It is often said of Australians that we try and diminish people who stand metaphorically head and shoulders above the crowd. We cut off the tall poppy.
Today I want to build up one considered a short weed. Physically he is not big, except in his heart! I met him about 28 or 29 years ago, when he was a teenager. He was a double orphan but in the government hospital where I was working as an astermame (like a carer) for another teenager with whom he had grown up. His friend was also a double orphan. He slept under his ‘brother’s’ bed, emptying bedpans and feeding him because the other boy had very nasty infections in both elbows.
The hospital staff were angry at me because I had increased the occupancy rate of the hospital from 5 when I arrived to about 120. It was a 120 bed hospital. They invited me to go home because they only got the same government wage for doing a lot more work. In addition to verbalizing their discontent they were very uncooperative. I had to wheel the trolley to collect patients for their operations, load them on myself and push them to the operating room and lift them onto the table. I organized a highly intelligent young man (employed as a cleaner) to watch over the anaesthetics after I had put the person to sleep. Two nurses worked in the operating room and were on the whole cooperative. But after recovery I would have to repeat the process in reverse.
As soon as he heard the wheels of the patient’s trolley moving, the young boy of whom I am writing, would run to help me push the trolley. Eventually we adopted him and that in itself is quite a story. There were many hoops to hop through to get him to Australia. At High School he had his zygomatic arch in the side of his face broken because a lot of the other coloured girls thought him very handsome and some of the other coloured boys beat him up! He couldn’t open his lower jaw. Just as well his father was a surgeon!
He was never a good student but he stuck with it and eventually obtained a diploma in aged care. In the interval before getting his diploma he was never without a job. He is a terrible speller; his grammar is at best basic but he copes very well at a conversational level and does his job well.
Our small church has two congregations. At 9AM we have a service for mainly older white people, you might label us a ‘dying’ church. But we do have an outreach into India, South Africa and Ethiopia where people from an overseas church which was disrupted have scattered to other places. The outreach is by the internet. Then we have a much younger Indian congregation which meets at about 10.30 for a service and then an all age Sunday School. Once a month we have commenced a combined service with communion. Today was the first such combined service.
You might wonder what a dog staring at a Television set has to do with church services. I’ve written about my dogs before. Sadly they are both dead, euthanized, because they got into my sheep and started killing them. Here is Liesel staring very intently up at a very colourful, very active packed scene. What is she thinking? How is she reacting? I talk to animals, I may be even more stupid as I sometimes talk to myself. They recognize expressions, they respond to moods but I don’t know what they are thinking. I guess when I talk to myself I can tell myself what I’m thinking!
So what has that got to do with church this morning? The Indian adults, although from a different background have been in Australia for long enough to understand our ways of thinking. But I wondered what the kids thought. Their church services are in their own tongue, Malayalam, and this morning was the first time some children have been in an adult English speaking service. The kids’ English is good, but there are real differences in styles of worship.
In the morning tea afterwards I called one of the little kids to talk to me. He was a bit shy and his older brother came to guard him. He’s in grade 1. So I asked him if he could add up. ‘Yes’, he said. I asked him to add up 1+1, then 2+2, then 6+3 and he got them all correct. I saw him counting on his fingers. I knew that kids in grade one don’t deal in thousands so I asked him to add up 6 thousand and 3 thousand. He looked at me with his head on an angle to the side, thought for a moment and said nine thousand. So I asked him if he knew subtraction. The bigger brother said that his little brother hadn’t learnt that yet. So I told him, the older brother, to let his brother try to answer. So I asked 2-1, then 4-2, then 9-6 and he got them all correct. I then asked what if he took 4,000 from 10,000. And sharp as a tack he told me 6,000. For you and me very easy, but I thought for a grade one boy, that was excellent.
I wonder what people think and how much they understand when a church service is going on. The Indian children sat perfectly well behaved – not a noise out of place. But how much did they or any of us hear of the prayers, the songs, the preaching, the communion? I guess it will be told in the way we live our lives this week.
Please note the small skateboard under the table, in the dog picture above. It hasn’t been used for many years. The small boy seen below playing below with two of my grandchildren was run over by a train and lost both legs and an arm. We were allowed to bring him to Australia for medical help but not permitted to adopt him. He used the skateboard and the little ‘do-dad’ in front of him in the picture below to get around. He is now a University student in the USA. We still correspond but I’d love to see him face to face before I die!
He used to love sitting in front of the TV, conducting Andre Rieu as he watched a DVD.
The day I first met him he was about to be discharged to be a beggar on the streets of Ethiopia. I brought him home that evening and it was the beginning of a long friendship. He knew no English, but we had Amharic as a common language. I asked him if he had to get up to pee at night. He said ‘no’. I asked because I knew it would either mean a wet bed or me getting up to carry him to the loo. Then I asked him if he ever woke up screaming at night after the accident. I was surprised and delighted when he replied ‘There is a God in Heaven and I have left it in His hands.’ He was somewhere between 8-10. It was drizzling rain and, on a dirty road, I kept having to use the windscreen wiper and following behind other vehicles when the rain stopped I had to use the water spray jets to clean the window. I tested him when he asked where the water came from. He had never been in a car. I told him that there were two little boys under the hood and I would give them a little electric shock and they would pee for me. I kept a straight face. He looked worried for a moment and then burst out laughing. ‘Now, tell me the truth!’ I knew we would get on well, and we still do.
People can think! It’s what they do with what they’ve learned that counts!
You can wander through your photos and think different things…..
Why did I take that?
I can’t remember what that was!
Weren’t we stupid to do that.
I wonder where they are now? etc
This photo takes me back over a lifetime of medical practice.
The past…As a first year intern in Adelaide, in the days when specialists were not as plentiful, I was sidelined into being a temporary anaesthetic registrar for six months to cover a shortage. It would be not even an option in this day of many more available people. But it gave me the opportunity to have a hands on experience which has served me well throughout my years of practice as a surgeon. Almost all of my time in Ethiopia I had to give/supervise all of my anaesthetics when I was the surgeon. So for chests and abdomens, orthopaedic and urological procedures the responsibility for the anaesthetic lay with me. Sometimes I even had to unscrub and deal with a problem before getting back to the operation. And tiny babies are a special problem; this boy was vomiting and needed to have his abdomen opened. I was, once the child (everyone knew that he was a boy, in spite of the troubles which politicians seem to have these days!) was properly anaesthetised going to leave the management at the head end to a cleaner. The length of the trachea in which the tube had to stay was only a couple of centimetres long – if it moved up he couldn’t be breathed for; if it went in too far, one of his lungs and maybe even one and a half of his lung capacity would be blocked off! I can remember my years of specialist surgical training; I can remember leaving my parents and siblings for a life in a land with, to me, a variety of unknown languages and a totally different culture.
The present….Here was the first born son a young family whom they had watched for a couple of weeks as he vomited everything they fed him and they were afraid that he would die. They were unsure if they could trust this young foreign white man, in their eyes an infidel. But they came and all their hopes were hanging on this moment.
The future…He survived and they were very, very happy. But here I have to let my mind float away into the ether. What sort of education did he get; is he married; did he become a good boy and make wise choices; is he a blessing or a curse to those around him. But that is the future of every patient you treat – some you get to follow and know, others are just passing in the night. Do you wonder why I like looking at the photos on my computer?
I spent the last years of my working life in the University at Arba Minch. The city has a population of more than 200,000. The University has more than 40,000 enrolled students. I went there as the medical students were about to enter their clinical years. They were not ready to receive students in the hospital but we had to do so!
I have been told that there is a tribe in South America which has 40 words to differentiate shades of what we might, in a single word, describe simply as ‘green’. And in a country without sign posts they use these shade words to direct people on forest paths. For example travel on the path for …. (distance) until you see a tree of …. (shade of green) then turn left. in about …. (distance) you will see a bush of …. (shade of green) there turn right. etc – you get the idea. No doubt this has worked well for centuries and still does, but what a mess a traveller would be in if someone purposefully substituted the word for a different shade of green.
I looked up ‘shades of green’ on google search and the list is long and interesting. Usually just saying green is enough but sometimes we need to be more specific. And this applies to many other words. And we can get into or cause trouble by unintentionally or intentionally using a shade of meaning which the speaker or author didn’t intend. There are about a million words in the English language but I am told that the average word usage of the common person is only in the thousands – 10 to 20,000. I looked up the word ‘guilty’ in google search. This is part of what I read…
culpable of or responsible for a specified wrongdoing.”he was found guilty of manslaughter” Similar: culpable, to blame, blameworthy, blameable, at fault, in the wrong, responsible, answerable, accountable, liable, censurable, reproachable, condemnable, reprehensible, erring, errant, delinquent, offendings, felonious, iniquitous, criminal, convicted, peccant
justly chargeable with a particular fault or error.”she was guilty of a serious error of judgement”
conscious of, affected by, or revealing a feeling of guilt.”he felt guilty about the way he had treated her “Similar: ashamed, guilt-ridden, conscience-stricken, remorseful, sorry, regretful, contrite, repentant, penitent, rueful, abashed, shamefaced, sheepish, hangdog, mortified, discomfited, distressed, uncomfortable, in sackcloth and ashes, compunctious. Opposite:unrepentant
Let us say that the little baby pictured above died. That is not true, he did very well after his emergency surgery. He recovered quickly and was sent home well, but with a lot of growing up to do. But picture this scenario: –
He came in with an obstructed gut. He was operated upon and the condition corrected. On being woken up from his anaesthetic he vomited, inhaled his vomitus, but after that treated well according to the book but over the next 24 hours dies. A distraught parent accuses me of killing the baby and says that they hope I feel well and truly ‘guilty’. Should I feel guilty? I had made the correct diagnosis and done the right operation. My name was still on the end of the bed as the responsible surgeon. I had seen him and ordered several things post operatively. I was not the anaesthetist. Measures should have been taken by the anaesthetist to reduce the risk of him vomiting to a minimum, which he did not take. But I was by then in a side room writing up the case record. The mistake having been made I raced back into the operating room and did all I could to correct the situation.
But that accusation is that I have killed him and should feel guilty. I don’t think that it is fair to say that I have killed him, even if in a court the lawyers would have tried hard to push that all the responsibility of the anaesthetist fell back on me as the team leader so….? Now coming to the guilty word I have to confess that maybe I should feel guilty. I’ve seen that anaesthetist make similar mistakes before and because it was after midnight and I was tired I chose to do what was legal but maybe not wise i.e. do the rest of my legal paperwork and hopefully get home to bed. I had previously spent time on several occasions explaining the right way and watched him through several operations. I had since then stayed in the room on several occasions making sure that he did the waking up procedure correctly. But he was still relatively inexperienced. Because of the hour should we have waited until the morning, accepting that he may have died overnight and would certainly have been medically worse by the next day. If everyone had rested he might have lived and grown up to be a healthy man.
Would that label me guilty? I understand why the parents did, and I have to struggle hard to say that I bear no guilt. But I reject that I should feel guilty of murdering him or even of having done the wrong thing. Surely there must be a synonym in there for my feelings at this moment. Blameable? – but surely it is not my responsibility to do someone else’s work correctly. Ashamed? – because in the world there is such inequity between what we have in my home country cf my adopted land. Remorseful? – that I didn’t stay in the operating room until the child was wide awake. But then I knew that the post-op care workers often slept on their duty time – so should I have watched him overnight? Am I to bear the whole weight of the medical inadequacies on my shoulders.
Often when I use a word I have to depend on my reader/hearer to discern the context into which I am using it. It is not easy for the user or the recipient of a word to be sure of the correct meaning and I guess we have to settle for being honest, generous and understanding in our assessments.