Monthly Archive for June, 2010

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A Surgical Time Machine

I suppose everyone, at one point or another, has dreamed of a time machine being possible.

Yes he played for the blackhawks...

There are plenty of amazing things that have happened that seemed crazy at the time, starting with the earth revolving around the sun and ending with watching a Stanley Cup Hockey game live on a computer in Cameroon.  If you would have told Bobby Orr back in 1961 that he could watch the Blackhawks win the Cup while on safari in Africa, he put you in a straight jacket himself.  And not just because he knew they wouldn’t win another cup until 2010, hopefully.  So one day I asked my buddy Ian, who publicly goes to school in “Boston” (his polite way of not saying MIT), is it possible in the most ridiculous sense that a time machine could ever be invented?

He said no, and then proceeded to explain the scientific reasoning why we’d have to travel faster than the speed of light or something, don’t quite remember, or comprehend.  I probably was just demoralized when he denied my dream of living history.  However, I am here to inform everyone that there is a back door to a time machine, traveling.

Dr. Georges starting operating at 6pm, and when I saw his first patient on what looked like a wider ironing board, I thought to myself, “This must have been just what surgery was like back in World War II, maybe even earlier!”  Frankly it’s not that much of a stretch.  The operating room had two tables (still resembling longer, wider ironing boards) separated by a makeshift curtain.  The room wasn’t equipped with lighting, so one of our guys Etienne, installed some electric circuitry a now there was a lightbulb dangling above one of the operating tables.  The other table was lit was a plugged in flood lamp.  The room had one window, two geckos, a door, and a tin roof.  The roof had been heated up by the sun so much during the day that it now felt like it was heating the operating room to an unbearable temperature.  Maybe it was that 12 people were in the OR.  And the walls were cement through and through.

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Jungle Medicine

We arrived in Maboye, an isolated jungle village in Cameroon, at 9pm to a crowd of about 200 villagers.  As soon as they saw our headlights, they rose from their seats and came to greet us with hugs, handshakes, and singing.  After all personal and medicinal baggage was unloaded, Pastor Nselba Bikoi Bruno had us all sit in the main room of the biggest home in the village.  There a 10 year old girl had a prepared welcome in French for Dr. Bwelle and gave him flowers.  The Pastor made a little speech, thanked us profusely, and had the women of the village bring in platters of food, a feast they prepared for us.

Dr. Bwelle received plastic flowers from a young girl, note the awesome UVM t-shirt

Giant plates of whole fried fish, chicken, porcupine, bread, rice, plantaines, and ndolet were displayed on the table for eating.  That was fortunate, for we had just spent over an hour trying to free our van from the jungle road.

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Jungle Travel

We left Yaounde with two vehicles, a small European Toyota Corolla and a large 20 passenger Toyota van. All of the luggage on most vans and buses in Cameroon is placed on a roof rack as you can see from the picture on the previous blog post.

Messeman, Zenge, and a little of Dr. Bwelle in the van

So much has happened in the first couple days that I will attempt to capture the few that are most interesting.

There were several reasons I ventured to Africa, one of which was for the sheer sense of adventure. My first full day provided just that, but I can’t even describe the half of it. I left you last as we left Yaounde on the road toward Douala. From that main paved road, we turned off onto a dirt road, more of a path than a road. It was the quintessential African jungle road that anyone would love to take their Land Rover on.

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Urban Africa

Our Toyota Van

After dinner on Thursday, I bathed. This is when it hit me that I was in Africa. There was no running water in Yaounde today. George and Zenge had set out buckets outside to collect the rainwater off the roof and this was the water used to bathe. Oh yeah, there are no sinks either.

So I poured cold water on myself with a small pitcher, which was actually quite refreshing. Then I did my best to lather myself up while standing. More on the bathroom: it’s actually a toilet/shower all in one. Imagine the footprint of a square shower that doesn’t have a bathtub, and that is approximately the size of the whole bathroom, maybe George’s was a little bigger. The toilet is on one side and the shower is typically on the opposite corner (it normally works) and the floor just drains. Pretty efficient use of floor space if you ask me.

Also, water that comes out of the drain can’t be used to brush your teeth, only bottled water.

I awoke several times in the middle of the night hearing the tap tap tapping of little mouse feet on the tile floor. In the morning, breakfast was awaiting me, Zenge, and Messeman; George had left early in the morning to go to the hospital where he works. We had a baguette with mayonnaise and tea with milk in it.

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