Young patient at the Buea Seventh-day Adventist Outpatient Clinic
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40
“Where’s the baby with the big eye?” I turned to one of our nurses as I walked rapidly back from the hospital to our overflowing outpatient clinic where nurses and doctor see twenty to thirty patients per day, sometimes more if it’s a Monday.
The nurse shrugged. “I don’t know which patient you mean, doctor.”
“You know, the little boy with the red, puffy eye – it was almost swollen shut. He was sitting in the waiting room earlier in the morning.”
“Oh, that baby,” the nurse answered with sudden recollection. “I gave him some eye ointment. They didn’t want to consult the doctor. ”
“What?” I stopped. “He had orbital cellulitis. I could diagnose him from across the room. He needs intravenous antibiotics.”
“It was an antibiotic eye ointment,…” the nurse’s voice sounded hopeful.
I shook my head. “No, it’s not enough. Have you ever seen orbital cellulitis before?”
“It’s an infection around the eye. Because the eye is so close to the brain, the infection can spread. If left untreated, it can cause blindness or even death.”
The nurse was silent. We walked in stride back to the clinic teaming with clients returned from the laboratory and impatiently waiting to receive their diagnosis and prescriptions so they could go home and recover. I pulled down a well-worn green paperback from my office shelf. Flipping through the pages, I found the particular section I wanted. “Here, read this about orbital cellulitis.” I pointed out the appropriate paragraphs. “Let me know when you finish reading.”
Buea is a town of about 200,000 inhabitants from a diverse background – farmers, government civil servants, university students, and foreign volunteers. Our little health centre consists of an outpatient clinic containing a pharmacy and several consultation rooms. There is also a larger building that contains an eleven-bed hospital complete with a delivery suite and theatre (operating room). The laboratory is housed in the hospital.
The health centre has been serving the people of Buea since 1971. In 2012, the long anticipated hospital building opened its doors to 24/7 hour emergency services, admissions, and infant deliveries. We’re not a large operation but it’s enough to keep one doctor busy.
As we grow and new staff and international volunteers join the health care team, the challenge is to remember our mission statement: “As Jesus loved and served, it is our mission to serve and love the people of Buea by providing access to world class health services and education; and to encourage our clients to total health: spiritual; physical; emotional; and intellectual.” It’s not always easy but certain instances happen that remind me we can still maintain our commitment to excellence.
I was wiping down my exam table with a spray bottle of eau d’javel (bleach) that was stubbornly spurting erratic streams of disinfectant when the nurse returned with an anxious frown on her face. “Doctor, I’m so afraid! I didn’t know…”
The nurse who saw the little baby with the eye infection was back. She finished her assigned reading. Her eyes filled with tears and her face expressed anxious concern for her former patient. “It’s ok,” I reassure her. “It’s a learning experience. Now you know. You won’t forget.”
She nodded her head.
“You need to call the patient’s family and have them bring him back for proper antibiotics now.”
“Yes, doctor,” she hurried off to look up the client information in our register.
A few minutes later she returned with a frown. “Doctor, the phone number is not correct.” She wrung her hands, obviously quite disturbed.
“Well, we’ll pray that the family brings him back.” I try to console her. “We’ve done everything we could.” The nurse hangs her head miserably. “But what if…” her voice trailed off. She’s read about the complications of untreated orbital cellutlitis.
Administrative concerns distracted me for the next several hours. The missing baby with the eye infection slipped my mind as I discussed quality control indicators and quarterly business plans. It was almost five o’clock by the time I was free. “Doctor, he’s back.” The nurse held a medical booklet in her hand.
“Who’s back?” I asked, momentarily confused.
“The baby with the eye infection.” She smiled, “we found him.”
“Praise God,” I answered with relief flooding my mind. “Let’s go see him and get the proper medicine started for him.” We walked together to the hospital where the baby and his mother were waiting. “How did the family decide to come back?” I was curious what prompted the family to return to the clinic so quickly since we had not been able to contact them.
“Oh, we went looking for them, doctor.”
“You went looking for them?” I echoed back, shocked.
“But how did you find him?” Our patients only give a neighbourhood when asked their address. A neighbourhood covers hundreds of people.
“We went for a walk in his neighbourhood and asked everyone we saw if they knew where the boy with the big eye lived. Eventually someone directed us to the correct house.”
“But how long did that take you?”
“About an hour, maybe a little more.”
I am humbled at the dedication she and her colleague showed today. The two nurses went above and beyond their expected duties in their search for the baby. They put aside their paperwork and other duties they will have to catch up on later and, instead, spent their time wandering the dirt streets of Buea trying to find a sick little boy that needed further medicine.
The nurse and her willing colleague demonstrated God’s love in finding him and caring for him. To God be the glory for their compassionate, dedicated service to Christ and his children. I’m delighted to report that the little boy is healed now with no complications from his eye infection.
“Missionary zeal does not grow out of intellectual beliefs, nor out of theological arguments, but out of love.” - Roland Allen