Monday, September 8, 2014


I left Tanzania last Saturday evening, arrived home Sunday afternoon, and was back at work Tuesday morning. Since I returned home a week ago, Andrew has taken a lot of time out of his busy schedule to hang out with me.

This was my fourth trip to Africa, my third trip as a nurse, but my first trip as a husband and father. It was also the first time I had spent more than a week away from home since Andrew was born. Fortunately, I had access to a high-speed Internet connection and was able to Skype Holly and Andrew almost every day.
Andrew and his granddad Rollosson talking to me via Skype
It's interesting to consider that during my first trip to Africa in the late 1980s, most people in the U.S. had not heard of the Internet. When I was in Ethiopia, we had to drive an hour to the next city to plug our laptop into a phone line so we could send and receive Email over a dial-up connection. Now, I not only had high-speed Internet in a rural area of sub-Saharan Africa, cell phones seem to be ubiquitous.

Being able to talk to Holly and Andrew and hear my little boy laugh made the separation easier for me but, after a month, all I wanted to do was come home to my wife and child. I think Andrew got tired of the daddy-on-the-computer routine. The last week or so he would look for me behind the monitor and under the table.

I left bedside nursing for public health five years ago. The focus of my work shifted from helping people recover from injuries and illness to preventing illness. In addition to stepping back into my role as a neuroscience nurse, I was also working in a setting where there were inadequate resources to care for severely injured patients and where I expected to see people die who might have survived if they had received care in the U.S. I knew that I wouldn't be able to fix all of the problems that I saw and that the best I could do was share what I know with my Tanzanian colleagues so that they are better able to care for their patients.
Teaching the Glasgow Coma Scale to student nurses
I gave a presentation on care of patients with spinal cord injuries the day before I left Haydom. I began my talk by congratulating the hospital staff for providing high-quality care to their community. I ended my presentation with Proverbs 27:17, "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another," and thanked them for sharpening me.

My work at Haydom was challenging, but I'm glad that I had this opportunity. I will do it again, and I encourage my colleagues to seek opportunities to work in a developing country.
Out of all of the health workers I khave known who have worked in Africa, I can't think of one who has been there only once. There is something about working in Africa that pulls us back.
Africa is full of surprising beauty. Even in the semi-arid climate of East Africa, there is beauty in the iridescent colors that seem to spring unexpectedly from the landscape. More importantly, there is the beauty of the human spirit; the joy of living in spite of hardship.

Outreach: I spent the day in the shade of acacia trees weighing babies and checking pregnant women's blood pressure
Spending time away from the noise and distractions and the pace of living in a wealthy industrialized country gives me an opportunity to see the world from a different perspective. I return home with a recognition of the triviality of many of the things that occupy our minds and our time and an appreciation that some of the things for which we have the luxury of taking for granted are what is truly precious.