Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ethiopia Day Three -- Need

I first awoke a bit after 4am, my head throbbing. Maybe it was the altitude -- afterall, we were near the summit of a 10,000 foot mountain. Or, perhaps, it had been the uncounted but numerous cups of wine I'd had with our spagetti dinner the prior night (which had, undoubtedly, helped my dancing). But I really thought the problem was my pillow -- a camp pillow which seemed to prop my head up about half the distance it needed to go. Pain radiated from my neck to the back of my head. After trying to go back to sleep for an hour or so, I got up in the dark, and went out into the Cheif's compound to sit in a rickety chair and wait for dawn.

A bit later, the Cheif's daughter-in-law rose to start the breakfast fire, and greated me warmly. Soon other members of his household were up and about -- these people stayed up as late as anyone the prior night, but they were up early, ready to face the day, unlike the delicate ferengi (foreigners) who were sacked out in the huts. Eventually everyone woke, and we headed back upslope to the Bora church for some serious clinic work.

The climb was more difficult than I'd remembered -- had we really walked that far down during the night? Were we really that wimpy? I had to rest a couple of times before finally reaching the church, where there was a crowd already waiting.

I spent the morning as a runner, much of it shadowing cases handled by the attending doctor. There were many cases of pain (treated with garden variety pain killers), parasites (treated with a drug we called "the stinky pill" in the pharmacy). But there were more serious problems as well. A woman came in with a abcess in her foot caused by a large splinter, and it took minor surgery to treat it. Or the young baby who came in with a horrible infection in his eyes -- the doctor commenting that he would probably lose his sight, if he survived at all. Or the toddler who had to be hydrated with an IV. Seeing the suffering and pain of these people was hard to watch, and I understood how the permanent medical clinic would change many of their lives for the better.

After lunch, I walked to the site of the permanent clinic, about a quarter of a mile along the ridge of the mountain summit. My task was to try to come up with a strategy for getting clean fresh water for the clinic's needs, and thinking about how water might be supplied to the church, school and other residents as well. There was a dry hand-dug well near the building site which had water most of the time. Ultimately, we decided a new well would need to be drilled and cased to insure adequate clean water.

During the afternoon, I manned the pharmacy during a flurry of activity. By the end of the day, the doctor and nurse practioner had seen over two hundred patients. While the aid wouldn't permanently heal all of their ills, there were many people who would leave the clinic healthier than when they'd walked in. I felt like we'd done something important. As the group walked back to the Chief's enclosure, I was thanked by several people for the assistance the medical team provided. I felt unworthy -- afterall, all I'd done was count a few pills. The entire experience was humbling.

That night we had a feast. The Americans purchased two goats, which the Chief slaughtered (a grizzly, but mezmorizing experience). A storm blew in, and we ended up eating in the barn, sharing the goat meat with neighboring residents. Again, there was singing, but the rain stopped the dancing and big bonfire. I turned in fairly early -- exhausted by my early morning, and the stress and excitement of the day. As I fell asleep, I kept thinking about that child with the severe infection in his eyes. In a U.S. hospital, he would probably have been fully healed. In remote Ethiopia, even survival was a question. I knew what we were doing would help, but it was only scratching the surface of the need in this vast rural country.


  1. Just a comment on drilling wells. While in Honduras, I worked with a gentleman named Pad O'Neill. After he finished working in the hospital, he opened a business in country drilling fresh water wells. This is an iffy business in Honduras as the the underground aquafer is not open in all locations. It is not uncommon to drill dry wells. I have lost track of Pad over the years, but I'll bet that Becky and Dave still know where he is. He may be a useful resource to tap if you need to consider the "how" of getting a well drilled.

  2. There are well drillers in Addis -- and since there's an existing well that has water in it nearby, I'm pretty sure they can get water at fifty feet. The bigger problems are getting the drilling rig to the site, and then figuring out how to pump the water. A hand pump would be best, but I don't think it will pull water fifty feet. Still working on that aspect.