Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Excuse me? Doctor?

These past two weeks have been such a blur of activity that I hardly know where to start! My Aunt Deloris came to Addis Ababa with World Surgical Foundation, an organization that comes to developing nations to perform operations and train local doctors and nurses. They also bring new medical equipment and donate it to the hospitals they work with. In Addis they were working at the Black Lion Hospital, which had the reputation of being one of the nicest hospitals in Ethiopia when it was opened (in the ‘70s maybe?), but has since fallen into disrepair. I’ll be honest, when I first walked into the hospital I was thinking, "my, this is much nicer than the Finote Selam Hospital." However, after hearing the comments of people who knew what they were talking about, I realized that perhaps my frame of reference was a bit off.

My Aunt asked if I would be interested in coming in, helping the team while they were here, and translating. I don’t think that I really grasped what this meant initially. What it turned out to be was getting up every morning at 6:30am, going to the hospital, donning the ever attractive scrubs, shoe covers, face mask, and hair cover, actually being in the OR, going on rounds with doctors, learning a ton, and not leaving until 6:30pm most days. Without a doubt the longest working days I’ve had since… ever? My first day on the job, I was sent into an operating room where a surgery was taking place and had my first crash course in anatomy. It would have been nice if someone had said, "hey we need you in here, but be prepared for blood and guts,"; but it was fascinating. One of those experiences that could occur only here.

Most of my time was spent in the recovery room, being there when the patients woke up and asking questions such as: Can you stick out your tongue? Do you have pain? Can you cough? Again? I was also sent to talk to patient’s families. Due to my very official appearance and my assumed fluency in Amharic, many people approached me with questions of the medical nature and addressed me as ‘Doctor’. I would listen, thinking that perhaps I could help. Then I would remember that the highest level science course I took in college was Scientific Methods and that medical vocabulary in Amharic is way over my head. I became very good at directing people however.

I had the opportunity to get to know many of the patients and their families because I was with them before and after the surgeries and would go with the doctors to check up on them. Their stories were intense. The teenager from Jimma who had a tumor for four years before his family could save enough money to get into Addis only to find out it had spread too much to do anything. The father who brought his daughter on a two-day bus ride, nearly crippled with fear because his wife had died and his daughter was all he had left. The seven-year old boy from the northern-most part of Ethiopia who was accidentally shot two years ago and was so accustomed to pain that he took almost anything without crying. The teenage girl who had a tumor the size of a watermelon removed from her stomach, then was good to go three days later. The 40-year old law professor with pancreatic cancer who woke up after a 6-hour surgery praising Jesus, in English. The stories go on. It was so exciting to translate for the doctors when they would tell a family that the operation went great, that the patient would live a healthy, normal life after so many years of waiting. Terrible to find something to say when there just weren’t resources available to do anything else for a person, or that maybe if they had seen help sooner… It was a great opportunity to see a side of Ethiopia I hadn’t seen, to realize the desperate needs they have in terms of medical care, hospital technicians, nursing practices, surgical training. Things I don’t necessarily understand, but I could see the positive impact the team had in just the two weeks they were here. Imagine if the people of Ethiopia had that year round?

It was really great having my Aunt Deloris here. Her family have gone on medical missions for years and have talked about what a life-changing experience it is. It was neat to share that experience with her, to see how much work and energy she puts into serving others. I had no idea how much work went into nursing, how much preparation and forethought was needed. It’s all just really intense. Aunt Deloris and I also spent some time in Finote Selam and they always love visitors. She got to meet the people I live and work with, see my house, and just get out of the big city a bit. I’ve come to really appreciate the opportunity to share experiences with people. It means so much to have a picture of what my family does and to also have them understand what I’m doing. I’ve come away from the last two weeks really encouraged. And exhausted. Why do you work so much? (Actual question asked to Aunt Deloris by an Ethiopian nurse.)

Since leaving Addis, scriptures commanding us to serve the sick and the needy have taken on a whole new meaning. I have a lot of questions about my role, as a person without medical skills, in caring for those who cannot care for themselves. I don’t have many answers but I’ve found, at least for me, that taking time to form a relationship with them and listening to their needs is a first step to compassion. Also, James 5:14-16 has been a great encouragement-"Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." Please join me in prayer for Dawit, Tigist, Haptamu, Yibeltal, Tadeku, Muhmamed, and Selam as they continue to face discomfort and pain. For strength for them and for their families. Also, please pray that I would learn to better serve those in my community who are facing illness or other challenges.

Much love for you all!