We can´t be sure that words will save, but we know full well that silence kills!
Stories of a Doctor working in places, where humanitarian issues make "our problems" in life a bit smaller.... It wound be easier to close my eyes, but I decided to open them and share with the world what I have lived.
When I was a child and my mother would see me playing with a group (3 would be enough)… she used to say something like “what a nice little club?”… and that’s what I had in the hospital of Masisi a real nice little club… It was not always the same, some came in and out as they or their family member would be admitted or released from the hospital.
When you don’t know the language , its not that easy to establish bonds,
but children are very different, with very simple things you can gain their smile and their trust and make friends…. Like all the other children in the world, their charm would warm anybodies soul not matter what… And I guess that when you are away from home, with barely any contact from the rest of the world, you need more than ever to warm up your soul in order to get in touch with your feelings, to find a reason to smile, to help you forget the fact that you are in the middle of a war and all the ones that you love are so so far away…
And bit by bit, with tricks, smiles and symbolic gifts, I found myself very connected to some of the children of the hospital…. and I will tell you about some of them.
My life was pretty much at the hospital, and our base/house was 500 mts away from the hospital, so more than ever I lived to work, and I think I counted that in 4 months I didn’t go to the hospital 3 or 4 Sundays, all the other days was work, work, work, many times with no breaks, no food until late at night… so of course when you live to work, the relationships that you establish in the hospital are stronger, as they really become all that matters in your life…
Our daily life (mine and the Surgeon) was almost every day the same, if there was no emergency to be operated, we would have a meeting in the morning with the local staff… Congolese love meetings… it was a huge waste of time… and we tried to fight against it…. but it was not easy, they love to discuss about nothing…. They would create a meeting to determine who would keep the key of a certain closet and that could last an hour… In the end we managed to end many of those meetings so we could have more time to treat patients …. But that’s the barriers that you find when you work in Africa, its not just the war or the lack of means it’s a whole mentality that is very different from ours… So after the meeting we would make the round of the Surgical ward… It was interesting and many times very funny, the conversations, the translations, between Swahili, French and English it could be a big mess…. And we would go one by one patient to see how they were doing, establish treatments and plan the surgeries for the day! I, as an Anaesthesiologist would mainly made the decisions about the most critically ill, I took care of course the pain management, the fluids, and the antibiotics, and of course I would evaluate the ones that were about to be anesthetized and operated… But many other things, about the surgical decisions didn’t concern me, even tough I was always listening to what was going on…. But it was mostly during this morning hours that I played with my small friends… Sometimes one or more would hold my hand and would join the group that was doing the rounds!! It was my happiest moments of the day most of the times…. I just loved to lift them up in air, make balloons out of the hospital plastic gloves, make races, gave them pens so they could draw (I am sure that many had never seen a pen or a pencil)… and with few words and body language we had some fun…. It was an amazing feeling that some would run to me, the moment that they saw me in the morning…. probably because they wanted another glove balloon that was a huge success… but still it was great to feel special to those children who directly or indirectly suffered so much because of that horrible war…
Most of them I never knew their name, even tough was one of the few sentences that I knew how to say in Swahili “Jina Lako nani?” “What is your name?”, but their names where very difficult to understand and repeat, so most of them have no names to me, but still I will remember forever…
2 sweet girls, these 2 sisters that were direct victims of the war were already subject of one of my previous stories…. For many reasons they are part of my favourite group. I remember like if it was today their fresh wounds caused by bullets of a Kalashnikov, their bloody cloths, their laud screams, and of course their evolution, seeing their smile for the first time, gaining their trust, taking them many times to the operation room, against their will that’s for sure….but with the feeling that they knew who I was, and they trusted me somehow, and that of course made a huge difference when I had to inject them with intramuscular Ketamine… Tuliza´s bed was many times the meeting point of the other children because she couldn’t walk due to the bullet that destroyed her foot… Over there, every time I called any of the Congolese by their name, the immediate answer would be “present” in French… And I came to understand that in Swahili, they would do the same, but it sounded something like “abê”… I every time I passed by Tuliza…. I would call her : “Tulizaaa !!” And she would answer with an extremely sweet and shy smile “abê”…. And I just loved it …
(Noemie, the other fat girl and Tuliza eating on their bed)
(Tuliza.... with a keychain that I gave to many of them just before I leave)
(Tuliza, Noemie, and the other fat girl)
(Tuliza, with one of the balloons made of hospital gloves)
The most beautiful eyes…a story yet to be written ….soon I hope.
(The most beautiful eyes, holding her brother that was shot)
(The most beautiful eyes with her brother, Maria, her brother and Dorika)
The other fat girl…. She was similar to Tuliza, but fatter, and she was also part of the group….but I have no idea why. Was she sick? I don’t think so… So maybe she was related to some patient from a different part of the hospital…. she was many times around, but I have no idea where she came from… and she looked great with the others…. always smiling and asking me for something.
(The other fat girl)
(Dorika, Maria´s brother, the other fat girl, and Maria)
(The other fat girl, Tuliza)
My best friend for a while…. A young boy (10 years old) that made a huge impression on me… Young enough to enjoy playing as a child, but old enough to act as an adult, with more than laughs and smiles between us… A person that I miss and inspired me to be tough like him…. A story that I already wrote but sometimes I feel like writing a lot more about him….
Maria…. so much to say about Maria…. probably the most famous character of the Hospital of Masisi for a long while, part of my life when I was there and many times still in my mind, now that there has been a year since I left Maria was 5 years old, and she was “living” in the hospital for already 3 months before I arrived in Masisi, and after 4 months when I left she was still there…. Not victim of the war, “just” victim of poverty…. She was severely burned… There is no electricity, so a lot depended on fire and boiling water…. And children were victims over and over of the lack of safety of this old fashion way of living. Maria had burns in many parts of her body that healed, but the posterior part of her leg, was tough to handle… Many skin grafts were attempted, but the dirty environment caused many infections of that never ending wound… She was sad… sad eyes, sad expression…. I had to put a lot of effort to make her smile… And she was by far the one that I spent more time with, and gave more attention…. Once I found some painting book with color pencils …. But it didn’t have the effect that I expected…. I tried to explain how to paint …. But I realised that it was just a too different world !! She never saw it before, and I guess that those kind of things just don’t happen in that part of the world… But I had a great surprise on my next gift … I found a magazine in our base with a poster of Elephants …. So I gave it to her and I glued it on the wall with tape… She seamed very happy with her new “decoration” of her wall right above her bed in the hospital… When I got to her the next day, the poster wasn’t there… I was a bit frustrated and thought to my self, that it was normal that something so fragile would get destroyed very easily…. so I asked to a nurse to ask her where were the Elephants …. And Maria pointed to the window saying something like “they run away to the jungle!” …. But to my big surprise, some days after the poster was on the wall again, and again I asked what happened…. so she said smiling that “The Elephants came back from the jungle because they missed me!”…. Nonsense moments that made me feel in love with this little girl…. Here mother was “very” pregnant like all the African women….. they are always pregnant…… , and while Maria was at the hospital she kept on working….(life never stops for them)…. Collecting and selling wood and other stuff like that…. So Maria was most of time alone, and most of the time with platter in her leg in order to heal the wound…Poor girl.
(Maria, and Dorika)
(Maria with the painting book that I gave her, about to get very messy)
(Maria with shaved hair. They do it to most of the girls for hygienic purposes)
Maria´s brother….Maria´s brother was around…. I don’t know if you understood by now, but when some family member is in the hospital, all the family stays there or around….many times they come from far villages, that could be from a distance of days walking…. So they are there, and at night I saw 3, 4, 5 persons sleeping in one bed….or under the beds….hygienic isn’t it? … but there is no other way for that African standart… So, this boy was less than 2 years old, like many other children always dirty, specially the nose, and would only change from 2 or 3 extremely old t-shirts… Always running around with very small steps, he was also a very sweet part of my day… I had with him what I call a triphasic relashionship…. Progressively, he started by fearing me, running way from me, and crying when I tried to say hello to him…to a phase when my presence was accepted with smiles but still very afraid of any contact with the “Muzungu”…. To an amazing last phase when he would run extremely happy to me every time he saw me, and with no effort he jumped to my lap….
( My club washing some stuff... since very young they have to take care of them selves)