It has been quite an amazing series of events that has led us to the situation we are now in. We happened to be eating at a café, sat next to the NGO Americans and struck up a conversation. Just on chance we decided to visit the university and the Saint happened to sit next to us. Now, all of us are intertwined trying to help one 20 year old girl from a remote region in South-West Ethiopia.
We arrived home from Chiri and our beloved Americans on Monday. That next morning I check my email as usual and we had an email from them. Monday morning a girl from Gambela came to their clinic; they attached a pic. She has a massive tumor on her lower jaw. The tumor is more pronounced on her left side, and I can only describe it as a basketball sewn to a football and then stuffed inside her jaw. Her mouth is forced open as her lower lip is stretched over the tumor. The poor girl’s lower front teeth are so misshapen that there is maybe ¾ of an inch between each tooth. Up to 3 inches of lower gum/tumor is visible. It is something you would see as an hour long special on The Learning Channel or Discovery Channel, but this is real and happening now.
The email explained that it just so happens that the Saint we met earlier agreed to take her as a patient, and he is probably the only surgeon in all of Ethiopia that will even see her. They asked us if we would help in the logistics of getting her to the doctor. Of course we said we would do everything we could to help her. They had originally planned to put her on a bus from Bonga to Jimma where, armed with a note written in Amharic and some money, she would get a ride to the Sisters of Charity. As it turned out, they had a pregnancy emergency and decided to send Woldea and the two patients to Jimma. At least we would not have to worry about her getting to the sisters. Not sure if I mentioned it, but Woldea drove us to Chiri. He is an awesome driver and a really nice guy.
She arrived on Thursday morning. I called the sisters to make sure she was there. I called the Saint to schedule her appointment. Friday, today actually, is the Prophet’s birthday and a holiday. We would not be working and the hospital would be opened in a limited capacity. He told us to bring her to Surgery B at 8:30 am, Friday morning. No problem…hope I remember how to get to Surgery B.
We decided to leave the hotel at 7:30. Grabbing a bijaj (tuk-tuk, or 3 wheeled motorized cart) and minivan was amazingly easy and cheap. We walked up to Sisters of Mercy and a sister took us to the patient. The girl had a cloth wrap around her tumor. Something was obviously wrong, but you couldn’t really tell what. I got occasional wiffs of something foul smelling. I first thought maybe she had not washed in a while, but then figured it was her tumor and infection. She gave me her papers, which are vital for her getting admitted to the Saint. I took them from her and we all set off.
Again, transportation was easy. Before, the road to the university was under construction and impassable, but now everything is fine and drivable. We were let off at the hospital entrance and I managed to navigate to the surgical ward pretty quickly. Inside the female ward of Surgical B was the saint doing rounds with his interns. We waited outside for him and again saw families of monkeys on the hospital grounds. One had a tiny little baby clinging to her stomach.
The saint finished his rounds and came to us. We shook hands and he introduced us to all of his interns. He then announced that we had a special patient and talked to the patient in Amharic. I was a bit surprised but she could speak fairly well, which has got to be a good sign. He told her he was going to take pictures of her to send to his colleagues in Australia. She removed her cloth wraps and a plastic bag she covered the tumor with in order to collect saliva, puss, and general run-off. He took some pictures and ran out of space on his camera. My companion then took pictures for him. He then gave us instructions to get her a card, get her admitted to outpatient, get x-ray requests and to then find him or one of 2 of his interns he introduced us to. Ok, No problem…I have no idea how or where to do this.
We walked to the outpatient, all of this we had seen before in brevity, but it was still pretty new to us now that we had to navigate it. I found a row of windows that looked like it would give cards. One person was talking to the one girl behind the window, I stood behind her, more people crowded around me and the window. There was no way anyone was sneaking in front of me. I slightly pushed ahead and the lady at the window said to go to the outpatient. We went to one room, they said go to the next room. They asked the problem, I said we need admittance for this girl and x-ray request. What’s the problem? Is it an emergency? Yes, it is an emergency. It is a tumor. He tore of a piece of yellow paper, wrote on it, and handed it to me. On this torn piece of yellow paper was a printed “rx” with “please give card” written in English on it. I brought it back to the window. The girl at the window asked our patient some questions: name, age, home, etc. She filled it out and gave it to us. We went back to the first room, they said go to the second. We went to the second and the attending came in this time and asked what the problem was. She has a tumor, we need an x-ray request. He asked her to remove the cloth and responded with a somber, “oh my god.” The doctor took her card and wrote a pretty extensive admitting note on it.
Mission somewhat accomplished, and we went back to Surgery B. The saint was there and I think he was surprised with our quickness. He really wanted the x-rays today so that he could send them to his colleagues, so he sent the radiologist’s favorite intern with us to get it done. We went to radiology and the intern asked “please?” and seeing the patient, he said, “of course.” She got her x-rays, we reported back to the saint. He told us to take pictures of the x-rays holding them up to natural light, resize them, and send them via email. Hopefully he will know something by Monday. Until then, take her back to the Sisters and ask them to wash out her mouth 3-4 times a day with a salt-water solution.
We took a minibus back and walked to the missionaries. The Sister Superior greeted us this time. Mariam (I think that is her name) said something, the sister translated that she needs something to happen by next week otherwise she will go home because her family needs her. It’s understandable and heartbreaking. We told the sister to tell her we don’t know what will happen and that we will hopefully know more by Monday. We also asked the sisters to rinse her mouth out as instructed by the saint.
Walking back to the main road the kids were enamored with us as usual. A little girl was walking alongside us with her sister and an older man. She was playing with a pink, plastic cell phone, and she hit a button that made a ringing sound. I took out my cell phone and asked, “Hello? Hello?” as if she was calling me. Everyone got a kick out of it. Playing with children is pretty easy, no matter the language barriers.
We now have the girl’s file and x-rays; the interns thought it best if we keep them. My companion and I took some more x-ray pics once we got home. The pictures as-is, are too big to send via email, so we needed to resize. To do so was a bit convoluted given we’re in Ethiopia, but we got it done. We sent the pics and were done; the time was about noon. We were actually bewildered. It was the first time in a long time that we had free time. I thought we would have a lot of downtown here, but this was the first time in what seems like an eternity that we weren’t working or that we didn’t have a scheduled appointment, meeting or whatever. It was such a busy and productive morning; I took a nap.
When we dropped her off at the sisters I said goodbye and thank you to the sister superior to which she responded, “no, god bless you.” That made me feel good, if only for a brief second. This girl should be married and have a child by now. Probably neither will ever happen. I just hope that the saint can help and that she can have a somewhat normal life.