Glimpses of Ghana

Posted 3/24/11

Going to Ghana in early 2011, Morris and medical students Parker and Nikki Mills expected they would encounter Third World diseases, new cultural experiences, life-changing challenges and maybe the occasional lizard. But anticipating something is …

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Glimpses of Ghana


Surgeon, students serve in Saboba

Performing surgery in blistering heat at a rural African hospital, Dr. Nick Morris and Bryn Parker knew they weren’t in Wyoming with its comforts or modern medicine.

That fact was made especially clear when a dead lizard fell from an air conditioner and plopped into the operating room.

Just another day in Saboba, Ghana.

Going to Ghana in early 2011, Morris and medical students Parker and Nikki Mills expected they would encounter Third World diseases, new cultural experiences, life-changing challenges and maybe the occasional lizard. But anticipating something is very different from experiencing it firsthand.

“The first 24 hours, oh my gosh,” Parker said. “It was super hot, 120 degrees. And it was just totally foreign.”

As Wyoming shivered in chilling below-zero weather, temperatures soared in Saboba. While they were in Ghana in January and February, temperatures dropped to 21 degrees below zero in Powell — meanwhile in Ghana, temps sometimes reached up to 126 degrees.

In addition to the sweltering heat, they quickly realized how limited resources were in Saboba, a rural village in western Africa, where they worked at a local hospital.

Instead of focusing on what the Saboba Medical Centre lacked — proper indoor plumbing, a sterile operating room (by American standards), certain medication or supplies — they concentrated on making the best with what was available. In the month Morris and Parker were there, they performed nearly 70 surgeries, ranging from hernia operations to C-sections.

They worked alongside Dr. Jean Young, an American missionary surgeon who lives in Saboba. According to Young, the small hospital serves around 120,000 rural villagers throughout the region. During Morris’ visit, patients traveled 150 miles to have hernias fixed.

Morris and Parker spent several weeks in Saboba before Mills arrived. On her first moments in Saboba, Mills joined Parker for a quick tour of the hospital, where they saw a woman giving birth. Parker stepped in to help the midwives as Mills held the hand of the woman in labor.

“So in my first half hour in Saboba, I have this soon-to-be mom’s fingers wrapped around my own, making my fingers look whiter than they already are, as she pushes to bring life to her baby,” Mills wrote on her blog.

“However, the baby did not cry.

“Reader’s Digest (version): Bryn saved this baby girl’s life today, and I watched the whole darn thing.

“May I remind you that this was supposed to be a quick tour? After Bryn’s handiwork, we find that there is a woman with a hernia (not common) followed by redressing a snakebite. And to think, this is nothing …”

Parker spent 30 minutes working to get the baby breathing again.

“I had never resuscitated a baby 100 percent by myself,” Parker said.

For both Mills and Parker, volunteering at the hospital in Saboba has served as a sort of coming of age in their budding medical careers. Parker will graduate from medical school at the University of Washington this summer and begin her medical residency. Mills will study to become a physician assistant — she left for Ghana in early February and returns in May. Mills continues to share her experiences through daily posts on her blog. (See related story.)

Their experiences in Ghana provide Parker and Mills invaluable experiences and lessons in medicine on a professional level as well as in day-to-day life on a deeply personal level.

“I felt very grateful,” Parker said. “It taught me not to take for granted what I’ve learned here (in America) and what I know to be true here.”

Parker said the experience will help her relate to patients when she becomes a family practice doctor. For example, when she has patients who may not want immunizations for their children, Parker can tell them firsthand what she saw in Ghana.

“I saw kids who didn’t have the luxury of being immunized for tetanus or polio,” Parker said. “I saw kids die from those diseases that we immunize for in America.”

Morris watched Parker and Mills immerse themselves in the Ghanaian culture, not hesitating to reach down to pick up a child covered with dirt and grime. Though Parker and Mills saw Ghana with youth and idealism at the beginning of their careers, Morris arrived in Ghana with decades of medical experience and perspective. Still, Ghana and her people taught him incredible lessons, Morris said.

On their daily walks in Saboba, Morris realized a significant lesson — how far a smile or hug can go between an African and an American.

“It will go across cultures, across continents, across religions, across language,” Morris said.

Morris said he was inspired by the people he met in Ghana, both the natives he worked alongside in the hospital and the patients he treated.

“There’s no way I gave more than I got out of it,” Morris said. “You’re lucky to be there — it’s not like they’re lucky to have you.”

Meaningful friendships and lessons linger for Morris and Parker, who returned to America last month.

“It was amazing to have the natives there love you, embrace you, involve you with their pain, their hopes and their dreams … and then you leave,” Morris said. “It was very hard to leave. Bittersweet, really.”

While the Saboba hospital staff sees international medical teams rotate in and out, Morris and Parker made a lasting impact.

On the day the pair left, Mills wrote on her blog, “I asked Richard, the nurse anesthetist, if this is what they usually experience when groups come through. He quickly threw up his hands and said there had never been a group like this before, as Dr. Nick and Bryn have made such a sincere effort to befriend each of them. He said we were something special.”

‘Going, going Ghana’

at She wrote this post on one of her first days in Saboba, Ghana.

Today — not the best day of my life. These days happen; I know this, but I still don’t like them.

I have been having some trouble finding my place here — more like feeling like I’m not really contributing medically though making lots of friends. I knew I’d feel like that though. If I ever was tempted to not go back to school after taking a year off, which I wasn’t, but my experience the last five days has provided more motivation than anything yet.

It was just a frustrating day for that reason, so I decided to try and make myself useful after our surgeries today and went over to the female ward. Bryn’s suggestion was to have the midwives, Sister Stella and Margaret (awesome), call me whenever there were deliveries and she would give me a crash course on OB. I really loved this notion so that’s what I was going to do. There was a baby that was born earlier that day and was in the incubator in the room across the hall. Stella took me in to show me this MAYBE 24-week-old baby that could not have been more than 2 and 1/2 pounds. I was a bit perplexed as to why they weren’t doing anything about (it) and where the heck the mother was. Well, this child’s early entry into this world was induced by a clinic in a nearby town that performs “criminal abortions” as they call them here and came to Saboba to deliver.

All this information came at me way too fast.

The mother thought the baby was dead as was the plan, but she had no interest in seeing it even when she was informed the baby was still alive. I do not want to portray the nurses and midwives did not care — one of my favorites Jacob, a tall and kind boy, was deeply saddened and stood in the room with me for a while. But I have not seen anything like this before. In the States, that baby may have had a fighting chance in a newborn ICU for weeks on end, but not here. Death was imminent. This child would never know a mother’s loving touch, so I picked it up out of the incubator and held its cold, frail little body as close to me as I could. Its fingers wrapped around my thumb, so tiny that the four fingers were only big enough to enclose my thumbnail and slightly beyond.

I shed my first tears today in Saboba. I felt pain so deep and yet it is only a fraction of what God feels. Anger, sadness, injustice and confusion all at once. I started praying, for what I don’t know. Perhaps a miracle.

It was a boy.