Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Last Minute

Photos Compliments of Moriah Ward
November 2010

"Should I take my winter coat and wind breaker or should I just bring my jacket and wear layers? Do I have my malaria tablets?" My mind is racing as I scan things in the house preparing to leave for our first annual leave. Our taxi driver is due to drive us to the Douala international airport in just an hour. I suddenly remember I need to pack a few souvenirs I had bought earlier in the year for gifts. They are sitting on the dining room buruea waiting for me to forget to bring them back with me to the States! I quickly round them up and try to figure out where to stuff them into our suitcase.

Earlier today, I thought I would get these details finished. However, as I was getting out of bed, a patient urgently needed to be seen in the hospital. She was a regular patient, a neighbor, who had suffered a week with malaria. She was just back from Dubai where she had been doing business. She refused treatment in Dubia in order to come to 'her hospital' where she trusted the staff. I am honored. After I finish my clinical exam and write hospital admitting orders, I tell her I am leaving for a month's vacation this evening. She barely made it here in time to see me before I head off. (Later, I get a chance to introduce her to Dr. Matthew Matiko, my replacement. I am greatful I can reassure her that the quality medical care she needs and expects will continue under his direction).

As I finish my admission, I get ready for church. I am locking the front door and heading off to church when the nurse runs up and says there is another patient that insists on seeing only 'the doctor'. He turns out to be another 'regular'. He suffered a stroke a couple years ago. Due to residual left sided paralysis, he walks with a cane and cannot close his mouth completely. He carries a ragged, hand-towel around to wipe the continueal drool. My heart always goes out to him. He used to work as a government civil servant. In order to gain that position, one must have a fair amount of charm and manners. Yet his residual weakness, facial droop, ragged drool-towel, and slurred speech, do not match his intellegent questions now. Much of our conversation occurs as he painfully writes out his words. He understands my American English perfectly. By the time I complete my exam and write out his prescriptions, Sabbath school time has passed. I wonder if it is worth trying to catch the sermon. "Well, Bill is there and it is my last chance to say good-bye to friends at church, guess, I'll try to catch the sermon end," I think. Although, I miss most of the sermon, the pastor has a special prayer for Bill and I at the close of the service. He and the congregation bow their heads in prayer for blessings on our trip.

Doctor Matthew Matiko arrives this afternoon after church. We have three hours before Bill and I depart Buea. He will be living in our house for the month we are gone. He has come as my replacement. I am super thankful for his willingness to volunteer his services for the entire time I am gone. Although annual leave hasnbeen approved for over 6 months, no one had a solution for a covering physician until about one month ago when Matt's name turned up at an AHI conference meeting. With much prayer, Matt has been able to secure tickets and a Cameroon VISA in less than a month! (If anyone has ever tried to obtain a Cameroon Visa, you realize what a miracle this is). Matt's flight was delayed causing him to spend the night in Ethiopia. Hence, he arrived here just 3 hours before our departure. 

Where do you begin when you have just 3 hours to orientate someone from a foregin country who arrives to care for your house, pets, and hospital?! Despite over 48 hours of international travel, Matt has managed to appear interested as  I attempted a crash course in Cameroon-French medications and their uses, tropical disease and treatment along with a refresher in prenatal /obstetric and pediatric care. I introduced him to the four-key lock system on our clinic door. I give him a quick peek at our tiny lab with a microscope, centrifuge, and rapid kit tests for HIV, syphilis, streptococcus antibody, chlamydia, typhoid, and other common infections. I explain the two-step ladder that patient's need to use in order to climb up onto my antique exam table. Inside our house, Bill gives Matt all the instructions he will need to feed and care for Jordan (our dog) and Milo (our cat). In addition, we overload him with instructions on internet complexities, hot water for baths, porch light on/off issues, and other details of living in Cameroon.

As I finish giving Matt a tour of the health centre, I remember something I forgot at the clinic. I rush down only to remember that the nurse back in the hospital has the keys. I run back to the hospital for the key. I run up the two-tier ramp to reach the second floor of the hospital. It is the first floor to open for overnight admissions. When equipment arrives, we hope to open the lower floor with a delivery suit and operating room. By the time I start back, ominous thunder rumbles in the distance and dark clouds and a brisk wind announce the eminent arrival of a flash rain storm. I run to the clinic and quickly get what I need before dashing back home. 

As I arrive on the front steps I find that our laboratory assistant, Regina, has arrived back from a three day conference put on by the Peace Corps. She has brought with her Andrea. This is the first time I have met Andrea. She is to be our new volunteer starting in December. She came back with Regina for a one week sneak peek of Buea before finishing her orientation. 

I am excited to meet Andrea. I did not know if she would get back to Buea before we left for annual leave. It is nice to put a face with her name now. But there is less than 30 minutes now before Bill and I must be packed and ready to head down the mountain. I give her my hurried welcome. We exchange brief greetings. Because of the storm, Regina and our two nurses also crowd into our living room. One nurse is coming on shift, the other is waiting for the rain to slow down before walking home as she goes off shift. I welcome everyone and get them seated on our eclectic collection of patio furniture, folding chairs, and elderly sofa.

 They continue to exchange pleasentries as I turn my attention back to packing. Bill comes out of our bedroom. "I have your national ID," he says. 

"Thanks!" I reply. I cannot believe I almost forgot it! I would not get back into Cameroon without my Cameroon identity card.

People are starting to get hungry. It is close to 7 o'clock at night. Cherilyn and Moriah, our two student missionary nurses who live next door in an attached one-room apartment, come over. They start putting pots on the stove for boiling water for pasta. They get some bread out and begin the rest of the food preparations for supper.  

Time is running short. I think I have everything packed. Cherilyn and Moriah have the water boiling on the pots. People are settled into our living room getting to know the "newbies". Heather, another volunteer in Buea, is on her way to pick up Andrea and host her for her week. I never did find time to sweep the floors or wash the dishes. Oh, well! Eventually, things seem to work out. Most of the time, at the last minute! At the last minute, God provided a replacement physician. At the last minute, Andrea showed up so we could meet her before leaving for the month. At the last minute, our student missionary nurses take over cooking and settling in our new doctor. At the last minute, the rain stops so our taxi driver can carry our luggage to the car without getting soaked. To be honest, I am not always comfortable with everything being last minute. I would have liked to tell my patients that someone was going to be at the clinic to follow up their problems in an appriate manner a month ago. I would have liked to give doctor Matt more time to feel at home in our house and clinic. Ideally, it would have been good to spend a few days seeing patients with him so he could get used to Cameroon medicine. One must be flexible! Christ reminds me, most appropriately, "...do not worry about tomorrow; sufficient the troubles for today..." 

"True, Lord," I think. 

As I finally start to relax safely boarded on the airplane, I remember I Peter 3:5. "Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you." It is a comfort to know that our little health centre is in God's capable hands -- no matter where I travel. And...He does care!