We arrived at Bongolo Hospital in the southern rain forests of Gabon last Saturday, after a long but safe trip. We left the hotel at 4:15 AM to catch our plane to Dulles, then caught the Ethiopian Airlines plane to Addis and onward to Libreville Gabon, arriving about 26 hours after we first stepped on the plane in Raleigh. Our duffel bag with the important instruments, sutures and gowns was nearly destroyed but nothing had fallen out and we breezed through customs without a hitch. The missionary pilot, Rob Peterson, was in immigration to meet us, but we arrived too late for the missionary plane to safely fly on to Lebamba. Instead, we stayed overnight at the Christian & Missionary Alliance guesthouse in Libreville before flying in the six-seater Cessna to Bongolo the following morning. Sean enjoyed his opportunity to be copilot. This is the “dry season” (despite last night’s rain) and so there is a dense cloud cover but with reasonably cool weather (80s). Nowhere near as hot and humid as in other times that I have been here.
Micky has plunged into mission station life and has gone shopping for food at the local village, addressed the residents’ wives at their weekly get-together (which she thoroughly enjoyed in her role as “Mama PAACS”) and helped Joanna Thelander with the creation of decorations for the graduation ceremony Sunday. She has also been working on the year-end bookkeeping for both the PAACS and the CMDA-CMDE Commissions.
People have been gracious about helping us feel welcome. We had a meal with the Thelanders twice and also dinner with Carolyn Thorson (the senior missionary remaining and an instructor at the nursing school), with the Davises and with the O’Connors. Both Zachary and Jennifer O’Connor are general surgeons who are finishing their two year Post-Residency commitment with World Medical Missions (Samaritan’s Purse). They have decided to become career surgeons here (praise God!) and head back a week from today to spend three months raising funds before returning. They have a little child Caleb and so neither of them works full-time as they juggle clinical and child-raising responsibilities.
I have used this week to ease back into clinical medicine while keeping up with my PAACS duties. In one sense, it is like getting back on a bike, but general surgery in the North American sense with which I am most comfortable is relatively uncommon; instead, orthopedics, gynecology and other types of sub-specialty cases predominate. Those areas are not strong points for me but I have been able to concentrate on the more mundane this week and let the three missionary surgeons handle those types of cases. I am on call for the next week and am sure I will run into things with which I am not particularly facile.
I was surprised when the chief resident seemed to know exactly what I was going to do on some pediatric hernia cases – and then he told me that one of the previous residents (Dr. Dembele) whom I had worked with on the Mercy Ship had showed him the same techniques. That is of course exactly what this training program was about and though a small thing, it gave me great pleasure.
This afternoon, we celebrated Independence Day. Since it was not a holiday here, the morning started out at the hospital as every other morning does – rounds, meetings and surgery. In concession to the needed planning and work for the graduation ceremony (but not the American holiday), the clinic was kept at a minimum. A few cases were scheduled and I staffed the OR with the residents while the other surgeons did other things. Mid-afternoon, the American celebration began. We have 23 Americans on campus right now (including us and another couple here from Ohio to do electrical work). It was a wonderful picnic meal and the red, white and blue was abundantly evident. It is interesting how much one’s patriotism increases when you are out of the country.
One of the hard things for any missionary is when one’s loved ones are having problems and you are separated by the ocean and half a continent. One often feels helpless even if one’s faith is firmly in the Lord. It was true for us as well. My mother had gone back into atrial flutter and some degree of heart failure. She was hospitalized, put on anticoagulants to prevent clot formation (and subsequent stroke) and on Thursday, finally underwent a successful ablation of the area causing the abnormally fast rhythm. She had a similar procedure done during the open heart surgery and had done well until a day or two before we left. We are led to understand that one lead of her pacemaker used for back-up is problematic and she is staying in the hospital until Tuesday to have it replaced or repaired. Dicey internet delayed the exchange of news. I am very grateful that my sisters were able to be with her in my absence. I am grateful that she responded to the intervention.
Praise and Prayers:
- Pray for my continued adjustment back to clinical medicine in Africa and for my relationships to the residents and faculty to be effective.
- Praise God that we went through customs in Libreville without a hitch with the sutures, operating room gowns and instruments.
- Please pray for the inspection by the College of East, Central and Southern Africa early next week of the Malamulo program in Malawi. Some issues have arisen that might be problematic and we trust God for the outcome.
- Pray that God will bring together the final details for my trip in August to Malawi, Kenya and Ethiopia.
- Praise God for the successful intervention and please pray for my mother’s continued recovery.
- Pray that the PAACS search committee can identify the right people for the job.
Yours, for the peoples of Africa,
Bruce, Micky and Sean