"I will go anywhere and do anything in order to communicate the love of Jesus to those who do not know Him or have forgotten Him."
St. Francis Xavier Cabrini
Answering a distress call from Bere Adventist
Dr. Bill Rhodes and his wife Laura have worked for over 25 years in northern Kenya. Bill is a plastic surgeon and the Chief of Surgery at Kapsoar Hospital. I met up with them while working in Sudan. They urged me to go to Chad and fill a need at Bere Adventist Hospital. They had lost their general surgeon and needed help. So, I arranged to go there to help them out.
|Dr. Bill and Laura|
Chad was a surprise.
I expected Chad to be full of rock, sand dunes and furnace-like heat. But I was wrong.
I found rice paddies. It was the rainy season. The roads were flooded and full of potholes. When I rechecked the map, I realized that Bere Adventist Hospital was in the extreme south of Chad, away from the desert, close to where 3 countries’ borders come together: Chad, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic.
I am not Indiana Jones.
Getting to and from Bere Adventist during the rainy season was an interesting trick.
The hospital did not want to risk losing one of their valuable vehicles on the muddy roads. So just before daybreak, I left the guest house and was dropped off at the bus station. I took a 10-hour bus ride south from Chad’s capital of N’Djamena to the town of Kelo. Several times during the trip, road-side military units would randomly stop the bus and order all of us out to have our bags checked for weapons. My fellow passengers had no problem with any of this, so I didn’t either.
Finally, we arrived in Kelo. What now? I didn’t have to wait long. A nice fellow approached me. He identified himself as coming from Bere. He and his partner loaded my bags and me on two motorcycles. And off we went. Motorcycles can zig-zag through the mud and around the puddles and potholes. It was a rough 2+ hour ride. I didn’t feel like Indiana Jones. I felt more like a goat, tied to the cycle’s back end on its way to be sold at the market! My behind hurt for a couple of days after the ride. But we made it. On the way back, the flooding was worse, and my bags and motorcycle were put on to a wooden boat for about 2-3 miles.
|Boat, Bags, and Water|
Bere Adventist: Friendly and small
The team at Bere was extremely welcoming and happy to see me. Very nice. Dr. Staci Davenport is the hospital’s medical director. Staci’s easy to underestimate at first. She’s sweet, soft spoken and slight of build, but she possesses an iron will and an incredible quiet strength. Then I met the two Sarahs. Dr. Sarah Silva is a Family Doctor and mother of two small children. She and her husband Gabriel are busy doing it all. Gabriel takes care of the house and is studying to be a pastor.
And then there was Sarah the midwife, who is much more than a midwife. She’s the mission’s go-to-person: a true ‘frontier woman’. If something on the compound needs doing, either in or out of the hospital, she did it. Sarah’s been in the mission game for a long time. She told me about her work during the Haitian earthquake, sleeping on the airport tarmac while caring for injured people.
She had two cats, who were very devoted and protective of her.
Termites in town
My home on the compound was made completely of concrete and metal siding. Nothing on the hospital compound is made of wood because of the hungry termites. I had access to a small refrigerator one building over. I had my very own electric fan. It’s amazing how a small luxury like that makes such a big difference. I left it on most of the time both to keep me cool and to blow the evening mosquitos away and to make it harder for them to land. With the flooding and the rice paddies, there were plenty of mosquitos around. I took a second anti-malarial pill while I was there.
|Mission Compound at Sunset|
Bere Adventist is a front-line hospital, far from any large city.
It’s a farming area, flat as the Texas plains, with rice fields as far as I could see. The Bere Mission is 46 years old. The dominant sounds of the mission are the songs of pigeons, quail, and other birds that I’d never heard before. One can hear cattle in the distance as well. Of course, there are no car noises at all. There were rare motorcycles, but mostly people walked or used carts pulled by donkeys or cattle. Front-line!
French was the dominant language in the hospital for the same reason English is dominant with us back home. The French colonized west Africa. And the French are still active in west African politics.
Even though my French was bad, anything I could say really opened a new window.
I could talk with my patients, and I could laugh with them too. When you can’t communicate very well by speech, you learn to get better at ‘non-verbal’ communication, with facial expressions and body language. Generally, people could get what I was talking about.
Like other tropical hospitals, family members will often stay in the hospital with their loved ones.
They will cook their food and help the nurses with their basic needs.
And by their bedsides, they would lay out a mat. The mat had special significance. It was a boundary.
It was their ‘home’. Thus, as physicians and nurses, we had to respect that during our daily rounds, by removing our shoes before stepping on the mat, and into the patient and his/her family’s personal space.
|A Future Chief|
Day-by-Day: Being a Tropical Doctor
The nature of this work in far-away places is that we often end up seeing things and getting confronted with problems that we haven’t seen before. Or, if we have, the solutions we use back home aren’t possible out in the field with local equipment. There aren’t always reliable laboratory tests and there are no sophisticated scans either. Sometimes the cancers are already metastatic and would not be able to be solved anywhere. And there are few other specialist physicians to consult with. If there’s a surgical problem that isn’t life-threatening, that I don’t have a lot of experience with (or shouldn’t try to solve), sometimes there’s a specialist scheduled to come at a future date. Visiting specialists are very valuable. People come here and put their trust in us and in God. I strive to be worthy of that trust. I chose to trust God too. Like always, I learn from everyone and everything. And I keep getting better.
|One of my Victories Discharged|
Drama Before Leaving
48 hours before I had to leave, Sarah the midwife was stricken with stomach pain.
Fortunately, we were able to help her without sending her out of the country.
An Interesting parting gift:
Dr. Sarah Silva gave me a unique parting gift: a prescription for albendazole.
“Why would I need that?” I asked. “That’s anti-worm medicine! I feel fine.”
“That’s ok,” she said. “You probably have worms, and you just don’t know it.”
Then she gave me a few packets of rehydration salts just in case I might need them.
All the other missionaries nodded in agreement.
They told me that they all de-wormed themselves a few times a year.
Nice to be part of the family.