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.
By the normal, enjoyable, route God graciously gave us five children, then we adopted two more and have been blessed by a couple of dozen either living with us for a while, making our home away from home or with us developing a close relationship with them as we helped them get reasonable educations.
They are such a good looking mob that I would love to be able to show you pictures of them all, but that apparently is not a good idea. I will just number them and tell a story about a few.
The first was delivered by Caesarian Section, an operation requested by us. At a prenatal check up his heart was playing up pretty grossly and we were advised that he would almost certainly be mentally abnormal and that we should just allow the pregnancy to go to term (which was soon) and see what developed. We did not accept that. Truly he had an irregular heart for a while but that soon settled. If he is mentally defective, I’m glad, for otherwise he would be so far ahead of me that I would be surpassed by an absolute genius.
His mother wanted a certain name for him. A name which I didn’t like, so as I was learning by then how to occasionally win an argument , I said nothing but just put my choice in the paper, as we did in those days, with my choice listed. We had agreed on his first name. He has been director of a Bible School in the Sudan, lecturer at a Bible College and director of a mission school in Ethiopia and is now a pastor of a moderate sized church. I’m not sure but I think that he has four degrees.
He was probably one of the two most difficult of our natural kids as a teenager, but has grown into a man’s man and is great. Trained in science, education and theology, and having been a maths teacher for years, he now is training to be a worker amongst disadvantaged men. He and his lovely wife have plans to extend their ministry even wider in the future.
Our fourth child was born in the midst of a cholera epidemic. Heavily jaundiced we think that he developed a mild case of cholera. He is also well educated with several degrees and is a Maths teacher. Proud of him for many reasons, I am tickled pink because he turned down a promotion so that he could still keep contact with kids as he was trained to do. He was given a title as a young teacher of ‘magpie poop’. He had a patch of white on the back of his hair where he had suffered an injury and his hair regrew white.
Our only daughter is the spitting image of her mother and thus very beautiful. Having trained as a preschool teacher she is now personal assistant to the head of the secondary division of a moderately large Christian School. She is a great violinist (her teacher once said that she was Symphony Orchestra material) and a beautiful singer. Which, given her parents singing ability hints at a mutated gene.
A double orphan, starved, protein wise, as a child, came to us as a teenager. Given his background, he has achieved as much as any of his older siblings and is qualified in geriatric care and has the drive to be setting himself up to provide services for the disabled. Personality wise he is a delight.
As a child born out of time he became ours legally when we were seventy-ish. Again a near teenager when we ‘got’ him, he has turned out a gem. I guess, like all of us, time will tell but he is a keen and competent apprentice, good at IT. While we were still in Ethiopia he made money by fixing up many others computers and phones. He is very helpful for his IT backward parents!
Older than our oldest child, the first young man we brought to Australia to study has become head of a significant and quite large government organization in Australia. Offered the post of head of a diplomatic post in Africa, he rejected it for various reasons. He has a beautiful family and his oldest son was the first to give us a child who acknowledges us as great-grandparents.
We have been able to help over 20 young people through their education. A few have disappointed us, most of them have made us very proud. CEO’s, presidents of organizations, teachers, and although not helped by us financially a number with whom I’ve been involved in their training are top-notch doctors. I get the greatest joy from them when they write or message and thank me for my work ethic and even more when they talk about our role in their developing Christian faith. Thus several of them are now professors and heads of strategic medical units.
Maybe not financially, but cheaper by the dozen, and we luv ’em all.
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!
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.
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?