Mbingo Baptist Hospital: view from Mbingo Hill

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Package

Hi there. Now that we have been here almost a year, we are finally becoming more culturally savvy. This, however, was not always the case. I wanted to take a moment to reminisce on an interesting experience that occurred back in August. The following is an email that I sent to my parents after a very memorable experience regarding a package. Life simply moves at a different pace here in Cameroon. Many parts are endearing, and others are a little frustrating, but if you can smile and laugh, it all works out pretty well.

Today was an ordeal... I rounded early this morning to make my way to Fundong (about a 25 km drive north or the hospital), where there were reportedly 5 parcels waiting for our pickup. The odd part about all of this is that I knew y'all had sent three packages in May, and I was not sure where the other two were coming from, or why I was picking up packages in the end of August that had been sent in May... The other oddity was that I had received word about 4 weeks ago that the packages were in Bamenda (which is the biggest city on the northwest province, boasts about 500,000 people, and is a "teeming mass of humanity," as I like to call it). However, when George Ngwang (our go-to guy at the CBC headquarters in Bamenda) tried to retrieve the packages, the Post Master was absent from his station for 2 weeks straight, and then the packages were mysteriously transferred to Fundong... which means that the packages took a 35 km trip from Bamenda, right past the hospital, and continued on another 25 km to Fundong, without ever stopping to drop off the packages. However, neither here nor there… We will never quite understand why things work the way they do. 

But that being said, I was very intrigued to go and retrieve the parcels and to find out what was in them. This was supposed to be an easy trip - 30 minutes there, 10 minutes in the post office, 30 minutes back. We left at 0930. The first warning was the fact that the car had neither seat belts nor mirrors. My driver told me he did not think this vehicle was typically used for carrying passengers, but it was all that was left, so we would make do. We took off on a beautiful morning with golden rays of sun shining in the windows and casting an emerald glow on the grass covered rolling hills. It was absolutely breathtaking! 25 minutes later, after lots of windy roads, beautiful vistas, and long, cascading waterfalls, we passed through Belo, and then Njinikom, and then the car broke down on a rather large uphill climb about 5 km outside of Fundong. The hood was smoking, the car smelled of burning electrical gear, and the driver quickly discovered that one of the main electrical cables running from the battery had eroded through as was flaming. We got out of the car. 

At this point, I was loaded into a local taxi (car made for 5 people max), that already had 6 passengers in it. I was the fourth person to sit across the back row that seats 2 comfortably, 3 at max. I sat there, with my rear purchased in the air, one cheek on the armrest of the door, the other on the lady's thigh next to me. We rode 10 km like this and I lost all feeling in my lower extremities. The lady on whose lap I was seated had purple hair and was singing hymns in broken English. We safely arrived at the post office - a large, mud and brick building with a tin roof and three fluorescent light bulbs inside, one of which worked. The front steps were covered in moss, and I was the only customer there, and there was one lady working at the office. She seemed like she had been expecting my arrival and quickly produced 5 packages addressed to Dr. Young. I did not bother to ask why they had made this long journey from Bamenda to Fundong, right past the hospital front doorstep without being dropped off. I paid a small tax for the arduous journey the packages had taken and then tried to call my driver to get an update on the car. 

He answered. He assured me that all would be well - "please just wait for me, and I will be there shortly." 45 minutes later I began to walk in the direction of the broken down car. He later "beeped" me - meaning, he called me but hung up before the call was connected so that he would not be charged any minutes. He informed that perhaps I should take a taxi to the car, and by the time I arrived, perhaps he and the electrician would have it figured out. I continued to walk, was passed on the road by 5 motorcycle taxis and 3 car taxis before a young gentleman honked and pulled over to add me to the car - I was again the 7th passenger in car that holds 5. We made short time to the broken down truck, and the electrician had yet to even arrive. So, my driver instructed the taxi driver to take me to Mbingo. About 3 minutes later, the heavens opened up and I was very glad to be inside the taxi, despite not having any room to sit. It was an absolute downpour, and I was afraid that we were going to have to pull over, as the road was not visible. However, the taxi driver skillfully made his way to 4 stops to offload passengers and pick up new ones before finally arriving in the town of Belo (en route to Belo, we dropped off an elderly gentleman with 2 large, smelly frozen fish; a middle aged couple with 3 potato sacks of gear; and a young man with a roller suitcase). Once in Belo, the taxi driver informed me that I needed to change cars as he had to drive in the other direction with his remaining passengers - so he passed me off to another taxi driver, gave him part of my fare, and wished me well. I was the 8th passenger in this vehicle. This car was also having significant mechanical issues, and we were forced to pull off the road on two occasions. However, we finally made it back to Mbingo after dropping off 4 of the 8 passengers, and picking up an additional 3 passengers. 

I finally got back to the house at 1:30pm. Once home, I opened the packages! Thank you for the plastic bags, the bibs, the skirt, the books, etc. It is wonderful, and will all be used when Lindsay and Cathen get back in just two days!

Who knew what it would take to get a package from the US to its correct destination in Cameroon! It was a journey, but it was worth it. 

Love you guys!


-       ps: as far as I know, the car is still smoking on the side of the road. I informed the administration that their driver was stranded, needed assistance, and that the car needed repairs. They assured me he would be fine, and apologized for any inconvenience. This is life in Cameroon.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


December was a tough month. Work was busy. Acuity was high. Our friends, the Barriers, were home for the holiday. Praise God that my parents were here with us. It was such a blessing to have them here for Christmas, to not be isolated from family and friends. And equally important, Mom was able to watch Cathen while Lindsay and Dad and I worked at the hospital. We would not have been able to take adequate care of the patients without their help. Also, what a cool experience to be able to work side-by-side with my Dad at the hospital. Not every son has the pleasure of working alongside and learning from his father.

Mom and Dad have gone home, and the Barriers have returned. Cathen is thrilled that Isaac is back. The hospital has also slowed down, but the acuity of the inpatients still remains high. We’ve lost a number of patients these past few days. One in particular stands out:

A 7-month old little girl showed up with a history of recurrent bloody stools. She had been seen about a month previously at an outside facility where they gave her a blood transfusion because her hemoglobin was ~5. She then came to Mbingo because she was again having profusely bloody stools. A quick exam was enough to show me that we were not able to save this girl. She showed all the clinical signs of liver failure – massive abdominal distension, ascites, jaundice and scleral icterus, caput medusa, coagulopathy with bloody stools, and esophageal varices with hematemesis, and hypoglycemia. She had an ultrasound that could not identify the biliary tree – likely biliary atresia, a congenital disorder that has minimal success with surgical correction, and typically requires a liver transplant. That is not an option here in Cameroon.
 I talked with Mom, explained that the girl was born with a very serious problem and that we could not heal her. She asked to be discharged home to be with family when the girl finally passed. Before leaving, I asked to pray with her and for her daughter, Leila. I asked that God would provide both the girl and the family with comfort, that she would not suffer, and that their last minutes, hours, even days together would be a sweet time. The mother expressed her gratitude for the prayer. Our Pediatrics ward chaplain, Elias, was there with me, and as I was leaving, he asked me to look up Isaiah 57:1-2. He told me that this was a verse he liked to share with families suffering an early and unexpected loss of a child.

“The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.”          - Isaiah 57:1-2

I do not understand why things happen the way they do. Dealing with death has been one of the biggest struggles of working here in Cameroon. Too often I know that if we were home in the States, we could prevent a death. If we were home in the States, the child would have presented months earlier and avoided morbidity and even mortality. However, God, in His wisdom, sometimes takes them home “to be spared from evil.” There is great comfort in knowing that our God is all-knowing, that He is love, that He is sovereign, and that His plan is always best. Praise God that we are not in charge, and the we can always rely on His perfect plan.