Posted on May 23rd, 2009 timharris777 1 comment
When I arrived in Ethiopia in 1966, I found that the OR table was an old metal examination table with only three legs. The fourth leg was made up of various segments of scrap lumber. To gain the height I needed, I placed this contraption on four unusually designed wooden stools.
TheOR light was a remnant from someone’s garage and hung on a rusting coat hanger from a sagging ceiling with beams that had almost been completely eaten away by the African termites of the neighborhood. In order to have the light in the area of the surgery, the four stools and table with the patient had to be moved.
Once when I reached for a sterile pack at 2 a.m. for an emergency surgery my handcame down on a large hairy “pack-rat.” He showed signs of wondering why he was being punished.
The single World War II sterilizer blew up during my third month and my mentor doctor who had been there twenty years, with whom I hoped to work with for five years, left after just six weeks. I still wonder what I might have said to scare him off. The first drug order I placed would not be filledbecause the hospital was said to be $9,500 U.S. dollars in debt.
The first five patients on the male ward had all been bitten by various wild animals–a lion, hyena, leopard, snake and wild dog. Ninety-one of my first 105 patients on the ward had conditions that I felt sure had never been described before. When skin tests were given, the control, myself, was the only positive one. Pathology reports werenever helpful.
The electric generator had Noah’s fingerprints on it and seemed to have been constructed before the discovery of electricity. Its crank had a three foot radius. The challenge was to let go of the crank handle before you – became the blade of a propeller.
The primary form of revenge was to burn the neighbors’ thatched house down while they were sleeping at night, so we always hadabout twenty severe burn patients in the hospital. During my first days I ran into a bull while I was making rounds and had a chance to practice the gladiator maneuvers. The bull obviously thought that the new ward was still part of his grazing area.
Gourds hung from some of the nails on the walls. These were filled with goat blood, the vitamin mixture recommended for speedy recovery by the witchdoctors. Kerosene lamps hung from the ceiling so the nurses could see where they were going for patient care at night. A donkey with four kerosene tins on his back secured water for the hospital from five springs located in a nearby valley.
The autopsy room was a separate building located fifteen feet behind the operating room. Whenever a patient died, this area was full of vigorously wailingrelatives which made it hard to concentrate on the work at hand, the saving of the life of another patient in a delicate balance between life and death. The X-ray machine was a 15mA unit rescued from the jungles of the Philippine Islands after World War II.
When I went to the clinic, ten patients had a soiled rag in their hands. They wanted me to count the number of human teeth and compare them tothe holes in their own lineup of remaining teeth. Then they wanted a “police letter” so that they could get financial remuneration for their losses. The teeth in the cloth usually outnumbered the vacancies in the mouth.
Thirty-two years later there are more than 700 churches among a tribe of about 5 million people. The New Testament, and most of the Old Testament, have been translated into thetribal tongue. Solar-powered tape recorders play the Bible for those who will listen. The churches have sent out 120 missionaries from their group to other tribal groups in Ethiopia that did not have a clear presentation of the Gospel before. The president of the leading seminary in the country was one of our patients. The current CMO and Chief of Surgery of the hospital was a student among 490...