OUR STRUGGLE IS NOT AGAINST FLESH AND BLOOD

Yesterday at the end of worship the entire staff stood up and held hands, making sure there was an unbroken circle, and we prayed for one of our own. Our lab technician, our Ebola survivor, was ill. He had been ill for a couple of weeks, and wasn’t responding normally to treatment. It could be because he kept going back to work too quickly, and wasn’t getting enough rest, or because he really never let us finish an adequate course of treatment, or maybe he has something else wrong that we can’t diagnose, or maybe it is a result of his Ebola history. There is some thought that Ebola survivors are relatively immune comprised. Whatever the reason, he just wasn’t getting better.

However, that is not why we were praying. We were having this special season of prayer because at 5 am that morning his family had shown up and taken him from the hospital against his will. The staff did not need to be told what this probably meant. When families come and forcibly remove someone from the hospital they typically are planning to revert to the default–take the patient to the natural healer. Every village, every community has at least one natural healer. These are not naturopaths as we understand them. No, these are witch doctors in every sense of the word. I actually had no idea how evil these men and women are until just recently.

The AHS family was upset because just three weeks ago we buried the Seventh-day Adventist wife of a prominent staff member whose family had taken over her medical care. The husband shared with me the story.

Josephine had been ill for several weeks. The labs tests were all normal, and there was nothing wrong on physical exam, except she didn’t feel “bright”, meaning she was weak and tired. Different medications were tried without much success. Now, it has to be said that this happens in the US as well. Patients have some unknown malady that doesn’t respond to treatment. Eventually they get better, most of the time, or something shows up to steer us in the correct direction. However, in Josephine’s case the family was not going to wait. So, they took her home. Her family is not Christian, although to be honest, it really would not have made much difference. I have observed that whether you are Muslim or Christian, when the going gets tough the vast majority of them will revert to their animist roots. And who do they turn to for medical help? The natural healers.

So, these guys were brought in. What I am about to tell you will sound made up,like something out of a horror novel, but it is not, I assure you it is real. First, they found some masses or lesions at various locations on her body. These were removed. Without surgery, without incisions or scars. Cutting, actual cutting with a knife, and blood letting is a very common treatment here. Many of my patients have multiple scars on their bodies as the result of natural treatments. But then they reached into her abdomen and pulled out the real source of the problem, a snake like creature, 8-9 inches long, with a discernable head and tail, that was moving. I have seen the picture of it. It was fortunately destroyed so it would not bother anyone else.

I asked if there was a scar. I was concerned these guys had made a hole in her intestine and not closed it and she had died from sepsis. I was informed that these natural healers have magic and the wound just closes over spontaneously and very quickly, leaving no trace of a wound.

Josephine seemed to recover some after her “natural” treatments. But then 4 Sabbaths ago her family called the husband saying that she was very ill. She was brought to the hospital and died a few hours later, at the age of 39.

Did she die because of the natural treatments or despite them? Did she have some unknown ailment that was to doom her no matter how she was treated? We will never know. But what I can assure you is that as soon as the natural healers became involved with all their magic and potions, God was pushed out. How can God answer the prayers of the church for healing when the devil is involved? Who is going to get the credit if He does work a miracle?

It was with those thoughts in mind that we prayed about our lab tech. I am sure most everyone in the room knew the stakes involved. It is extremely unlikely the family took him from the hospital to try to get him into one of the fancy expensive European hospitals in Freetown, or that they are going to airlift him to France for treatment.
He knew as well, what was in store for him, which is why he vehemently protested leaving the hospital. But individuals here have no say, it is the family, specifically the ranking member of the family who decides for everyone.

So we prayed, we prayed that somehow God would intervene and the family would allow him to come back to the hospital, allow us to continue treating him. We may not have much for diagnostics or treatment options, but we have something greater than that, we have the Great Physician. And in this war, that is worth more than all the soldiers, all the armaments, all the captains and all the kings.

Here, the evil, the darkness is so “in your face”, so blatant it is impossible to miss. But it is just as real in the “developed” world. We just call it by other names, or we rationalize it away with our smart scientific theories and ideas, but the evil is there.

I don’t know how this will end, but I know God will not force Himself where He is not wanted, so ultimately it is up to us, we choose which side we will be on. And that is a decision we all have to make, whether we live in Sierra Leone, Tchad, France, England, the US, or any other country in this world.

I am happy to report that we just received a message from our faithful lab tech wishing us a Happy Sabbath, and telling us that he is home and will not let anyone mislead him. Praise God, but, he will need all the power of heaven to stand against the will of his family.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12 NIV

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

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Is A Human Life Worth $200?

I happened to glance out my office window yesterday to the front parking lot of the hospital. I watched bemusedly as a yellow cab pulled in, the front seat passenger got out and opened the right rear passenger door. My curiosity was piqued as I watched him pull out a young man by his arms. As if out of nowhere a crowd appeared and several pitched in to help carry the patient up the steps into the hospital.

It didn’t look good, but it also didn’t look surgical, I hoped. We had just cancelled my one case for the day because the young lady had eaten breakfast so I was looking forward to being able to get caught up on paperwork and other administrative stuff. Not long after I ventured out of my office and ran into Mr. James Abu, our CHO (Community Health Officer, basically a nurse practitioner).

“Doctor”, he said with his usual sly smile, “Doctor, I just admitted a patient with a bowel obstruction I would like you to see.”

“OK, no problem.” This is my usual response whether it is a problem or not, always hoping the lilt in my voice would put a smile on my otherwise sour face (those of you who know me will understand).

I asked if this was the young man they had just brought in. Sure enough it was. So much for being nonsurgical.

We went to the mens ward and found a young man, Sahr, in his early twenties laying on his side facing the wall. He had little ulcers on his right leg. I found out he had fallen from a mango tree some years back and has been paralyzed since.

The history was three days of abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Indeed, he looked like a bowel obstruction, distended abdomen, tight, tympanic (sounded like a drum when I tapped), no evidence of an incarcerated hernia and no peritonitis.

Here, our only non-invasive diagnostic is an ultrasound done by a rank amateur (me), so the only real decision is does this patient need an operation and if so, when? Well, he needed an operation, and since the crew was there and anesthesia was present, now was good.

As I walked back to the OR, Mr. Abu stopped me and said, “Doctor, his family has not paid anything yet. What should we do, who will pay the 1.5 million leones ($200) for the surgery?”
My response was simple, “He needs surgery and he needs it now, we will worry about the money later.”

I am done with not treating someone with a life threatening or emergency condition simply because they cannot pay. We will get what payment we can from them later. But as a hospital it is our creed to treat everyone regardless of ability to pay. God will either make up the difference, which so far He has, or we will go under. But I am going home if I have to turn someone out because they don’t have money.

Back to the story. In the OR, I was explaining the necessity of being careful when opening the abdomen on cases like this to the surgical team. Because the abdominal wall is stretched thin and the dilated bowel will be just underneath it is easy to slice into the intestine. (Most teaching of this nature is from personal experience, this was no different). This time though, as I gently opened the peritoneum there was a rush of odorless air. It was followed by thick yellow fluid, 5 liters of it. The surgery people among you know exactly where I am going with this. No bowel obstruction, but instead a 1 centimeter (1/2 inch) hole in the duodenum, just below the stomach. Diagnosis, perforated ulcer.

As I repaired the hole and cleaned him up, I marveled at how far God had brought us in such a short time. A month ago I would never have dreamed we would be ready to do a case like this, but with our new suction and cautery and OR Table and the reorganization of the OR, we were ready. The case went well, and I am happy to say that today he looked as good as anyone can look with an NG tube hanging out their nose. He has a long way to go, and many bad things can happen, but so far a life has been saved by God’s grace.

Sahr the morning after surgery.

Sahr the morning after surgery.

After surgery I met with the family and explained what we found and what we had done. I also shared with them that Sahr was still very ill and needed lots of prayer, and that God is the One that would need to heal him.

In worship this morning Mr. Abu shared the “rest of the story”. In the days since he became ill the family had taken him to traditional healers and other clinics and hospitals. Sahr had been treated with herbs and other local remedies, which I can attest to as I suctioned out a number of pieces of leaves from his abdomen. The family had spent all its money before coming to AHS. They had only enough to pay the 30,000 leones ($5) for the consultation.

Sahr and his nurse.

Sahr and his nurse.

If we had insisted on some payment yesterday before treatment they likely would have put him back in the taxi and driven off, and he would be dead today, instead of being on the mend. And we would never have had the opportunity to point them to Jesus as the Source of healing.

Will Sahr fully recover? Remains to be seen.

Will the family pay? Probably something, although not likely the entire amount.

Will it hurt us financially? Maybe.

Is a human life worth $200? Definitely.

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. On the “Videos” page watch a real Ebola survivor, Dalton Kabia, 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

Un Jour Férié (A Holiday)

Today we celebrated Tchad’s Independence. I was told there was a big festival downtown in Independence Square, but no fireworks. It was a three day weekend, which frankly doesn’t mean much unless you work for the government or a bank. Here it was a day just like any other except I told the OR crew to knock off early, they really worked hard last week.

But in the midst of all the death and suffering was one really bright spot, a miracle of life, a regeneration, almost a resurrection. Saturday afternoon a man about 30 years old was brought in, comatose, with decorticate posturing. He had been sick about 5 days and had worsened during the last 36 hours, and had been unresponsive for most of the last 24 hours.

I figured it most likely was cerebral malaria, a lethal complication. Indeed the parasite count in his blood was 15-20%, pretty high. So we started through all the motions, IV fluids because he was almost certainly dehydrated since he couldn’t drink or eat, catheter in his bladder, IV quinine for the malaria, IV glucose for the hypoglycemia that comes with malaria, broad spectrum antibiotics in case it was something else like a bacterial meningititis, and something for the fever. All pretty much futile, but you try to let the family know you are doing everything possible, which we were.

He was in the Salle de Reveille, our ICU and recovery room. He was in the bed right next to the door to my office. I was pretty impressed with the dedication of his family, they stayed right with him, fanning him to keep the flies off, keeping him covered, watching the IV to let us know when it was empty.

Sunday morning when I came in for worship I was surprised to see him still alive, albeit still comatose. All day I waited for the familiar wale from the female family members that signaled a death. I wrote for another day of IV medications, not wanting to write for more as I still didn’t expect him to live.

In the late morning I saw an handsome young 8 year old boy. He didn’t look so good either, distended abdomen, grunting respirations, sick for a week, but worse the last 48 hours. We got things going on him, IV fluids, blood tests for malaria and typhoid, empiric antibiotics and quinine. I was worried about his abdomen, but he was in no shape for surgery at this point so I figured I would check on him in a few hours after we got him hydrated and meds started.

About three hours later Abba the nurse came by the house and told me the boy had died. What? He was sick, but I didn’t think death was that imminent. Abba told me the boy had been talking with his father and Abba went to do something else and when he came back the boy was dead. I have seen that so many times here, they compensate to a point then fall off a cliff and are gone.

Abba called me back in later that evening to attend a moto accident, with several lacerations and a fractured femur. While I was sewing up lacerations another man came in with a stab wound to his back. I quickly looked him over, 3 inch laceration mid right upper back, straight down to lung, but no respiratory distress, lungs clear and equal and no air bubbles from the wound, not even much bleeding. After I numbed him up I found out why. As I explored the wound I found it tracked forward along his ribs, all subcutaneous. Whether he appreciates it or not, his angel saved his life.

As I was finishing up Abba asked me if my unconscious patient could eat. “What? He’s awake?” I went over to check on him, and sure enough, eyes open, talking, wanting something to drink. So I told Abba he could start with Bouille, the local rice gruel everyone eats for breakfast.

By this morning he was still awake, more hungry and able to start on pills instead of IV meds. I told the family it was a miracle of God. We had seen a dead man brought back to life. It was a blessing for me too, as the day progressed and I had to tell a young woman that the 7 month old fetus she was carrying was dead, as I faced horrible orthopedic infections, and as I faced administrative head-ache after administrative head-ache, I could revel in the thought of a life saved.

Our miracle patient in front of my office door, he is alive!!

Our miracle patient in front of my office door, he is alive!!

Tonight the compound is quiet, no barking because Samson the dog is gone. Bekki, Nick and Kelsey took him to another mission station tonight, the first stop on his journey to Abeche to be reunited with James and Sarah Appel. We will see how our security plan of razor wire, and nighttime rounds by the guards works for keeping out thieves and robbers.

Tomorrow we face the challenges of a new day, trying to get our container out of customs, trying to get a package picked up from DHL, disciplining one my nurses, possibly firing another, trying to figure out how I am going to get all four fractures I now have sitting in the wards needing surgery, fixed in a timely manner. I am slowly learning to keep my expectations low, stay calm, roll with the punches, and let things play out. However, it is a tricky balance between having low expectations so you don’t go insane and feel like you are constantly beating your head on a brick wall, and having them so low that anything goes, which isn’t good either. I hope that by the time I leave here I will have figured it out, although that might be too high an expectation.

Thanks for listening, thanks for reading, thanks for supporting and loving us. We know that everyone has challenges and difficulties they face everyday, ours are no worse than anyone else’s, just different. Twenty-one days from now we start the journey home for a badly needed break. In the meantime, eat a Taco Bell bean burrito for us, s’il vous plait.

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.

We welcome volunteers.

-Scott Gardner