Life lesson 452: When one is in Pittsburgh, PA, make the two hour drive to Erie, PA to actually look at the autoclave before you buy it.

I had no idea the autoclave, was soooo big. It did not look that big in the picture. It is so big we can just autoclave the patient and the instruments together, eliminating the need for prepping. We are pretty sure we now have the biggest, baddest autoclave in all of Sierra Leone, and probably in West Africa. My staff is thrilled, I am, well, frankly embarrassed.

Bekki showing just how big this sucker is.

OK, to back up a bit. Part of the grant from the Winifred Stevens Foundation for the OR upgrade was to be used to purchase a new autoclave. When I came they were trying to sterilize the instrument packs in an ancient dental desktop autoclave that barely worked. As in you have to manually turn it on and off to keep the temperature in the right range. Remy Hirschy got one of our other non-functioning autoclaves to work, but it drips hot water all over the floor when we use it, and it too is a desktop model, so it is fine for a small clinic, but not a real OR, like ours!

Luke Hingson at Brothers Brother in Pittsburgh, PA got us in touch with Rick King who runs Chosen International, a company that refurbishes autoclaves, puts on a new boiler and then renders them “West Africa proof”, with the proper current and plugs etc. They come in several sizes, but the two full size ones were the same price, so go for the big one, right?

Healey Foundation, a Catholic NGO out of New Jersey, who has helped us ship things over here agreed to give us some space on their next container, so it made the move from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, then on the boat to Sierra Leone. We got the call Wednesday morning that they were offloading the container and wanted to know what we wanted done with our crates. Fobbie went to the wharf to check it out.

He called me, “Dr. Scott, the crates are big, we need a crane to unload them.”

I was pretty cool with that, I had been warned the crate was large. Notice I said crate. I was a bit surprised Fobbie said crates, but I just figured it was the oxygen concentrators Loma Linda had sent, and only one crate needed a crane.

Fobbie arranged for a truck with a crane to transport the crates to the hospital. They arrived just as we were starting prayer meeting at 4:30 pm. Two HUGE crates sat on the back of the flat bed truck. Not large, massive. 4000 pounds between them. The oxygen concentrators were with Fobbie in the back of the Xterra. We had no idea what was in the second crate. Turns out the police wanted to know as well.

The truck with the MASSIVE crates on the back. The chairs unfortunately were not for us.

In the the next 24 hours we experienced an absolutely awesome, incredible set of miracles.

Miracle 1: They got both containers off the truck and on the ground without dumping them. They had only one strap around the containers, which was fine for one direction, but containers are 3 dimensional objects hovering in space, even if you have side-to-side covered, they can still fall end-to-end, or vice-versa. And when they tried to lift the big one, the wood bottom of the crate started breaking up. It was clear these guys were pros, but also clear that they were making this up as they went. Bekki and I? Silently praying. We have seen too many unloading disasters in West Africa to not be aware of the risks.

Unloading the big crate, notice the bottom starting to separate.

Unloading the small crate, yea, one direction is supported, but it can still fall to the side.

Miracle 2: Getting them unpacked and moved into the hospital, without damage. I wish you could see the video. I will put it on the blog site next time we are in the US. It was the ultimate tug of war as about 15 guys fought against 2500 pounds of autoclave and gravity as they pushed and pulled this thing up our amusement park ride steep ramp into the hospital. It cleared the first two doors with an inch or two to spare. We only had to take out one door and wall to get it into it’s new home.

Ultimate tug-of-war with Joseph as the anchor.

We had our usual prayer of dedication and blessing Thursday morning before we unpacked the crates and moved them inside. Part of that prayer was that God would send His angels to protect the contents from harm as we moved them inside. God answered that prayer. There is no doubt in my mind that angels excelling in strength surrounded our autoclave as it was heave-hoed up the ramp.

Miracle 3: No rain. We are in the teeth of rainy season, it is raining more often than not, especially at night. And this is not a little sprinkle, man, it pours, it gusts, it storms. Tuesday night, Wednesday morning and early afternoon it rained, beaucoup. Mid afternoon, the clouds parted and the sun came out. As they unloaded the truck it was clear, but it was too late in the day to do anything more. So we put tarps over the wooden crates and prayed.

All night I listened for the rain, it is easy to hear it on the tin roof. No rain. The morning dawned bright and clear. After worship, we gathered outside for the blessing and pictures. No rain. For 2 hours every able bodied man pried apart plywood and 2X4s under blue skies. No rain. The ramp was dry as they heaved it up into the hospital.

Not 5 minutes after getting the last of the autoclave pieces under cover it began to rain. Two hours later we had as big a storm as we have had this year. The water was overflowing the drainage ditches. The autoclave? Warm and dry. The ramp? Now a slip and slide.

Jesus calmed the storm on Lake Galilee. He held off the storm over Waterloo Hospital just as long as we needed.

The second crate? We were happy to be able to tell the police it was just more parts of the autoclave, the boiler and a rack to put the instrument packs on.

Next time, I will take the time and go look at the merchandise, but thank God that He doesn’t hold our stupid human mistakes against us.

For more frequent, up to the minute short updates please follow us on Instagram or on Facebook, we are Scott N Bekki Gardner.

For those of you who are 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, and now we are adding videos of Sierra Leone. Watch a real Ebola survivor tell his story. Watch our community health officer explain why the staff agreed to work in the Ebola Red Zone even after they lost 2 staff members to Ebola. 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. On the Projects and Donations pages you can find the projects we are working on and how to donate to the project that touches your heart. 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.

We welcome volunteers.

-Scott Gardner


2 thoughts on “Autoclave

  1. Brought tears to my eyes as I read how God intervened in this amazing way.

    Love your posts.

    Donna B.


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