This newsletter is just a bit of this and a bit of that – mostly things I have read in the past few days. I think it important to know when you have something to say, and when to shut up for those who have more important things to say. Take some time to think seriously about these quotes and stories.
Things I have read:
“For many years, I felt that our first term in Lome had been a waste. We failed to plant a church, and it seemed that there had been no fruit. In recent years, we learned that six children in the Wodome family trusted Christ in our Sunday school. One is a medical doctor, one a lab technician, another is a math professor at the university, and one is a preacher. Glory to God!” Quote from a newsletter of a veteran missionary in northern Togo.
“We may have more wealth in these days, better education, greater comfort in traveling and in our surroundings even as missionaries, but have we the spirit of urgency, the deep, inward convictions that moved those who went before us; have we the same passion of love, personal love for the Lord Jesus Christ? If these are lacking, it is a loss for which nothing can compensate.” This was not written in 2011, lamenting the new batch of missionaries. This was written by Geraldine (Mrs. Howard) Taylor, a missionary to China, well over a hundred years ago.
From Mark Shrime’s Blog:
Mark Shrime is an ENT surgeon that I met on the ship four years ago. He was an associate professor at Boston University and is soon embarking on a course to obtain a PhD in medical resource allocation in post-war third world countries. He always has an interesting viewpoint. This is from his blog (http://mercyinafrica.blogspot.com/ ) from June 19, 2011 entitled “Unholy litanies” and is reproduced with his permission.
When every store in the market sells cigarettes, plastic baubles, t-shirts, household goods, and Chinese bras, demand for your wares is exquisitely sensitive. Do enough people come past your door, for example? And are you able, through sheer force of personality, to lure enough of them into your store itself?
Also, do you look normal?
As unfortunate as it is, we've become pretty comfortable with the fact that appearance correlates with income. So it should come as no surprise that, when Amidu's face started swelling, the flow of traffic to his plate shop decreased. And, since plates were his livelihood, this became a problem: eventually, he had to close his shop. After all, there were enough plate-sellers without distorting (and pungent) ameloblastomas on their faces.
Sometimes it's an unholy litany here. Ameloblastomas, lipomas, hemangiomas, neurofibromas, cystic hygromas—these are bread and butter of surgery for me here on the ship, repeated week after week. And, to a large degree (without getting into the potential for airway compromise, for metastasis, for malignant transformation), these are cosmetic masses. And so what, really, if you have a lump of fat the size of a small melon growing off the back of your neck, as one of my patients tomorrow has? Is it really important?
As a cancer surgeon, I occasionally find myself thinking the same way—these aren't cancers, after all. Isn't there more important surgery I could be doing? Until it hits me that this is more than just surgery. The cosmetic vs. "important", benign vs. malignant dichotomies are not just flawed—they're outright false.
Because every tumor in that litany is a person. And, though Amidu is still on the wards, there's a chance that when he leaves, business slowly return to his shop.
And that is important.
And from 09 July 2011, an entry entitled “Witchcraft”
In talks I have given about working here in West Africa, I have made the point that facial tumors tend to be viewed as something more than physical, that there is the presupposition that patients with these tumors suffer from some supernatural antecedent cause, be it demon possession, witchcraft, or the anger of God.
I have always, however, felt a little bit disingenuous making these sorts of statements, not because I didn't really believe that they were true, but because they were things I had heard from others who work here, and, as a result, were subject to the vagaries of hearsay. In making these statements, I was at risk of perpetuating an exaggeration.
On June 30, the Standard Times Press, one of Freetown's newspapers, published a photograph of a child with a facial tumor. I'm reproducing the accompanying article verbatim*
MYSTERY! 12-year-old Turns Pig
History will never end, at least for the residents of Makeni. It was on Monday, the 28th of June 2011, around 1:30pm, an alarm was raised by the residents of K_____ Street, Makeni, when onlooker witnessed the unusual event of a 12 year old boy, Kaddy Bangura, transforming himself into a pig at his residence.
Makeni it seems has now become infamous as a witchcraft town. This Reporter upon hearing the news went to the Makeni Police Station where Kaddy Bangura was taken to.
I was informed by the Information Police Officer at Makeni Police Station Sergeant Senessie that the boy is presently with the President of the Traditional Healers at Calaba Town.
Upon arrival, the President, Dr. Kabbah, took me to the room where the boy was housed in and was allowed to conduct an interview with him. Kaddy Bangura narrated his story about how having put faeces in his auntie's Foo-Foo she was about to eat, the "Auntie" made a "Karafilo" (a form of protection against evil) which resulted in his being powerless in enacting the transformation from a pig back to his human form, and was thereby left with a pig head and his human body.
The President of the Traditional Healers Association, Dr. Kabbah, noted that there is something going on in the Makeni area.
He admonished all that witchcraft does exist in Sierra Leone. Dr. Kabbah noted that Kaddy's condition now is such that no doctor on Earth can cure him.
*All identifying patient information has been changed to protect privacy; the picture itself is, for the same reason, not reproduced. The story, of course, took great liberty the facts, but the attitudes were real.
This child was brought on board the Africa Mercy, the tumor biopsied and telepathology reading of the cytology slides from London confirmed a diagnosis of probable Burkitt’s lymphoma. The tumor has literally melted with one dose of cyclophosphamide with marked restoration of normal facial anatomy and arrangements are being made for follow-up and further treatment in country. In a private conversation, Mark stated that the most important thing was not the cure per se, but that this child was brought on board, treated with dignity and the relationship between this child and the grandmother was restored. They also have seen the reality of Christ’s love with skin on. We can only pray that the child will be healed both spiritually and physically. For certainly, no doctor on earth can do both. But we know a Great Physician who can.
One last quote that, in the end, says it all: “For some questions, there may not always be an answer. But always….always, there is Jesus.”*
Confident that He is always there,
Bruce for Micky and Sean
*From the novel entitled “Land of a thousand Dreams” by BJ Hoff.