Walking Down Memory Lane

African sunset

I try not to just live on memories. But I sleep a lot; walk slowly with a stick; or if the family goes out together they take me in a wheelchair to speed things up. I still can think clearly (or so I think) and I don’t find it easy to hand over all the control to a son who does almost everything about the place. He’s gracious and I’m trying – maybe in two senses of the word!

But memory lane is mostly pleasant to walk down. I’ve been transferring slides and photographs onto my computer and it has been a bit tedious but full of memories. Here are a few of them.

OV dams from hill copy

I used to own much of the land seen in this photo, but most of it is now sold. Some of the money enables us to live, but much has been invested in lives in Ethiopia. Those lives are very pleasant to remember and the memories give great joy. Some were sick; some were destitute; some needed education, but all were real people, and needed loving. Not always emotional love, but rather helping love. Some are dead already, I guess, but the money and effort was not wasted.

OV house 1 copy
When I was in Australia for several years, about 35 years ago, I bought this old house for $3,000 and we had it transported. It still stands today looking much better and surrounded by trees. 

My computer collection of pictures begins from over sixty five years ago. I didn’t get a camera until I was in my older teens, so although there are a few photos of even great grandparents, mostly the photos start from when I met an amazingly beautiful young teenager. I started to ‘chase’ her from the day I first met her! We will have been married for fifty eight years come December. I’ve got about two thousand more slides and many photos to go through. What a lot of memories still to come!

street huts copy
Sorry about the focus, but these are the street huts people were living in on the street opposite the main government hospital in Addis Ababa.
Eth OR 01 copy
And this was one of the operating rooms that first greeted me in 1994
a day's operating copy
This is a list of one day’s emergency surgical admissions. The writing is terrible, but listed below it reads disease-wise ….

appendicitis; intestinal obstruction; intestinal obstruction, volvulus; acute appendicitis; Peritonitis from perforated duodenal ulcer; appendiceal abscess; stab wound to the abdomen; rectal fistula; oesophageal cancer; penetrating abdominal knife wound. Most of these would have needed surgery the same day except the oesophageal cancer which would need work up and time.

Yakob copy
As a baby I found him, deserted,  being swept around on the floor of the paediatric ward.

Now he has a tertiary education and this should mean a satisfying life.

Money is useful if you use it wisely. Memories are more precious!

Dominic Cartier

A personal review of things

African sunset

I write a fair bit about my time in ethiopia. Obviously one didn’t always feel on top of things. Here is a comment I have written elsewhere, when I was on sight and waiting for my wife to join me I have shown a few pictures before. A few pictures from the past.
It was, however, all both mentally and physically exhausting. There was little change or even desire to change the problem areas of the hospital. Some of the younger doctors decided not to seek my help – at least immediately. So one morning they came and informed me that the previous night, being unable to deliver a breech they had just cut off the head and left it inside – would I now please remove it. It turned out to be relatively simple but was a very gory procedure.
Then, on another occasion, two days after delivering the first of twins the duty obstetrician said that the other twin was dead and he couldn’t get it out – would I please help? I was in the middle of an operation but I asked him to bring the lady around to the holding room and I would deal with the situation as soon as I finished the present case. I must confess I didn’t even examine the lady but just put her up in stirrups and applied a suction extractor to deliver the twin – only to find that it was alive, and, in fact, the second of triplets! Both of them survived even though it was a rush to prepare and get into action with baby resuscitation equipment. I had learnt to intubate the newborn ‘flat’ babies without a laryngoscope but by putting my finger onto the top of the larynx and passing the tube along my finger into the trachea.
I have just come across a letter I wrote to my wife when I was alone at Soddo. I copy several comments here directly quoting from my letter home.
1. On the weekend I made a note in a chart that someone (a little baby) hadn’t been seen for 48 hours and was very sick and that the GP should be called.There was no record that any medicine had been given at all, he was nearly dead.This led to the accusation that I was accusing the GP of incompetence and that he would never work with me again.The other GPs all supported him saying that I should not write in the chart but send him a message through the Medical Superintendent.
2. Then on Thursday morning I arrived to find a little child grossly dehydrated and on the point of death. In spite of all I tried to do he died about an hour later. I notified the Medical Super and the Head Nurse. They chose for the case to be discussed at the next morning’s meeting. When the case was brought up next morning the situation was not discussed as the doctors said that the meeting to was to discuss out of hours admissions and this child had come in during the day.
3. I was able to intubate a woman whose operation had been cancelled while I was away because they couldn’t pass the tube. I can understand why they found it hard. She is doing well now.
4.There were a number of other very interesting and some sad cases this week. The saddest was a little baby who had his penis, scrotum and contents bitten off by a dog.
5. I’ve been able to put a few new beds in the medical ward and hope this will strengthen my relationship with the physician
There are other points made in the letter but I think that shows the tone of the working conditions.
Dominic Cartier.

A nightmare of a day!

African sunset

I am, at the strong encouragement of one of my sons, who says that there are some stories in my life worth recording, reviewing and extending a brief autobiography I wrote years ago. Going through a bit of it yesterday I came across this brief event of one day in my journey. This occured while I was briefly attached to a large teaching hospital in Addis Ababa.
I was on call one night on the eve of a large Muslim holiday. The next morning I left to go to the hospital surprised that I hadn’t had a single call over night. As usual we did a round of the whole surgical wards and early in the round I came across a poor lady lying in bed with most of her small bowel and a bit of her large bowel mixed in with a lot of dirt and gravel lying on the bed next to her. She had a large hole in her right side where all the tissues down to and including portion of the right iliac crest (part of her pelvis) had been torn off in a car accident.
Later I discovered the story. She had been hit by a car driven, by a nun, about four hundred kilometres south of Addis Ababa. The driver had taken her to the local hospital who stated, correctly, that they had no surgeon and the nearest hospital with a surgeon was one hundred and fifty kilometres up the road towards Addis. So the nun took her to that hospital, where she was told that they did have an appointed surgeon but he was away and they had no idea when he would return. They came to Addis, where the first three hospitals said that they had no empty beds. She was eventually admitted into St. Pauls – but nothing had been done for her. No IV fluids, no antibiotics, no dressings – in fact nothing at all except that she had been put in a bed.
I have learnt to be pretty patient but this stretched me to the limit. Why had nothing been done? The hospital was without water so the operating theatres were out of action and definitive treatment could not therefore be undertaken. I think it was planned to leave everything to the undertaker! So I organized for a drip and antibiotics and a clean moist dressing over the exposed entrails and planned to look into the water situation later. I had already noted a tap being used down the street by the general public.
Soon we came across another young man who had been stabbed in the back. He was as white as an Ethiopian can be. As he was of a higher social class he at least had a drip up but the blood bank was closed for the holiday. My wife had arrived in the country by this time and I arranged for her and a missionary nurse Jean Sokvitne to donate blood. With some difficulty we were able to collect it and cross match using Eldon cards.
I organized a group of workers and I worked with them. Between us, we carried water from the afore-mentioned tap and collected maybe a hundred litres in a large container outside the operating rooms. Grudgingly the staff agreed to operate. The young man when stabbed had had his renal artery and vein divided and fortunately the knife, avoiding the duodenum, opened into the peritoneum but not causing any bowel injury. He thus had a peritoneal cavity filled with blood but uncontaminated by intestinal content. We gave him two units of foreign blood and I showed the doctors how to filter the blood from inside his abdomen through gauze and we auto-transfused the patient. He survived and did very well.
Next we worked on the lady. It was difficult but we cleaned her intestines, cleaned the edges of her wound and after returning the bowel to its proper place closed the wound with considerable difficulty. She also recovered, although much more slowly than the young man. In addition to her physical disease she had underlying mental problems which added to her initial poor management and which made things difficult during her recovery.
The day after the holiday we had, as usual on working days, a morning meeting at which all admissions over the past couple of days were discussed. I was, surprisingly to me, severely chastised. Two motions were passed:
  1. Never again would doctors be involved in carrying water to the hospital or in arranging for it to be carried as this was a government responsibility.
  2. No auto transfusion would be used unless a modern cell saver were used (of course there were none in Ethiopia!) as the country was not a ‘banana republic’.

Dominic Cartier

I can get frustrated!

African sunset

Standards of nursing care, vary from place to place. I have sympathy for people in developing countries. Trained personnel are few; wages are low; materials are in short supply; sometimes patients personal habits are fairly low by the standards of those who have everything at their fingertips. Looking up Mr Google, the poverty line in Australia is said to be just under AUD67,000 annually. The wage of a newly graduated surgeon in Ethiopia is about AUD 500 per month. A house worker gets about AUD 50 per month.

I remember several events very clearly from my first few months in Ethiopia. I wanted to look down a patient’s throat, so I put my hand under his chin to lift it for me to inspect the inside of his mouth. He spat a glob of juicy purulent spit into my hand. Rather shocked I went out and washed my hand before coming back and trying again with the same result. It was the custom with no handkerchiefs, if you were sick a relative or friend took your sputum and wiped it somewhere, often on the wall. No wonder our walls looked like they did. But I learnt a cultural and very practical lesson.

When a second doctor joined me we made a combined effort to get the floors cleaned up. There was a layer, several, maybe five, mms thick of hard dirt ground into the floor. We got no response, until one day, walking through the ward, I accidentally put my foot in a ‘paw-paw’, their name for a bedpan. You will understand why now I never eat the fruit ‘pawpaw’. I enjoy Papaya, however.

But it made me mad. So I got the other doctor onside and, down on our knees with scrubbing brushes, we dealt with the floors of our 35 bed general hospital. I think it embarrassed the other staff as it was much cleaner after that. They talk about leading by example!

I remember a day when a new young worker was in the ward while I was doing my morning round. I was told that he had been employed as an assistant to the nurse. He seemed an affable chap. The next day he wasn’t there so I asked what had happened. There had been a patient with an IV Drip running and a tube into his stomach draining the contents as his intestines weren’t working. Without the drain he had kept vomiting. The new guy had been told that he was just to watch and learn for the first week or so. The nurse went for lunch and, on returning, was told that this patient had died. Apparently during the morning the new worker had seen someone put up another bag of IV fluid. Not content to wait , when this patient’s IV ran out, he took the gastric drainage bag and ran it into his IV line – with fatal results. What a tragedy.

I had two experiences at another hospital, which made me realise that I came from a different world. The first was when we had a Hong Kong anaesthetist for 2 weeks with me. We had got to know each other working in Australia and he came during his holidays to help me. He was an excellent anaesthesiologist. A man came in having been beaten and speared after committing a heinous act. We operated and I felt that we had everything under control, in fact, I expected a quick, complete recovery. Late in the evening I had a visit from my friend saying that he had just been to see the chap and everything was stable. The next morning he was dead. We couldn’t think of any reason why until I heard a worker say that he didn’t deserve to live, and I remembered hearing staff murmuring when he was admitted that he wasn’t worth the effort of operating on him. Judge nurse, I think had the final say.

Later I had a lady who with an obstructed labour had lost the baby, her uterus, her bladder, and needed a colostomy for bowel control. She survived after I did a colostomy and a very simple thing to drain her urine. When it appeared as if she would recover I created a new bladder out of intestine. On about the tenth day postoperative everything was going well and I took a two day trip to Addis. When I came back I went to see her and she wasn’t in the ward. They were honest enough to say that they thought that no woman in Ethiopia should live with that set up like that. So they had taken the opportunity of my absence to take everything out and send her home to die. Maybe they knew better than me, but it was hard to take.

We had many more good, rather than bad, results!

What do you think?

African sunset

I have a friend, an African friend, who did his medical training in Russia. I don’t think that he is a liar. He told me that when he was there, not infrequently, as he walked on the streets, he would feel people checking his lower back to see if he had a vestigial monkey tail. I have not checked for myself, but I know that he has an excellent brain! You probably think that in the twenty first century this behaviour is unbelievable. And yet almost all educators of today are teaching that we have come from monkeys. So why not test the theory?

You probably know the story of the little girl who asked her mother where humans came from and got the ‘God story’. She later asked her father the same question and was given the ‘monkey story’. At the evening meal she accused someone of lying to her. Her mother replied that she had given her the story of her, the mother’s, own family, and that the father had given the story of his family. He was dumbfounded! The child seemed satisfied.

This coronavirus affair has I’m sure made us all question the way it has been handled. That is not to say that we’re complaining at what has been organised, but we would be dumb domesticated animals if it didn’t make us think, and ask questions like..

  • How many have died of other viral illnesses, during the same period? And maybe, how many have died unnecessarily of other non-treated diseases?
  • Why can you have an abortion but not meet your ageing parent in a home?
  • Why are the suicide, domestic violence rates, and incidence of mental illness climbing?
  • Are we living in a runaway world?
  • What will happen to my family if I die?
  • What’ll happen to me if I die?

The list could go on for a lot longer and maybe your questions differ from mine.

When I was a Surgical Registrar in the 1960s I saw the film ‘Lord of the flies’. It was not based on a true story, but graphically pictured how a group of higher class youngsters from England gravitated into selfishness, murder and cannibalism when marooned, for roughly a year, on a deserted island. Just recently I have read an apparently true report of six Tongan boys who to escape the rigours of a strict school, stole a boat and paddled towards New Zealand. They coped by cooperating. They were marooned for more than a year on a deserted island, until they were found by a fisherman. This without doubt is at its root a true story. The recent report about this event leads the author to suggest that whereas the theory of the imaged book highlights the weakness of human character, the truth of the true story is that people are really basically good. And our basic goodness should be highlighted.

Compare how Australians pull together during bushfires versus why do Australians light bushfires and steal from what is left? How do we balance the generosity of the government when they want cooperation, with their usual treatment of some segments of needy society? Why do some blossom in community service at times like we are going through, and others crash into terrible attitudes and situations as mentioned above? Is there truly good and evil in the world? Should our goals be self-centered, financial, comfort seeking or maybe “goodness and truth”? The eternal question – why am I here?