Autoclave

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

The Container

Bekki, Scott and Lindsay all dressed up for Church

Bekki, Scott and Lindsay all dressed up for Church

I have waited a long time to write this post. 443 days to be exact. Many of you have prayed diligently for us and for our container, and for that we are grateful. I am happy to report that our container is here, it is parked in front of the hospital and is mostly unloaded. I told Bekki yesterday that if it took until 2 am I was going to set up our bed and sleep in it, with our mosquito net. She beat me to it, while I operated she got the old bed out and the new bed set up. Last night for the first time in 14 ½ months, 443 days to be exact, we slept in our bed. I can’t really describe how wonderful it was to have all my pillows, to have a king size bed again, to not have the guest bed, which frankly is usually not that great. Then tonight we had supper on our table, with our dishes (haven’t found the silverware yet). Yesterday we had Swiss Steak, hmmm, it was soooo good.
Bekki and Jolene surrounded by boxes with the table set, ready for supper.

Bekki and Jolene surrounded by boxes with the table set, ready for supper.

When we made our reconnaissance visit to Tchad and Cameroon in January 2013, Bekki tried to get all the advice she could from the experienced missionaries. They all counseled us to bring a good bed, and bring stuff from home that said “home”, if you know what I mean. I remember thinking at the time and until recently, that I was moving to Africa, I wasn’t living in America anymore, I didn’t need to have a bunch of American stuff, stuff from “home”. Africa would be my home now. Silly me, good thing I have a wife who knows better. Last night when I opened the box with our white dishes, I have to admit there were tears in my eyes. It was so wonderful to see our dishes from home. Now they are on the shelf, the table and chairs are set up, I am sitting in the red recliner/rocker, sleeping in my own bed, there is a pantry full of vegi-food, tomorrow morning for the first time in 8 ½ months I will use soy milk on my cereal, we had real chocolate brownies for desert tonight, all things from “home”.

Our bed, ready for sleep.

Our bed, ready for sleep.

Isaac cutting away the locks on the container door.

Isaac cutting away the locks on the container door.

One of the many things I have learned in the last 8 months is that it turns out all those experienced missionaries were right, you need a piece of “home” in your house. We aren’t Tchadien and never will be, and to keep our sanity we need something familiar, something loved we can cling to. Especially in a developing country where everything is so topsy turvy, and seems so different to us, where everything we do is so difficult, and takes so much energy and effort.

Our container shipped out from LA around November 17, 2013. It took 9 months to get to us. Since we didn’t expect it any earlier than mid March, I would say it is only 5 months late. The container’s voyage here seems to have been, for whatever reason, cursed. It spent 5 months sitting in port in Douala waiting to clear customs. When it finally was ready to leave Douala it was delayed an extra week due to the end of Ramadan. When it arrived here, the usual 1-2 days to get it released from Tchadien customs took 8 days, and only happened because I went down to customs and hung out until they released it. Because it is rainy season the ground is very soft so when the truck brought it to the compound it promptly got stuck in a sink hole and had to be pulled out. They brought a crane to take it off the truck bed (the usual method is to tie the container to stout trees and the driver guns the truck and drives out from under it, letting it drop to the ground with a satisfying thud), and the crane, after digging foot deep holes in our driveway, got stuck before they could do anything. Even when we were able to finally get the container and the crane on solid ground and the crane started to lift it off the truck, one corner got stuck on the pin holding it on the truck bed. It took 15 minutes and a lot of work and discussion to finally get it released, and offloaded.

The ambulance got stuck in the mud and ruts outside our door.

The ambulance got stuck in the mud and ruts outside our door.

To say that the last few months and especially last few days as we anticipated and worked to get the container released have been stressful would be an understatement. But now that we are unpacking and finding things we have been wanting and in many cases desperately needing, the pain of the last few months is already starting to fade. And it is not just personal items, 2/3 of that container is material for the hospital. And not only that, but Nick’s life will now be much easier as he has tools he can use in working on the container apartment (La Petite Maison). His eyes lit up as we came across the boxes of tools (Kelsey’s eyes lit up when we came across the brownie mixes and the teapots). It is truly a blessing to finally have it here.

Our local longshoremen hauling off our things to the house.

Our local longshoremen hauling off our things to the house.

That being said, I have to be honest, I have many times asked God what is the deal here? Why is this taking so long, can’t You just give us a break? Like I said earlier, it was like the container was cursed, nothing went right, for anyone. And I know hundreds or thousands of heartfelt prayers ascended to heaven in our behalf, but seemingly without an answer. The container could not have come at a worse time, except during September when we will be in the US. It is the height of rainy season, so moving it is very risky, we have to hire an extra guard to watch the container because it is outside the wall of the compound, we need it for storage but it is incredibly inconvenient and difficult to take some stuff out and put other stuff in. Besides we want to get it inside the compound walls soon so we can stop paying for an extra guard. Furthermore we leave in less than 2 weeks, and need to have things buttoned up before we go.

But when I really start to feel sorry for myself, I go outside and watch Francis, our yard boy, mow the lawn by hand with a slightly bent power mower blade with a crude handle attached. I watch Frederic, our contractor, and his workers do their work with all hand (almost no power) tools. I look at all the “stuff” we brought over, I look at all the food in our pantry, and then I think, yea, they aren’t ever going to have a container. The people I work with day after day are grateful if I give them a headlight I got in a three pack from Costco. Our cook, Victorine, if I don’t put the milk left in my cereal bowl down the drain, she will drink it when she gets to work at 12:30 in the afternoon. All the packing paper, you know what we do with that? We take it to the back door of the main building of the hospital and leave it on the ground and the staff, and patient families come and take it away, it is wanted, it will get used. This afternoon as we worked on getting more stuff from the container into the ambulance we passed out empty cardboard boxes as gifts. Then I look around me and see all my things, and I realize that this is not even anywhere close to all my things. We sold and gave away a lot before we left, and we have a houseful of stuff in Tennessee. Yea, I do not have thing one to feel sorry for myself about.

I don’t know why it took so long to get our container. I don’t know why it took so long for our house to sell, or why we got such a low price for it. I don’t know why, especially after we prayed so earnestly, and had so many other people praying for those very specific things. I mean really God, we left our comfortable home and our family to come to Africa to serve You, doesn’t that give us some kind of, you know, special dispensation or credit or something? Instead, it seems that everything was harder and took longer. Maybe Nephew Olen was right, it means we are doing something good and Satan is attacking us. I don’t know, maybe. Or maybe it will someday be clear what God was doing behind the scenes, but then again maybe not. I really don’t know.

But I do know this, God asks us to trust Him, even, no especially when, it doesn’t make any sense, and the way is not clear, and things are not going well. I haven’t done a very good job of that the last few days, and I am ashamed. Because I am, more than most people on this earth, truly a blessed man, and have absolutely no reason to doubt our heavenly Father. I also know that what we do for God doesn’t change our status in His eyes. There is nothing we can do to make Him love us more or less, or care for us more or less. I forgot. It wasn’t pretty. Thanks be to God that I can confess my sins and know that He will forgive them and love me as always. And thanks be to God for our container.

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