Category Archives: On the Field: Guest Bloggers

On The Field: Jen in East Africa

I’m really excited to introduce a new feature to the blog, one that I hope will continue for a good while. When we were in Kenya, I started thinking about all the people we know doing incredible things in amazing places all over the world. I wondered about ways to share all this coolness with friends at home. Then it dawned on me…the blog! What a perfect place to share the stories of our friends with all of you who have followed us on our own journeys. Yay!

So today I introduce you to Jen, our very first guest blogger on the feature we’ll be calling On The Field. Jen and her husband, Todd, are currently living in Kenya, but she’s been all over the world. We first met Jen and Todd in the Amsterdam airport back in January on our way to Kenya. They saw Pete near our gate and noticed he was wearing a Samaritan’s Purse shirt. They struck up a conversation and realized we were all headed to the same hospital in Kenya. Sweet! We had a great two months with them going to local churches and explored the area, and having picnics, movie nights, and dinners together. They will be spending two years at Tenwek Hospital, and we really, really hope we get to work with them again in the future!

Without further ado, here’s Jen’s guest post!

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Jen Lavery
missionary in Kenya with World Medical Mission, a part of Samaritan’s Purse
with my husband around Tenwek

It didn’t dawn on me until I was in college that my parents’ lives and, therefore, my own home life weren’t normal. I think whatever we’re raised with becomes our norm. Knowing that my parents got on a plane for the first time at age 22 to move from their small farming community in Northwest Iowa to teach English for two years on the Arabian Gulf island nation of Bahrain seemed perfectly normal to me. That my Dutch American dad cooked Indian curry, that I could say “thank you” in Arabic at age three because we spent a year in Cairo, and that we moved all our earthly belongings from New York to Salalah, Oman when I was eight was also normal.

in Egypt

By the time I started college, I had lived in New Jersey, Egypt, New York, two different cities in Oman, and back to my birthplace of Bahrain. My international classmates growing up lived equally geographically haphazard lives. I didn’t know anyone apart from my cousins in Iowa who lived in the same place their whole lives.

in Oman

I have continued to move around as an adult: from Michigan to Honduras to Texas to England to Mozambique to Texas to Michigan and now to Kenya. What drives me? It depends on the move. Sometimes the driving force is education (as a student or as a teacher), sometimes for an interesting job, and sometimes for love of a man. Ultimately, just as my parents made each of their moves, I believe I make mine based on guidance from God and a desire to serve Him in underserved areas.

flying into South Sudan

One of the first conversations my husband and I had when we met was about why he wanted to go to Africa when there was so much need in Detroit. He was in surgical residency in Detroit at the time where he had also gone to medical school. He was intentionally living in the ghetto and was involved in an inner-city church plant. He seemed invested in serving the poor of Detroit, but I knew he wanted to go to Africa after residency, so I asked him why. He explained: “Yes, Detroit is very poor, and there is a lot of need here. But everyone has access to medical care. They don’t in Africa, and I think that’s wrong.” His words resonated so strongly with me as that was exactly why I had left teaching in a needy area of Houston to pursue educational development in Mozambique.

the compound where I stay in South Sudan

My husband, by the way, has spent his entire life in Michigan. His parents still live in the same suburban house they moved into when Todd was five. Even though it was a big deal for his parents that he moved into downtown Detroit (and now to Africa!), he makes his moves seem effortless and normal.

neighborhood kids in South Sudan

Nine months into marriage and three months into our two years at Tenwek Hospital in Western Kenya, Todd and I are pursuing our dream of helping to develop medicine and education in Africa. I never anticipated that we’d end up in one of the most developed and most Christian countries in Africa. But it’s a perfect place for us now, for Todd to learn about surgery in Africa and how to train national residents, and for us to live in a slightly easier, more comfortable African environment with a large English-speaking community as we focus on establishing a solid marriage.

typical South Sudanese market

I still do, however, get my “African challenge” as I travel five times a year to South Sudan. In 2005, I explored a teaching position at a teacher training college in South Sudan. It didn’t work out to go at the time, yet my heart has very much been inclined toward South Sudan since then but with no apparent open doors to go. As Todd and I prayed about coming to Tenwek and explored how I could be involved beyond simply tagging along as “spouse”, a Tenwek doctor connected me to Joy Phillips of Mango Ministries, who invited me to join her on her community health trips to South Sudan to begin educational projects. After a visioning trip in February, I am now working on preparing trainings on Community Health and Evangelism for Children, workshops for adolescent girls focusing on delaying marriage and promoting education, and a campaign for HIV/AIDS.

women coming to market

Surgery at Tenwek and community health and education in South Sudan will be our norm for the next two years, and it really does feel normal for both of us. What makes it normal? The same thing that made it normal for my parents to raise their children in the Middle East: We get to do what God has made us passionate about and what He’s given us skills for. We simply get to do what we love doing.

boys mimicking their older brothers making bricks
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Jen and her husband have a great blog that follows their adventures and daily life in East Africa. You can find it by clicking HERE. Also, Jen wrote a beautiful post last fall about how South Sudan was put on her heart. Click HERE to read it.

Please pray for Jen & Todd as they head off to Zambia today. They will be there for at least a few weeks while Todd fills in for a surgeon there. The crazy thing is that he’ll be the only surgeon, a common occurrence in African hospitals. Such adventures!

our Sammy with Todd

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From Pete: My First Delivery in Africa

Today’s post is the first time that Pete, my husband, has ever written on the blog. His story is moving as he describes what he experienced while working in the Kenyan hospital today where we are currently living.

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I’ve been wondering for months, maybe even years, what my first delivery would be like after we arrived in Africa. Would it be a vaginal delivery? A cesarean section? Would instruments be available? What about assistants? Would I even be in a hospital? You see, I’m used to the very best.

As a 3rd year resident at the Duluth Family Medicine Residency Program, most of the vaginal deliveries I’ve participated in are attended by two or more physicians—an attending, a resident and sometimes even an intern. By the time the patient is ready to give birth, she and the baby have been carefully monitored for hours. We have a good idea of what to expect, and we have everything we need in case something doesn’t happen the way it should.

For those vaginal deliveries that take an unexpected turn, we can change over for a cesarean section in about 10 minutes. By the time we arrive in the pristine operating room with the patient, an array of sterilized, neatly wrapped surgical tools is waiting for us, along with a team of trained surgical technicians who will later hand them to us when requested (often even before–they know each surgery so well!). An anesthesia team is there to provide pain control and to intubate and breathe for a patient in case of a “crash section” (emergency surgery to save mom and/or baby). The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit has a resuscitation team and an incubator ready in addition to all the tubes, lines and cords needed for the most serious of resuscitations. Oh…and our awesome obstetric nurses are there, too.

I could go on, of course. But we’re not there. We’re in Africa. And it’s different here.

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It didn’t start the way I expected it would. I was paged to Casualty (the emergency department) to attend to an 18-year-old who was pregnant with her first child. She hadn’t reported any contractions or vaginal bleeding. I didn’t even have time to ask her if she felt her baby moving.

There wasn’t time for questions. When I arrived in the small room crowded with eight beds and even more patients standing or sitting as they waited for care, the clinical officer (CO, similar to a physician’s assistant) looked at me with panic. He pulled back a curtain to reveal a flurry of activity: The young woman was lying on a bed. A nurse was hurrying to start an IV while humming a hymn. Another nurse had just arrived with an oxygen mask, freshly washed and ready for reuse.

The CO rapidly explained that two girls had dropped the patient off at the door; they couldn’t be found. I felt the young woman’s pedal pulse. It was weak and thready. I glanced up at her face. She looked slightly ashen, and was gasping for air. Her uterus was at or below her belly button, meaning that the baby was either small or at about 20 weeks gestation or less. (A nurse confirmed she was 20 weeks pregnant shortly thereafter.)

Don’t forget the ABCs, I told myself. Airway, Breathing and Circulation. She has a pulse, and she’s breathing (albeit with difficulty), but she’s losing her airway. As I moved to the head of the bed, a dark, liquid began spilling from the patient’s nose and mouth. We suctioned, intubated and started breathing for her. Then we placed a nasogastric tube and suctioned another 200 mL or so of the black substance from her stomach. We still don’t know what it was.

By now the cardiac monitor was on and the patient’s heart rate was in the 130s. One of the nurses looked up and told us the initial blood pressure was 70/50 mmHg, but now she couldn’t get one. I felt the patient’s neck for a carotid pulse; there was none. “Start CPR,” I said.

With the chest compressions we heard intermittent cracks (ribs breaking from the pressure). At two minutes, we checked for a pulse and gave epinephrine to shunt blood back to the heart and encourage cardiac activity. We kept doing CPR and giving her epinephrine every three minutes, checking for a pulse each time. After 40 minutes without a pulse, I called it. “Time of death: 10:24 a.m.,” I said softly.

I helped the nurses clean the patient, remove the lines and apply fresh linens. Then I prepared for the hard part—talking with the family.

I had a room prepared so I could tell them that the mother and her baby had died. They were inconsolable, of course. I spent a few moments with them before I left them with the chaplain and returned to the emergency department where another patient needed care.

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Two days later, the family returned with one request: to have the opportunity to bury the mother and baby separately. I spoke with my supervising physicians who agreed this was reasonable.

I led the family to the morgue and had them wait in the office. It was time for my first delivery in Africa, a postmortem cesarean section.

She laid draped in a perfect white sheet on a rusty, steel table. Even though the mother was dead, I used a surgical technique very similar to the one my attendings in Duluth had trained me to do. As I cut, the smell of formalin filled my nostrils. A moment later, I delivered a beautiful, tiny, lifeless little girl. I carefully closed the mother’s tissues, using a subcuticular stitch to close the skin.  It wasn’t necessary, but it felt right.

I draped the mother again and then carefully attended to her little girl, who was only slightly larger than my hand. I washed her gently and placed her in a new swaddling blanket, her arms gently folded.

One of the morgue attendants went to get the father and the rest of the family. They arrived, not knowing what to expect, but when dad saw me holding his baby girl, his eyes started tearing. I asked if she had a name. “Fancy…Fancy is her name,” he said, barely audible. “Well, Fancy is a beautiful little girl,” I said, handing the swaddled baby to dad. “I’m sorry that her time with us was so short, but I believe that she is now with Jesus where there is no pain and no suffering…where we’ll all be together again.”

I began to pray, my two fingers on the side of Fancy’s head as we invited God to be with us and bring His peace. Everyone, now in tears, slowly filed out of the room. Dad stayed a moment, took one last look at Fancy, handed her to me, and said, “Asanti” (thank you).

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The rain refreshed us as we walked from the morgue back to the hospital where we parted ways. It was early evening, and I was done for the day. I loosened my tie and draped my white coat over my arm to the let the rain gently wash over me on the way home.

I was greeted by a beautiful little girl who came dashing up to me yelling, “Daddy, Daddy, I have an umbrella for you.” I scooped Ella into my arms and kissed her. I walked toward apartment No. 7 and let my eyes meet Angela’s. She knew instantly. She simply has a way of knowing that no one else does. I kissed and snuggled Sam, our son, before she quickly swept both children into their bedrooms for the night. I let the warm shower wash off the formalin, then I dressed and sat on the living room couch, reflecting on what had happened.

Yes, this young woman losing her life and her baby was tragic. But in the end, I’ve never been able to stop someone from dying. Hester Lynch Piozzi, an 18th century British author, once said, “A physician can sometimes parry the scythe of death, but has no power over the sand in the hourglass.” It’s true.

But I’ve also learned that one of the most compassionate acts we can do for one another is to relieve suffering and pain—to make room for healing. And tonight, when one dad looked back at another, there was a silent understanding that healing had begun, and then a quiet “Asanti.”

Pete's Fancy


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