What’s in a picture? Memories

I certainly didn’t expect to see this picture when I opened my computer this afternoon. But there it was straight in front of me.

It’s not the best quality picture but it holds lots of memories.

  • Our only daughter was born when we were home on furlough in Australia but then we returned to our work in a mission hospital, where I was a surgeon. For our daughter’s sake I had better not tell which year it was, as ladies are so conscious of their ages. It was however well over 40 years ago. She is as lovely and beautiful a daughter as anyone could wish for.
  • The young man, a late teenager, was employed as a gardener but took on the role of her constant carer and companion. He loved her heaps.
  • One morning he arrived late for work and we asked if he had had his breakfast. He hadn’t, so we asked him to eat with us. We were having fried tomatoes and onions on toast. He ate it all but then said something I will never forget. ‘You foreigners don’t like all our food. Now I understand why. That was terrible.’ Innocent lovable honesty.
  • He had tuberculosis of his neck glands that responded to treatment’
  • We attended his marriage some years later. He has a lovely wife and beautiful children. Sadly one shortly after graduating from University died.
  • He’s still alive but has known tribal persecution and suffered several major health problems, but is still a man I’m delighted to call a friend.

All that flashed through my mind from just seeing a poor quality old photo. I loved the kid, loved the man and his family and still even in his relative old age think very fondly of him.

Dominic Cartier

Maybe Malnutrition plus ?….

Don’t you wish that you had a better memory. I have a terrible memory for names and it gets me into trouble. My wife accuses me sometimes of not being interested in people. But that’s not true. I understand why it frustrates her and when we meet up with people we’ve not seen for a while she has learnt to say to me ‘Dominic you remember ….?’ The stock answer is obviously ‘Of course I do! So lovely to meet you again.’ Unfortunately, if I’m not very careful I’ve forgotten almost immediately. Not that I’ve forgotten the person, only the name and I can go on chatting about past memories, but not using names! Well, in truth, it’s not quite as bad as that but you understand. On the other hand hand I have little trouble remembering the events of our previous getting to know each other.

Don’t you think she’s beautiful? I do. Don’t you think that she’s skinny? I do. Besides her malnutrition can you pick her diagnosis? We have a lady come in every second Friday afternoon to help a bit. She is a nurses aid. So I showed her the picture and asked her what was wrong with the girl. She said ‘you mean apart from her being malnourished?’ She is pretty skinny but I don’t think is actually malnourished but certainly a bit underweight. But look at her left shoulder. I’ll bet that there was more than 100 cc of pus in that abscess. From the way she is sitting leaning on her elbow I’d be surprised if it is a pyo-arthritis; more likely an abscess in her deltoid muscle. Still pretty painful but not as bad as if there is pus in the joint. And it looks as if the glands are affected in her axilla.

I know how it hurts to get ‘bitten’ by a rose thorn. And if dad or mum couldn’t get it out, a child in our land would be taken to the hospital emergency or the doctor’s surgery. They obviously were not the poorest of the poor, (look at that pretty pillow), but even so she didn’t turn up at the hospital until the abscess was this size.

Seriously thank God and the government and a slowly changing attitude to illness, things are a lot better than they were fifty years ago. But the need in Ethiopia and many countries is still huge. At least momentarily it makes you wonder if you or I can make any useful difference. Our grandkids and great grandkids have already so much more than we did or our kids did when we/they were young. So we have (except when they are very small) stopped giving presents. So for Christmas in all their names we give a larger gift to an organization who we believe we can trust to deliver aid on the ground. For birthdays we tend to give smaller gifts in the person’s name to a worthy cause – and there are so many of them around. Do any of you have good suggestions to pass on? If so please let us know.

Cain years ago try to fob God off when he was asked a question about his brother Abel (whom you might remember he had murdered) by saying ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ Well I’m not going to run around wringing my hands because I can’t solve every problem, but the question is thought provoking.

Two loveable imps. One having lost most of his right arm; the other with half a thumb gone and having lost his scalp to a hyena. You can see the dressing under his cap. Lovely kids!

Dominic Cartier.

Giving a lift in the countryside.

Do you ever watch ‘Morse’ on Television? Have you noticed that the main actor Morse (John Thaw) has a ‘dropped foot’ on the right? As a doctor you tend to spot diseases. And one day I saw this guy standing on the road side.

Taken on the road to Jimma in this picture you can see a lot.
  • The gum trees came from Australia.
  • You can deduce that we are driving on a high plain and in the distance, after a valley unseen for the cloud that fills it, is another mountain range. Going to Jimma from Addis you pass through several mountain range.
  • The ground looks fertile.
  • The old man isn’t standing up very straight. His knees are bent and his crutches don’t go up to fit nicely under his arms.
  • He’s obviously thumbing a ride. I can’t see a house anywhere near, and he is not at a designated bus stop. So I wonder how long he’s waited and to where does he want to go. It’s a long hard walk to any clinic in the area.

Either he’s got a bad medical practitioner who doesn’t know how to set up his crutches correctly or he’s got some nasty orthopaedic problem. His knees are bent; his back is bent over, but if they both were straightened out his crutches would be long way too short. I am most unlikely to know his language as this is a different tribal area. He looks a bit scruffy – see that patch on his knee? He probably has a different scent but most likely BO. I think we could make room for him but the kids would have to be squashed up. We’re in a bit of a hurry, and someone says ‘we’re running late already’. Look carefully – he is human. Wife says ‘well, are you going to give him a ride?’ Should I have?

Dominic Cartier.

Looking at a picture..

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
There are no other nasty pictures to follow and this is just a little six week old baby boy.

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?

Dominic Cartier

Jimma – a city of Ethiopia

The road which we walked from our home to town or to the hospital. Before we got onto the asphalt there was about 400 metres of dirt or mud depending on the season
Our little local shop. Muhammad was a lovely guy and became a friend.

The administrative parts of the University were well built. The hospital was an old Mission Hospital and not up to date or adequate.
The tea room for the University staff was very pleasant. The one for hospital workers was very different!
The hospital doctors tea area, as seen from sitting at one of the chairs.
There was much building being undertaken, including a new hospital. It is now, about 12 years after its planned opening, being used. There were many large hurdles which had to be surmounted..
While we were in Jimma there was a period of Christian persecution. About 90 Orthodox or Protestant churches and many of the Christians’ homes were burnt down. We were living in a rented home on the town church compound and hundreds of people fled and were housed on the compound.
At Jimma we found and adopted our seventh child! He’s now much taller than Robin.
This was taken the day the first 4 doctors were granted their postgraduate surgical certification. From left to right : One of the graduating surgeons – he was very capable but very hot-tempered and the last I knew he had be ‘shifted sideways’ for threatening to kill the medical director; An Egyptian surgeon on staff; another of the graduates – after further training he is now a pediatric cardiac surgeon in Addis Ababa (he did further training in Israel and Melbourne); a graduate who with further training is now a plastic surgeon in Jimma; a girlfriend; a graduate who has worked in Africa but outside Ethiopia; me; a doctor in postgraduate training who has now his certificate and has started his own private hospital; a hanger-onerer!

Dominic Cartier