daughter and our son used to, during school holidays (they both went to boarding school in Addis) stand at each end of plank, goggle eyed, swinging back and forth. Puppy love, I guess; nothing came of it.

Some years later I met him again in Addis. He had remained in Ethiopia in an Administrative role during the time of the communist rule. I visited during that time for the Australian division of the mission. I wanted to visit my old hospital but was forbidden. Everyone thought that it would cause a riot. But, I did need to do a bit of travel in Addis. I did not have an in-date Ethiopian licence. One of his sons, who had a licence, was out visiting him. So my friend offered his son as a driver. His licence had been obtained to drive automatic vehicles. All the vehicles available had stick gears. I’m glad that the traffic wasn’t as busy then as it is today. It was a scary ride, but we did arrive both ways without an accident.

I knew one of the other men quite well but the story is second hand. Much later he and his wife adopted a young Ethiopian girl. I can’t understand how but the Ethiopian officials allowed them out of the country without a Canadian visa for her. The other end wouldn’t let the child into Canada. The guy, nice but a bit pushy, unsuccessfully argued with them for quite a while, but eventually put the baby on the desk and began to leave. ‘OK, she’s your problem now’, he said.

baby

He was called back, some agreement was reached, and eventually everyone was happy.

The other guy with his wife who went with him on the same ship reminded me of a couple who were working on the Ethiopian-Kenyan border. There were poor roads, no phones, his wife as the only trained nurse in a nurses clinic on site; there was no other medical help available without travelling hours on terrible roads. They were so ‘out-on-a-limb’, distance wise and in political uncertainty, that the headquarters in Addis had  radio contact with them each morning and evening. And describing the roads as terrible, I mean terrible, unmade, ‘mud-slides’ and rivers with no bridges to be crossed.

clouds in mountains

Late one Saturday afternoon the husband complained of abdominal pain, his wife assessed him as having appendicitis. It was too late to fly a helicopter down but the decision was made to get everything set up for action in the morning. A helicopter was arranged, and everything was planned to be able to leave in the morning if he was still unwell. After the morning radio contact we would make a decision depending on what his wife thought. She was still worried, so another nurse, and I set out with sterile instruments, sterile disposable drapes, a spinal anaesthetic tray and a strong torch.

We had two alternative plans in place. If there was a fear that it was far progressed we would bring him back on the helicopter so that he could be watched in hospital in Addis, after surgery; or if it seemed the correct diagnosis but an early case we’d operate there and leave him in the care of his wife.

We travelled down at low altitude in a glass bottomed helicopter. It was soon after the civil war had ended and the people were frightened of low flying air machines. As we passed overhead, the men and their beasts out ploughing took off helter-skelter, often the men in one direction and the beasts in the other, still pulling their ploughs. I don’t know why the pilot flew low; it wasn’t funny for people on the ground; but it looked so from above! And when I say that we flew at a low altitude, what I should say was that we didn’t fly far above the ground. Ethiopia is mountainous so we had lots of ups and downs so as to not hit mountains. I guess we fluctuated between four and ten thousand feet, altitude wise.

table operation

At any rate I decided (correctly) that he had early appendicitis so I operated on him on the kitchen table, using a strong torch for light (held by the pilot) and under spinal anaesthesia. After surgery we watched him for a couple of hours, had lunch and returned to Addis. The next morning on the radio his wife was asked how he was getting on. She said that he was in the garden watering. She called out to him; he was happy and said ‘Thanks for making house calls.’

Pathology proved the diagnosis correct.

Dominic Cartier

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