*Disclaimer: This blog post was not written by Doctor Scott Gardner, M.D., L.M. (Literary Master). Rather the following was written by his daughter Lindsay Gardner, N.T. (No Title)
So I have been in Tchad for about a month. Dad has been hounding me since before I got here to write a blog post. Personally, writing on a public forum terrifies me but this trip is all about new experiences so here goes.
Maybe it is just because I have been hearing about this country constantly for the last four years but the things you would think would be shocking are not at all surprising or difficult for me. Riding on a moto- just like dirt biking and a ton of fun. Shaking everyone’s hand all the time- put it there. Little to no internet-I’ll just find out what’s up with everyone later. Going to bed at 8:00 and waking up with the sun at 6:00- I think I get more sleep here than I did at home. The infamous Imam- I’ve been training for this for years by living next to a train track because I sleep right through him. No, the culture, the dirt, the cold showers, the bug bites, the sweat, the rice-and-red-sauce diet, the running yourself off your feet, the stares, the shouts of “Nassarah, nassarah”, and the taking your life in your hands every time you get on the road, do not bother me, shock me, or make me question my life choices. In fact nothing seemed to phase me, until I stepped back and looked at what I was doing from a distant perspective. That is when I made some realizations.
Let’s look at this whole situation in general: I am working at a mission hospital in Tchad, Africa. For those of you who don’t know, which is basically all of you, I am the least qualified and completely useless person to be working here. I am not medical in the least. I am still in college but I have no aspirations to go into any aspect of the medical field. For Pete’s sake I want to be a high school science teacher! I can think of innumerable things and people this hospital needs and a high school science teacher wannabe is not anywhere on the list. They need someone who can start an IV not describe photosynthesis.
Second, I don’t speak French. I don’t speak any French. After arriving here I learned the term “Ça va” which dad says literally means “It goes” and is the question and answer for everything. Since that is the only French I know I have been using it for everything. I get a lot of weird looks. Particularly when someone runs up to me and frantically rattles a long stretch of French off at me and I just uncertainly say “Ça va?” I have taken up the habit of talking randomly back at people in English when they insist on talking to me in French even after I say multiple times “No French! No French!”
I can’t even cook here. But that is not shocking; I can barely cook at home with all the ingredients and a recipe.Basically this all means that I should not be here. I have absolutely no idea what to do in the hospital. The other volunteers may not be used to African medicine but at least they know what they are looking at. I can’t talk to the staff or the patients. I do not make a good gofer because I don’t know what an 18-French catheter looks like. I am useless at the house because mom can’t leave me alone there. Anyone comes to the house and I can’t help them. I can’t even find out why they are there. And the only food it seems I can sort of make here is rice, which although it is good, it is not a meal. Realization #1, I am useless in Tchad.
Again, let’s look at the situation: I am working at a mission hospital, doing mission hospitally things. Every so often I’ll have a moment when I suddenly realize what I am doing. Some examples: I am currently holding a disembodied leg, I am riding on the back of a motorcycle sans helmet or any form of protective gear and in a dress, my evening entertainment consists almost solely of fly hunting, I am driving an ambulance in a third world country, I have my hand in some guy’s intestines, I walk past an incinerator every day that is burning body parts, I found a dead man. My morning includes pulling gauze out of a man’s scrotum and then shoving clean gauze back in, I am dodging blood splatter, I found a new stain on my clothes and I really don’t want to know where it came from, complete strangers keep proposing to me and they are serious, father-daughter bonding time starts with the phrase “Hey Linds, want to help me drain pus out of an abscess?”. I can’t describe the sensation when it hits me, “Hmm, I am right now… (fill in the blank with your favorite phrase from above)” but the feeling is very, very weird.The things that I have done and learned to do here are things I would never have even thought about attempting back home. Let me say again, I am not a medical anything but here I am doing dressing changes on every body part (and I mean every single body part both male and female), taking out IVs, helping with physical therapy, helping prep patients for surgery, circulating in the OR, even scrubbing in for operations. Realization #2, Tchad has a lot of “No one will believe this” moments.
Now I would like to address the subject of why I came. I came to Tchad because this is where my parents are. This is where they live, this is where their house is, this is where they work, and eventually this is where all their stuff will be.
It is always tricky when I meet someone because once I let slip that my parents are missionaries in Moundou, Tchad they always look really interested and ask where all I have lived. I know they are expecting the exotic list of locations any ordinary MK (missionary kid) would be able to whip out. I also know the look of disappointment that will suddenly come across their face when all I say is “I grew up in Oregon.” Let’s get this clear, I have never and will never claim to be a missionary kid. I am the daughter of missionaries now but I had an extremely American upbringing.
I will never forget the conversation with my parents that started this all. It was just a regular summer evening two years ago when my parents casually mentioned they were moving. My brother and I had been expecting them to move to the east coast after my grandfather died, because that is where all my mom’s family lives. When we asked which state they had settled on the answer of “Cameroon” was the furthest location in our minds. There was silence for a moment and then I stammered out “Like the country?” Not once in all of our conversations had there ever been a mere mention of a hint about actually moving to a different country. Dad wanted to do longer short-term stints at mission hospitals yes, but he had talked about going one to two months at a time. This was a five-year, packing up and moving out of the continent bombshell. I consider that moment the most shocking of my life.
If you have talked to my parents at all you will know that I was not happy about this decision. And I made that very clear. I did not like the idea of my parents moving half way across the world to work at a mission hospital with all the nasty diseases, infections, parasites, and just plain danger of living in a third world country. I read my cousin’s blog, I knew what kind of illnesses they faced out there. I knew about the struggles, the hardships, and the stressors that my parents would experience. I knew I did not want them to go.
Beyond just being worried about their safety and health, (they are in their fifties for Pete’s sake, how many people enter the mission field for West Africa at fifty?) I was also just plain angry at them. I know it was selfish and immature and totally wrong of me but I was angry at them for leaving me. Yeah I lived across the country in Tennessee but that was normal. The kid is supposed to grow up and leave home, not the other way around. The parents are not supposed to move all their stuff out to the kid’s place and then leave the country. In my mind, I was getting left and I felt abandoned. I went out last summer to help them move and as I settled into the U-Haul to drive out to Collegedale, Tennessee I looked in the rearview mirror and knew that it was my last glimpse of having a home.
Home had been where ever my parents were. Tillamook was my first and only true home because after we moved to Clarkston, I left to go to school. I had never really lived there but I called it home because that was where my parents were and that is where my stuff was and that is where I went when school was out. Now my parents were going to somewhere I had never been, the homey things were getting left with me or sold, and I would not have anywhere to go to on vacations. I had always had a home, and now I didn’t. The life I knew and loved was gone. No more summer boating on the river, no more winter walnut cracking by the fire, no more produce fresh from mom’s prodigious garden, no more games of pool, no more lazy afternoons in the hammock, even my dog was gone.
Over time I have mostly gotten past this. I’ve lost the sarcasm when I would reply to the question “Wow your parents are missionaries! How awesome is that?” My parents and I have worked out ways to communicate so that we can keep in touch fairly well and for that I am eternally grateful. I am used to saying my parents live in Tchad and have my script prepared for the responses, “Yes I am proud; no I have never been there; no I am not an MK; yes it is hot there; yes I do miss them; no I will not be going over to live there and work with them after graduation; do you not understand what a high school science teacher does? They don’t work in mission hospitals!” Ok the last one is internal but I can’t believe how many people I have to address this with.
My parents live in Tchad. They will be there for five years. The roles are reversed and I am now where they come when they come home. This is reality and I can’t change any of it. So I decided to bite the bullet and come out to Tchad and see what their new home is like. I have been here for almost a month and I have seen a lot of bizarre things and done a lot of things I really should not be doing and learned that there are a lot things I can’t do that I really wish I could. But above all I have watched my parents.
Because of my mom, I have seen people walking again and walking normally. A house is getting put together that will be a really great place. Plans are being made and implemented for a food distribution program, God Pods, and a patient library. She’s the first to admit that she doesn’t know what she is doing, but she is doing amazing things. The face of a patient when they realize that they will be able to walk again is unbelievable and the way she works with the amputee patients pushing them to discover that they can get past the loss and they will be OK is inspiring.
In surgery my dad cuts, clamps, and sutures nameless anatomy that is so mangled I would never have identified it as human. People come into the OR with unbelievable problems, swellings the size of footballs, limbs bending to 90 ͤ in places that they really shouldn’t, bones poking out several inches, or cancers so advanced that it looks like some alien disease from Star Trek has possessed this person. People leave the OR pieced back together or without the part of their body that is trying to kill them. Not everyone lives here and since I have been here at least five of my dad’s patients have died but everyone who goes into his office or under his knife has more hope of survival and wellbeing than they did before. He was not trained as an orthopod or an oncologist or a urologist or many of the other hats he must wear but here he has learned to be all these things and for so many people he is their only chance.
In my one month that I have had here I have done a lot and learned a lot. And I have made a lot of starteling realizations. But of them all one stands out as the most important: Realization #3, I may miss my parents, my old life, and my home, but Tchad is where my parents are because Tchad needs them, and I could not be more proud.
For those of you new to our blog please look around at the other pages, the “About” page tells a bit of who we are and our background, the “Definitions” page explains some terms that are used that some of you may not be familiar with, such as GC or AHI. The “Timeline” gives an idea of where we will be throughout the year, and the “Video” page has a video Bekki made of Koza Hospital as well as the videos she has made of Moundou. There is also the Surgical Pictures Page, but be forewarned, it has some very graphic pictures, so if you don’t like blood and guts, stay away from that page. You will also find links to other missionary blogs such as Olen and Danae Netteburg, Jaime and Tammy Parker and others. Finally, if you like our blog and want to receive each new post directly to your e-mail, please sign up with your e-mail in the subscribe box. It doesn’t cost anything, there is no commitment, it just makes it easier to follow us. For our Francophone friends there is a French translation of our blog that you can find at http://gardnersenafrique.wordpress.com.
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