It’s just after midnight in Rutshuru. Tomorrow morning Dr. F, the French anesthetist who arrived here with me, and I leave for Goma. Unfortunately the schedule worked out with me on-call at the hospital and I missed tonight’s farewell party.
This morning we had a fairly typical day in the OR, doing 12 procedures between 8am and 1pm including performing a skin graft, placing a traction pin in a patient with a fractured femur, draining a few abscesses, debriding a few wounds plus a handful of dressing changes including two children under the age of three with 2nd degree scald burns over roughly 30% of their bodies plus an eight-month-old who had her foot amputated for an infection two days earlier. I also admitted a 16 year old girl from the ER with chronic osteomyelitis [bone infection] who will need a fairly large operation in the next week or so to remove infected dead bone from her tibia. Chronic osteomyelitis in children is rare in the US but fairly common here in the DRC. Dr. M is fairly experienced with the problem. This girl has enough of her tibia involved that I think she may need an external fixature placed to prevent a fracture after the operation while the bone grows back in, either on its own or with the help of a graft.
Unless something exciting happens tonight or on the trip to Goma, this will be my last blog entry until my next MSF assignment. Thanks for reading my blog and a special thanks to the readers who left comments. I feel like I should wrap things up with some statement about the character of the people of the DRC but having only been here for four weeks in one area, it might be a bit presumptuous of me. Instead, I will pass on a joke that I was told the other morning by one of the Congolese national staff. We were on the way to the hospital in the Land Cruiser with 11 of us packed in pretty tight, three in the front seat and eight in the back on two bench seats that face one another. A French internist (who later translated the joke for me) and I were the only ex-pats in the vehicle, everyone else was Congolese. It was a sunny morning and the mood was bright with conversation and banter going back and forth, when a couple of the Congolese doctors started telling jokes. Here is the joke that got the biggest laugh, even though it was obvious that a few of the listeners had heard it before:
President George Bush (I didn’t ask which President Bush though it doesn’t really matter), President Francois Mitterand (a former French president) and President Mobutu (president of the DRC from 1965-1997) all die and meet each other as they are about to enter Hell. At the entrance, they ask the Devil if they can call home to speak with their families one last time. The Devil agrees, but only if they will be responsible for paying for the calls. They agree and Bush goes first. After a 10 minute phone call, the Devil hands him the bill. It’s $2,000,000 USD. Bush isn’t happy about how expensive it was, but pays the bill. Now it’s Mitterand’s turn and he makes a 5 minute phone call. The Devil hands him a bill for $1,000,000 USD and he pays, though he also isn’t happy about how expensive it was. Next it’s Mobutu’s turn. He calls home and talks for hours and hours, leisurely laughing and joking with everyone in his family. At the end of the call the Devil hands him a bill for only $1 USD.
Bush and Mitterand are furious. They complain bitterly to the Devil, accusing him of favoring Mobutu and taking advantage of the wealth of the western countries. The Devil just laughs and says “No, no, you have it all wrong. The US and France are very far away and your long distance calls were very, very expensive. But remember that we are at the Gates of Hell. The Congo is right next door. Mobutu only had to make a local call.”
I’ll be leaving the DRC with an appreciation and affection for the country and the people here. There is a lot to admire in the soaring mountains and expansive greenery, the laughter and music and hard work of the people I have met and seen on the street. I hope to come back someday, either with another round of work with MSF or maybe as a tourist to hike through some of the mountains and see some wildlife. For now I’ll just say thank you and good luck for the future.