Friday, February 4, 2011

An Elevator and a Cowhorn

I traveled to Africa for the first time this last November with the group. I have a hundred stories I could share with you about my time there. It is very hard to choose. I thought I would go with what turned out to be my favorite two days there.

Here are some things you need to know about me...

1. I have wanted to go to Africa since I was a little girl (thank you Jane Goodall).

2. I have always been interested in humanitarian issues.

3. Although I have always been interested in public health issues, I hate hospitals and blood.

I really wasn't sure what exactly I wanted to do in Africa, besides help in any way I could. I decided to volunteer to work in the health clinic in the village. I knew I would be interested in health issues that affect the area, the rate of HIV, or Malaria, or any other problems. I was assigned to assist Dr. Dave Guilbeault who was going to train two nurses to extract teeth. I thought I was going to hand him gauze and be bored to death. That didn't matter to me, because I would be in Africa.

On the second day of the trip I'm at the clinic, mostly observing the nurses work while Dr. Dave went to Kampala to pick up supplies. I watch them test pregnant women for HIV so they can give them medications to try and save the babies from contracting it. I witness a women give birth in a room with no electricity and no door and then sent home three hours later with her baby, who still needed cleaned off. At the end of the day I realize I don't want to leave, I love it there.

The next day I started assisting Dr. Dave. The first thing I learned was that pulling teeth is like pulling a fence post out of the ground. I quickly learned the names of the instruments (elevators and cowhorns, etc.) I learned how to fill a syringe. I learned where to give the laticane depending on which tooth is being pulled. I learned the names of each tooth and how many roots they have. I held the flashlight, since we were working in the shade under a tree outside the clinic. I watched Dr. Dave be an incredible teacher not only to the nurses but to me as well. I watched two nurses eager to learn and help out their fellow villagers.

Dozens and dozens of people came to get a tooth extracted. They sat outside all day, both days, for a chance to be seen. I was walking or working from sun up to sun down and loved every minute of it. I can't remember the last time I learned so much.

Here is what I learned about me:

1. I don't hate all hospital and clinics, there is at least one that I love!

2. I can get use to blood and medical procedures.

Dr. Dave asked me if it had lived up to my expectations and I said "Are you kidding? I though I would be handing you gauze." I had the time of my life extracting teeth! Who would of thought! I was sad when Dr. Dave left and I would not get to help extract teeth anymore. I might have even found a potential career.

When I got home everyone I told about this part of my adventure was surprised to hear about the joy I found in it. It is nice to know that at age 39 I can still surprise myself and others. Helping others in need is not only about what they receive but what you receive as well. In this respect it is hard to know who got more out of this trip, the people of Namulonge or myself.


  1. A beautiful story told by a wonderful person. I think that you and the people of Namulonge shared the experience equally. Your demeanor, absolute love for the people that you encountered and the joy that your brought to them (even waiting in line to have teeth pulled:) was absolutely amazing!! I am proud to have served with you and to have you as a member of my extended family. I spoke with some of our family in Namulonge recently and they told me that people are still awaiting the return of the mzungu dentists :)
    Katonda akuwe omukisa !
    Ssekajja (Starr)

  2. We are very proud of you. You got what is takes. Africia needs you and so do we.

    Marty and Jean