Life isn’t meant to be that hard!

African sunset

 

soddo kids.jpg
Life is different in the countryside in Ethiopia. There are kids everywhere and they aren’t taught not to trust you. This may cause some problems but I think that they are less likely to be molested than in the West. Median age of Ethiopia is 19.
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Only one arm (due to a native healer mishandling a fracture), but what a smile.

You may not want to read more if you’re a bit squeamish! But it isn’t as bad as many kid’s TV programs – except that it is real. I really loved the kids I dealt with!

Continue reading “Life isn’t meant to be that hard!”

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

An introduction to Life in Africa

African sunsetAfter obtained my higher surgical degree I spent six months in India before going to Africa. Like a good boy I was up to date with vaccinations and all those necessary things before I left for India. I was ready for my life in Africa!
We flew along the Arabian coast line at the same speed as the day was starting – travelling East to West. All the way the sun shining on the cliffs was magnificent. Flying into Addis Ababa was green and so much like Australia with all the gum trees. Our two young boys were able to stretch out and sleep all the way from Karachi, which was bliss for us.

The landing was smooth; the passage through Immigration was not. Well, it was for my wife and the two boys. They were allowed through, were met by the mission heavies and taken to where we were to stay, whereas I was arrested. I was put into quarantine because my cholera injection was one day over the six months expiry time. All my arguments fell on deaf ears. My wife and the boys had had no problems in entering as they had joined me in India several months into my stay there and had their shots just before they left.In the quarantine station  I met a Greek (I think) doctor who agreed with my very logical argument that the injection is not 100% effective and the six months is not exact to the day. He gave me a booster injection and sent me to where my wife and children were.
While not being usually very tearful, having been told that I would be sequestered for six weeks, she was crying buckets full. Tears rapidly turned to joy.
We had a few days to acclimatise before we were due to head south to the place I was to work. We had needed to buy five years clothes, kitchen stuff, linen etc.  The two growing boys would need a lot of extra clothes. Things were very different in Africa 55 years ago and few things were available in the shops. Hospital expected requirements had to be ordered 6 months ahead of their needed date. We had planned to stay for 5 years. So, although we flew, 16 boxes had been sent ahead by ship.
We had to go to many offices over a couple of days to get it through customs but we were not charged duty. Foreign workers were very welcome at that time. There were 300 doctors for 30 million people and few of the 300 were trained surgeons.
Ten days after arriving in the country we were taken down to the hospital in which I was to work. There was a leprosarium with 700 inpatients plus an outpatient service. Many lepers had moved into the surrounding area as we were the only leprosarium in the southern region. There was also a 30 bed general hospital with an outpatient service with an average attendance of about 100/day. There was one doctor, 5 trained nurses and many national workers, including a number of trained dressers. Some other time I might say how we managed it all. I was to replace the one doctor who was leaving in 2 weeks on a years break.
We arrived at 3 in the afternoon. The doctor’s wife gave us afternoon tea. The doctor had some emergencies which he wanted me to see – as they needed surgery immediately!
We got home for supper at midnight having seen a number of patients and performed 3 operations. Two of which I recall – an urgent Caesarean Section and a bowel resection on a 16yo girl with a large mass obstructing the right side of her colon.
That was the start of a marathon run lasting several years.

double use of OR 2

Please don’t comment on the masks. I had operated on the patient seen in the background and was just preparing something on the second patient – a child – he too was asleep. Due to lack of staff to watch people adequately we sometimes ad even 3 patients in the OR. One being operated on and the others(s) being observed. From the greyness of the sideburns I can tell this was in my second trip. On the first trip – no grey, then white sideburns, then eventually all white! (I cut the kid out of the picture as he was not appropriately dressed).

Continue reading “An introduction to Life in Africa”