Recently we had a busy day's operating with some 9 or 10 cases. We had almost finished about 5pm when a young man of 22 was brought in with a strangulated hernia. His case illustrates some of the problems with healthcare in these parts.
He first became ill 3 days previously and lives about 25 miles from the hospital. To treat the bulging hernia the family got a razor blade and made cuts on the overlying skin. This of course let infection inside. When finally they decided to come to the hospital they came by ox-cart, which takes about 12 hours. When he arrived he was almost dead, but as he knew I would be angry at the delay and him treating himself, he told lies, saying that he only became ill that morning.
Local treatments, tremendous transport difficulties, and patients' unwillingness to be truthful about their illness all combine often to make diagnosis and management of cases very difficult.
Lorraine assisted me with the operation and we found that part of the man's intestine was already dead and had to be removed. We always pray with each patient before surgery and include a little word in the gospel. In such cases there is the very real possibility that it could be the final message in the gospel they will hear.
Earlier we had a very sad case. A really promising young brother in the assembly, who was a school teacher, developed a serious abdominal condition on Sunday morning. He was scheduled to speak at a meeting in the assembly that day. I had just left for a short trip to Lusaka the previous day. We had a visiting anaesthetist at the hospital and John Woodfield from Kalene was flown down by the CMML flight service to operate. The local believers gathered around the theatre to pray for the young man. Despite everything that could be done, he died. This was a great loss to us as we have all too few such young men in the assembly.
A week later another man was brought in after having been drinking and then being hit by a car. He had two major life-threatening injuries of his chest and abdomen, but survived the surgery. One of the nurses said to Lorraine, "Was it not strange that a believer should die while the drunk man should survive?". Lorraine pointed out that our brother had gone to be the Lord and was at home. If the drunken man had died he would have been in a lost eternity and perhaps God had, in his mercy, spared him that he might be saved. Wonderfully, that was what happened. A few days later when he came round, another of the nurses here, Jill, spoke to him about the Lord and he professed salvation. A week later it was a thrill to see him walk out of the hospital not only physically alive but also spiritually.
We had a visit from the plastic surgeon from Lusaka. Among the cases he saw were two sisters aged 13 and 8 both with cleft palates. They had come 30 miles to see him in the hope that something could be done, but, alas, he had not brought his instruments for that type of surgery on the palate. However, one of the sisters' missionary classes at home had recently sent us out several boxes of surgical instruments. I had opened one of those boxes two days before and there were the very items that we needed for that particular type of surgery. The Lord works using His people in many different places and different ways to bring help and healing to those in need.
Sister Julie-Rachel Elwood from the Cloughfern assembly was with us for 4 months and was a tremendous help. She is a trained theatre nurse and assisted me for almost all the surgery during that period. In addition she had just come from doing ophthalmic theatre nursing and so was a big help with our cataract surgery. We did a large number of cataracts during her time with us. Many of these patients come from a long distance. One man came from Cazombo in Angola, where Emily and Eva used to work. He came completely blind and can now walk around seeing.
We had a much-appreciated visit from a dentist, Jonathan Longhurst, in July. He did over 60 extractions in the same period and taught me how to do fillings. We were also very grateful for the help in June, while I was still away, of Clare Craig from Ahoghill who had just qualified as a doctor. Clare very kindly came out in the interval between her final examinations and her graduation to give much appreciated assistance. We were also grateful for the help of two medical students from Liverpool, Katherine Moss and Sarah Richardson, during the summer. It is a real encouragement to see young folk with a desire to help others and to advance the work of the Lord. Also during the summer Anne-Marie and Melisa from Kansas were a real blessing with their help at the hospital and in the school.
In August, while on a brief visit to us for a medical check-up, brother Reuben Matondo from Loloma transformed the Sunday afternoon Sunday School at the old hospital into a gospel meeting and a huge crowd turned up. One man got saved. Reuben is a wonderful man. He is a nurse, and was in his 60s when we operated last year for a stomach tumour. There seemed little hope, but he has kept well since then, and the Lord obviously still has work for him to do! Reuben also went round the entire hospital distributing tracts to all the patients.
In August I also managed to take the ministry meeting in Lunda, which encouraged me, although I still need to work much at the language. It remains difficult to find time. August was also the month for various young people's camps, and the word of God was proclaimed to the many teenage children by a number of local brethren. With the spread of Aids in these parts it is so important that young folk come to know the Lord and keep their lives pure. Our son Philip was a big help in transporting people and supplies to the campsite.
Another development is that since November Flying Mission has based a plane here at Chitokoloki. The pilot is an American brother, Mr Philip Smith, commended from one of the assemblies there. His wife is called Vella and they have a 16 year old son, Bradley. In the past they have worked with MAF in Congo. The plane will open up many possibilities such as me flying to Loloma to do day-surgery, and possibly to Dipalata for emergency surgery when they get their airstrip ready.
The senior pilot came up in November to do some training flights for Philip and on the Tuesday lunchtime just minutes after they had come back from the last training flight there was an emergency phone call from Sister Betty Magennis. A tree had fallen on a girl whose mother is in fellowship in the Dipalata assembly. She had a ruptured spleen and seemed about to die. Would it be possible for the plane to pick her up at Zambezi? Within minutes they were airborne again and in less than an hour the patient was back and in our operating theatre. The picture shows the patient being hurriedly transferred from the plane to the hospital. There was still one problem - we had no blood available. Kanombi the laboratory technician went to sister Dorothy Woodside's house and she gave a good pint of her O negative blood. This allowed us to start the surgery. Then the girl's mother gave more blood. Still about halfway through the operation the patient had lost a lot blood so Tanis, who was doing the anaesthetic, also gave a unit of blood which was taken in the theatre and transfused directly into the patient. Lorraine assisted me with the operation and in the goodness of the Lord, and, thanks to many different people, the girl survived and is doing well.
It has been a great encouragement to all here to see the new maternity unit at Dipalata. This was built in around 6 months by a number of brethren from Northern Ireland. When I saw it a few months ago it was not finished but it was clearly a marvellous structure. Even the local Catholic priest in the area said what a wonderful building it was! It is great testimony in the district to the care of God's people for those less privileged and it will be a great blessing both to the patients and to the missionaries at Dipalata. A small operating theatre has been incorporated in the design and it is hoped eventually we will be able to do some surgery there.