Our final remote site clinic was at Tchincombe. It was a little bittersweet. We flew by MAF plane to Tchincombe, which has a grass runway. Brent, our pilot, was demonstrating to Marain, student pilot, some techniques of landing on a grass runway. He demonstrated with both of his hands a plane bouncing on a landing, which may have instilled a small amount of fear in me. Needless to say, we landed just fine without the bouncing, to a welcoming committee of villagers and the Fosters, the missionary family who would be housing us.
The Fosters run a farm at Tchincombe, with the intent of giving the natives a trade, whether cattle farming or crop farming. Donna Foster is also a vet, and extends her veterinary medicine into human medicine, helping to treat the villagers between Dr. Kubacki and Dr. Steven Foster’s site visits.
Here in Tchincombe, I met some really, really cool people. Dan and Mira, a couple from Canada who served on a past mission trip to Tchincombe was back to visit, contemplating about making a commitment to serve here. Mira is a nurse going back to med school, and Dan is in nursing school. Their church is involved with supporting this mission. They wanted to talk with a man from the village they had met on their previous trip about his view of God. They had asked him the last time they visited, but this time, they came armed with more Portuguese language so that they could better understand. They videotaped his response, and they were kind enough to let me observe! When asked about how he knew there was a God, he mentioned that he knew there was something bigger than him when he looked at the stars. When he started working at the farm at Tchincombe, he noticed beautiful singing coming from the church every Sunday morning. He slowly made his way closer and closer each week, until he eventually joined in, and was able to hear an account of Jesus. His parents were not Christians, and they believed in magic and evil spirits. Christianity was quite a transition from his upbringing. He was taught that evil spirits were causing sicknesses or deaths, and that this was punishment for when someone had done something bad.
I also met Amy, a missionary in her 20’s. She does girls ministry as well as horse training. In this culture, girls’ worth is proven by their ability to get pregnant and have children. They often start having babies in their early teens. They may not quite understand their value in God’s eyes, seeing their value in the eyes of the men of the village and the elders. Amy holds weekly discipleship groups where she cooks and eats dinner with the girls, and then holds some girl-talk afterwards to teach them about their true value. While I was there, Amy had Dan and Mira as guest speakers to give insight about how they live out their marriage.
It was pretty amazing to have so many missionaries conversing in one room during our lunch. We sat around a very large square table, and had some extremely interesting conversation. One conversation came up about having certain prayers answered, but even while enjoying those blessings we can get focused on problems in our lives, forgetting to enjoy the blessings we already received. (applying this from Psalm 78:29-30). Another conversation topic was about the dealing with different views on religious doctrine. A few of the missionaries agreed that arguments about interpretation of scripture hardly ever came up, mostly because they were focused on the work to do at hand. They likened this occurrence to a battle. When there is a battle to be fought, are we going to quibble over dotting I’s and T’s, or are we going to band together to defeat the enemy? Our conversation also swung to the maturity level of the missionary kids while talking about furloughs back to either Canada or the US. The missionary kids were surrounded by mostly adults their whole lives, and when they went back to the states, people were shocked at their ability to communicate with adults. I also noticed that these kids were incredibly mature and wise beyond their years.
See, I told you I met some great people! On to the medicine.
Dr. Kubacki’s opening talk before clinic started was about malaria and prevention, and warning that nearby villages were experiencing malaria season. People here knew that malaria could be prevented with mosquito nets over their beds. One person asked what they should do about the holes in their nets. The nets are difficult to afford, and getting cost and function-effective nets is a current project.
We had quite a few pregnant women come in to get their pregnancy checked out. One woman who had already had 6 children was 9 months along, but felt like her belly was not as big as when she had the other babies (she indeed looked 9 months to us). We ultrasounded the fetus, and she measured right according to her expected due date to her relief. Another elderly patient was there for back pain, and looked like she had osteoarthritis. Dr. Kubacki lit up saying that he remembered her. They took a growth off of her hip during a previous clinic, and afterward, Dr. Kubacki put his hand on her shoulder and prayed for her. He heard later on that she was intrigued by this act of prayer and kindness, and wanted to know more about this man’s God.
We had two people come in to have a tooth pulled, and we had to save this procedure for the next morning so that all patients could be seen. I was excited about this, because I had done a rotation in dental medicine for a couple weeks to learn how to numb up and pull a tooth, just for this moment! I strapped on my camping headlight (thanks, dad!) and went to it, feeling like a brand new dentist. The first person’s tooth came right out. I was not so lucky with the second person’s. I felt pretty bad for the guy, and I had to be pretty rough with the tooth to remove it and be able to get him out of pain, despite a seemingly adequate anesthesia block. Once it was out, his memory of the pain faded as she smiled, looking at the tooth. He decided to hang onto it.
After we left Tchincombe, we went into the city of Lubango so that I could fly out the next day. I was able to spend half a day at the surgical hospital, CEML. Here, I walked into the operating room, and was surprised to see my buddy and fellow medical student, Becca, helping to perform a hip replacement surgery. It was so cool to see her again, especially in her surgical element, after our major bonding experience of being stranded in Mukwando! I also met another 4th year med student, Jenn, who happened to know a resident I will be working with in Kansas. Small world!
My highlight of the afternoon was getting to see Dr. Steve Collins performing cataract surgery. He is such a unique, energetic, and kindhearted person. He was originally a family medicine doctor, but due to the need for a surgeon who could perform the cataract surgery in Angola, he decided to get trained. I felt so lucky to catch him on an operating day. While working on one patient, he removed the lens of the eye and his family medicine roots emerged: “It’s just like delivering a baby!” he stated. We got to talking, and I learned that he was in his 70’s (to my memory) and still lively as ever. I asked him if he had any arthritis in his hands. Not a bit, by grace of God, he replied as he stitched the cornea very precisely with a size 10 suture, less than the thickness of a human hair. He showed me his record book that listed of all the cataract surgeries he has done. It was a long, wide book that looked like it was out of a fairy tale, filled with his writing of the many patients on which he’s operated. The last name on the list was surgery number 19,239!
He asked me if I would be in the hospital tomorrow, and I had to tell him I’d be heading home in the morning. He was disappointed for me, for the fact that I was missing “the best part,” which was taking off the eye patches of the patients the next day. He told me that patients dance in the hallway, ecstatic that they can see again.
I had to leave the following day, with Dr. Kubacki dropping me off at the airport. It was a bit surreal, like I had just gotten there yet was saying goodbye to a friend I felt like I had known for years. I was not ready to go, but graduation back in Athens, OH was calling me.
My layover in Namibia made for a bit of fun. I got to try zebra at Joe’s Beer Shack, which tasted very much like steak. I had a crazy ride to the airport with a hilarious cab driver. At one point in the drive, we saw baboons crossing the road. As I exclaimed, “Baboons!” he squealed with a long breath and cackling that made me think he actually was crazy. He was very interested to know that I was from the US. Even though I am from Ohio, all he wanted to know about was LA. He promised that he would pay off my school loans if I would take him there. I did tell him that it would be a great place to make a living as a cab driver. I asked him to take me to the bank so that I could pay him in South African Rand, or I could just pay him in US dollars if he wanted. He was shocked that I offered the US money. “Really?” he asked. “Only if you want”. Since it was easier than going to the bank, I actually preferred that! When he dropped me off, I gave him a 20, a 5, and 5 ones, to give him a variety. I told him the conversion between the Rand and US dollar, which he did not know, yet trusted me anyway. He spread the money out in his hands, looking like he struck gold, and said a very gracious thank you before he quickly jumped in the cab and sped off.
My final flights were Namibia, to South Africa, to New York, to Charlotte, to Akron/Canton. I’ve never flown so much in my life! What a way to end medical school.