Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Picture Blog

Today we want to share some random pictures that will give you a bit of an impression of what we have been up to the last few months!

In January, we had a visit from a medical team from the USA, which included two dentists with a dental assistant and an oral hygienist who worked long days to address the needs of the many patients who came to the hospital. Mattru had not seen a dentist for many years!

Patients waiting patiently in long lines to pay the small contribution required to see the dentist. 

Just after the team left we got the message that our ambulance driver had overturned the ambulance. The driver had only some minor injuries, but the ambulance is beyond repair, which has already created some challenging situations when we need to transfer patients...

Last year we decided to trade our 2004 Toyota 4Runner (which had major issues anytime we traveled, leaked like a sieve during rainy season and perpetually displayed over 10 warning lights) for a 2002 4Runner which has been nothing but a blessing. Due to the aforementioned accident it has already several times doubled as an ambulance!

In February we opened a small Birth Waiting House which was built with support from the Christian Health Association of Sierra Leone and furnished by the church of Dr. Dan & Elaine Metzger.

It was appropriately opened on a Friday morning, when expectant mothers come to the hospital for their check-ups.

Mothers from far-away villages who are at higher risk of a complicated delivery can spend the last few weeks before the birth of their baby in the Birth Waiting House. We are hoping that this will help decrease the still-high maternal mortality rate in the district. 

Guess what we are cooking here?! Ultrasound gel! We ran out of the usual stuff and were given a recipe using cassava starch and salt! Although a bit smelly, it works fine!

Also in February, we got a surprise visit of Ms. Audrey Fiederlein, a former missionary to Mattru! (the lady sitting on the blue couch to the left) We had a delightful time with her and the two friends she brought along.

And again, also in February, a team from Engineers without Borders built a toilet/shower facility for the Pediatrics Ward.

Well-built, with beautiful tiles - what a blessing for the patients and their parents!

In March,two of our long-time friends from Freetown, Sandra and Suzanne, came to visit! We had such a good time with them. Sandra & Suzanne are both working in the medical field and show a lot of understanding for our situation here.

Sandra & Suzanne brought along their friends Phil & Shantelle and we got introduced to the game Bonanza. We had a lot of fun with that! 

Somewhere in between activities, Heleen (together with our Matron Fatmata) made an attempt to teach our cleaners something about hospital hygiene. It brought back memories from many years ago, when Heleen used to clean the Pediatrics and Maternity wards of the local hospital over the summer break and on Saturday mornings. It remains to be seen how much the training will actually affect the cleanliness of the hospital...

In March a team of workers arrived to assist with the renovations of the Maternity ward. Here is Brad building trusses.

Nick with Tamba, our hospital maintenance man. 

The new roof was designed by Ray Proud, who came along to oversee the project. Sadly we don't have a picture of him!

Issues with the purchase of materials delayed the project and when the team left after two weeks Jon's job description was yet again expanded to include building supervision. Thankfully the Sierra Leonean contractor has been very pleasant to work with.

Today the roof was completed, which is a blessing because the rains came early this year. A LOT of work remains: building ceilings, replacing rotten, termite-infested boards, tiling, electrical wiring, painting, etc. etc. 

While the building project was going on, Heleen received another visit from the World Hope International Team that works with children with disabilities. Here our friend Anna evaluates a little boy with the help of Heleen's colleague Sylvanus.

Heleen's work with the children with disabilities is expanding and brings us much joy - just look at the faces of these children and the mother! We will soon tell you more about some exciting developments.

Heleen has handed over the Psychosocial Unit at the hospital to local staff. In March she trained three more nurses and Esther, who volunteers in her work with the children with disabilities. In the picture also John, a Community Health Officer who co-leads the Unit with Mary, a nurse.

We continue our walks in the evenings and are currently enjoying exploring some of the new rice fields.

A bit more adventurous path.

As the dry season comes to an end, we enjoy the flowers blooming in the hospital compound.

Flowers welcoming us at our front door.

Our backyard is slowly beginning to show some color again...

Like this beautiful red and yellow flower!

And then we were blessed by a few visits of our favorite bird here, the majestic Great Blue Turaco! 

Another view...

We have lately been enjoying watching "BBC Life" episodes, which - although thoroughly evolutionary in approach - deepen our faith and joy in our Creator. And sometimes we get some BBC-Life-like glimpses of nature, like on Sunday morning when these little creatures hatched just outside our window by the breakfast table! They seem to be in the mantis or walking stick family. 

And lastly, here we are with Adama, one of our nurses who got married last Saturday. 
We hope you have enjoyed this picture journey. Please continue to remember us in your prayers.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Tribute to a Faithful Worker

Kind, dedicated, hard-working, available, faithful, talented, self-made…These are just some of the adjectives that you can use describe Mr. Joseph French, or, as we all know him, "Pa French".  But most of all, I think you could say “Follower of Christ.”   In fact, if you are trying to illustrate an ideal employee, you would start with someone like Pa French.  It is impossible to say how much that he has meant to UBC hospital over the past 51 years, the number of years that he has worked here. 

Pa French is slight of build, and with a bit of halting gait, and a bent over posture from years of bending over an operating table in the surgical theater, but he is truly one God’s mighty men here in Mattru.  Pa French did not plan on being a surgical scrub technician.  Born on Sherbro Island, his family moved to the city of Bo later where he attended school.  After completing Form 2 (equivalent to the 2nd year of high school), he attended a Bible School in Bo run by the United Methodist Church.  After 3 years and graduation from there, he planned to be a teacher.  But for some reason (I think we know why), he applied to the hospital for a job.  After his interview with Dr. Pratt, he went on back to Sherbro Island, but after some time, he was called back and told that he had the job.  Dr. Sylvester Pratt, a Sierra Leonean doctor, was the medical doctor when Pa French started, and Ms. Blodgett was the administrator of the hospital.  Dr. Pratt saw the importance of having good nurses, and so taught Pa French and the other fresh nurses a 2 year course while they were working.  They learned Anatomy and Physiology, nursing theory, and practical side of nursing, such as making beds, etc.  He started as an aide where he was responsible to wash dirty diapers in the Pediatric ward, or washing bedpans in the medical ward, or cleaning latrines.  Not very glamorous, but a job nevertheless.  At some point, he took the Government Nursing Exam, and passed and got his license.  He then moved to the medical ward where he was responsible for handing out medications and floor duty.   After about 5 years, he was moved to the operating room, and he has been there ever since.  He was taught the use of all the surgical instruments, how to sterilize instruments, and how to set up for surgery.  In time, he assumed the charge of the operating room, and acquired a vast knowledge of surgery.  After Dr. Pratt, then came a young Dr. Ron Baker, and then Dr. Dan Metzger, and Dr. Richard Toupin (all missionaries from the US from the 1970s until the early 1990s).  When the new doctors arrived on the scene, he was a reassuring presence in the operating room and kept them out of trouble. This was the heyday for UBC Mattru Hospital, when people would come from all over Sierra Leone and even Liberia and Guinea for the treatment at Mattru.  And Pa French was a big part of that time.
The Operating Theater where Pa French served for many years. It just got a new operating table. 
However, war clouds were on the horizon.  The initial part of the Rebel war was not in the Bonthe District where Mattru lies, but it soon spread to this area.  So, by 1995, the war had come so close that Pa French escaped to Sherbro Island and worked at the Government Hospital for a while. This was the time that the Rebel army took over the UBC Mattru Hospital and used it as an army base for a number of years.  Pa French knew that if he was around, he would be conscripted to become part of the Rebel army to treat their wounded, and so for 7 years, he was on the Island or in Freetown.

In 2002, at the conclusion of the war, Pa French came back to the ruined hospital, and worked with Doctors without Borders, and helped in getting the scattered staff back together.  The times since then have been a struggle at times, and there have been times where there has been no doctor at UBC Hospital.  In those circumstances where the patient was going to die, Pa French often was the only thing standing between a sick patient and death.  And so over the years, he has done plenty of surgery alone, although knowing Pa French, that was not something that he sought or desired.  He preferred to work in the background, but UBC Hospital is grateful for all the many years of help that he gave.  

Pa French (middle) with Mr J.P. Amara, the nurse-anesthetist whom he worked with for many years. To the left Mrs. Amara.

When we moved here 2 years ago, Pa French was a steadying influence to me as someone who has had little surgical experience in the past 30 years.  Without him here, it would have made a very difficult entry, since the surgeon had left right before we arrived.  I will always be deeply grateful for his great help in the operating room for these 2 years that we had together.

Jon and Pa French performing a C-Section together.
When he decided to retire this year, we decided to have a sending away party when the American medical team was here.  Some of the doctors that played a huge part in the past were here to celebrate with Pa French, notably Dr. Ron Baker, and Dr. and Mrs. Dan and Elaine Metzger.  It was a time of celebration, of words of honor, and remembrance of one of the most influential people in the history of UBC Mattru Hospital.  

With Mr. & Mrs. French at the Retirement Party.
Mrs. Fatmata Bangali (matron) presented Pa French with a plaque on behalf of the hospital.
Dr. Baker with plaque presented on behalf of former missionaries.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Our Second Christmas in Mattru

Christmas is a good time to get homesick when you are in a foreign country.  The thought of family and friends having a good time celebrating and remembering the birth of Christ, or more particularly, thinking of past Christmases seems to bring out melancholic thoughts and emotions.  And melancholy is not fun this time of year.  So how do you combat that natural tendency when you are overseas at Christmas? We don’t know how you would do it, but this is the way we worked it this Christmas.

Just a few decorations go a long way when you want to commemorate Christmas and Christ’s birth.  A manger scene (minus baby Jesus until Christmas Eve, Heleen is strict about that!), a star with a battery operated light, and just a few white Christmas lights help a lot.  Also, we had access to a lot of Christmas music, which we played and played.  We treated ourselves to some new albums of Christmas downloaded with i-tunes.  One of our new favorites was “A Treasury of Christmas Music” by the Daughters of St. Paul (despite the fact that he never married).  But perennial favorites like the Messiah, and the Christmas Oratorio by Bach never were far away from our hearing.  We enjoyed music so much during this Christmas season.

On Christmas Eve baby Jesus arrived in our Sierra Leonean nativity scene!
We even had poinsettias blooming in our garden!
 Hospital activities abound during the Christmas season as well.  We had our 2nd annual Christmas party, funded by ex-missionaries and friends of the hospital in America.  What a wonderful time it was, with the usual pomp and circumstance and designated program that such an activity requires in Sierra Leone.  However, it was very enjoyable, because each department was invited to contribute something as well.  Delightful music, dancing, and delicious food followed.
Contribution Pediatric Ward

The Christmas Party on Saturday was preceded by a friendly match on Friday between the hospital staff and Centennial Secondary School teachers. The hospital won 2-1!
 A week later we had our Christmas celebration with the children with disabilities. Including the children we had about 70 people there. We heard the Christmas story, colored pictures about Christmas, practiced spelling words like S-T-A-R and J-E-S-U-S, counted 1 to 12 with the Twelve Days of Christmas and ate a delicious meal!

Listening to the Christmas story told by Sylvanus.
The meal was cooked by our friend Esther (left), who has a son with disabilities, and served by Naomi (middle; a pastor's wife who attended our training on disability) and Musu (right; a nurse and auntie to a child with disabilities) 
On Christmas Day Jon made rounds early in the morning, and while Heleen attended the Christmas service he delivered a baby by C-section.  To make the day festive for the hospital, we sang Christmas Carols with a small group of colleagues and used some of the generous funds contributed towards the Christmas Party to feed a nice meal of Jolof rice to all the staff that were having to work. All the patients and most of the family members got to eat as well.  We then went to the house to celebrate.

Last year, we had primarily ex-pats, our mission team, and Peace Corps volunteers here for Christmas, but with no such possibilities this year, we invited a number of people over to our house on Christmas Day for our own Christmas festivities.  We had our friend Esther make some delicious chicken and macaroni and potato salad, while we contributed baked cookies.  We had made plenty of extra, as so many people were telling us “Mi Krismas de pan yu”, or “My Christmas depends upon you.”  We thought that one way we could respond was by inviting them to partake of our Christmas meal if they came around on Christmas Day.  So we were not sure who all might be present, but in the end we had our good friend Olmeh, Philip, who cleans our house once a week, Sylvanus, a friend from Mattru whose father is Pa French (see our next blog).  He recently moved here from Freetown and has been helping a lot with the disabled children, and Esther and 3 of her children plus a cousin who was with them.  Also, Samuel, a boy we know who ‘just happened’ by at lunch time. Later in the day, we fed several of our regular people who often come by… Kona, a somewhat eccentric widow lady who often needs food (and who carries a scrap of paper with Heleen’s name on it in her head tie), and Tommy, an old “pa” who likes to come visit.  Ngadie, the deaf lady who does our laundry stopped by and finally Dr. Harrison and his wife Flaviour and daughter T.K stopped by after all the food was gone!  But we had a nice time visiting and making the acquaintance of little T.K. their 6 month old daughter.  That was especially nice, as we knew that Dr. Harrison would be soon leaving for Nigeria after his almost 2 years here in Mattru.  In the evening, while Heleen started our traditional puzzle, Christmas Baby No. 4 was also delivered by C-section!

As we have passed into a new year which we plan to spend here in Mattru (surprise, surprise), we would encourage all of us in 2019 to Seek First the kingdom of God, Knock Often on the door of his mercy, and Ask Prayerfully for sustaining grace to endure.
Early in January we had to say good bye to Dr.  Harrison, who had to return to his home country Nigeria.... This leaves Jon as the only doctor. We are praying for someone else to join him!