Editor: The following article was first published in an early MMM magazine. I enjoyed it so much I thought our blog readers would enjoy it too
by Medicus, an unnamed Volunteer Doctor 1957 30.07.2022
You never know what kind of a job you will be asked to do out here – outside of your regular work, I mean. It may be trying to get that bundle of capriciousness which goes by the name of “Hospital Transport” back into working order. In which case I’m usually the one supplying the sweat and the groans at the back, when the mechanical genius up the front can think of nothing else to do and blithely climbs into the car, lights a cigarette, and tosses out the careless words “All right now – try her with a bit of a push!” While he vainly clashes gears and pumps clutches with a warped and almost diabolical pleasure, you, with the shirt sticking to your back, think what you would really like to do with that push.
Or you might be asked to “do something” with an eccentric steriliser which persists in blowing steam out of the wrong holes. Here again I fulfil an important role. I fall into the part of apprentice who traffics back and forth, bringing the tools the plumber is traditionally supposed to forget. “Would you run up to the mission and bring down the big …. Spanner.” The stumbling block is in the …., but there is only one spanner, so I cunningly hide my ignorance. I get off to a flying start. “And, hey!” I return. “Bring a couple of steel washers.” I dash off again, to be recalled for a further briefing “a six-inch nail.” This time I take a few tentative steps and wait for the inevitable “and don’t forget the cigarettes!”
So I didn’t automatically reply “Are you mad?” when approached by the Sister-secretary and her cohorts with the request, “You’ll write an article for the magazine.” Perhaps a student of English would see something odd in the use of a statement as a request, but then I’m not so particular. Maybe you are thinking I’m a spineless sort of fellow, strictly under the thumb. Listen – years of first-hand observation of the single purposefulness which is the root of Medical Missionary achievement has taught me the truth of discretion being the better part of valour. So I gracefully acquiesced and agreed to write the article. After all, this was something I could do at my leisure; no sweat and grunts, no dashing off; no, but “and have it ready for the post on Wednesday.” Here we go again.
So here I am – plenty of assistance given in the line of ink and paper. All I need is a subject. As Dr. Sloan might say: “Aye, there’s the rub!” Lots of things jump into my head, an endless variety of interesting subjects all begging for the pen of a Cronin or – well, let’s not get involved too deeply – and none of them any good to me. Wednesday’s not too far off, so I’d better get a few sorted out and then pick the likeliest one.
“The Drama and Difficulties of the Night Emergency in a Mission Hospital.” The effort of shaking oneself awake and the half-formed prayer for the grace to make the right decision, for a steady hand, an alert mind; the groaning patient and his anxious relatives who have carried him in a hammock for miles across the bush; the easing of tension with the appearance of Sister and, less briskly, of oneself; and again an unspoken prayer that their hopes will not be unfounded; the setting into motion of the willing team of nurses who even at this unearthly hour insist on observing the proprieties with their “Good morning, Sister, Good morning, Doctor”; the operation under the flickering kerosene lamps; and then back to bed for a few hours before the rush of another day. Too bad it has been done before and better than I could do it, so let’s try something else.
How about the problem of rearing orphan twins and motherless babies? No, I’d probably get a sack full of letters about this. And if there is anything I hate it is people telling me where I am wrong – especially when they are right – so that’s out.
Building? We’re doing quite a bit of building around here on and off for the past few years, and more to come, please God. Our hospital may not be as imposing as some of the ones at home, but we think it is pretty good. I could write about “Modern Architectural Trends in Tropical Hospitals” and throw in a few terms I’ve heard the experts use. That’s rather a good title anyway. Awful to get a letter from some Dublin architect with an opening sentence such as “Your new ward has fallen, hasn’t it?” I’d better stick to something I know.
But what? Things are getting pretty desperate. About the only thing I can think of at present is “the Flora and Fauna of Africa.” Unfortunately, all I know about the Flora and Fauna of Africa would hardly fool even the inhabitants of the far north.
So here I am, with the best intentions of the world, as well as plenty of paper and ink, and nothing will come out. How I envy those people who can sit down at a typewriter and only stop pounding when they run out of paper. And me – I haven’t even a soft pencil I can chew.
And tomorrow is Wednesday.
Any doctor interested in an assistant with several years’ experience in tropical medicine?