Dan, Heather, Jeremiah, Tory, Emma, Tye, Claire, Levi, Josie, Jane and Ethan

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Little Black Book

The Little Black Book, a log of all orthopedic surgical cases at Tenwek.

A two year old boy with rhabdomyosarcoma of the hand: one of the sad cases in the book.

An example of "MacGyver orthopedics." A periprosthetic femur fracture fixed with a long plate, screws hand-cut to length and cerclage wires.

The book also contains more conventional cases such as this ulnar shortening for ulnar impaction syndrome.

For those who are familiar with John Piper, one of his books succinctly entitled “Don’t Waste Your Life” is a personal favorite. When we left for Kenya eight months ago, Heather’s parents gave us several items they purchased from John Piper’s Desiring God Conference, including the “Don’t Waste Your Life Field Journal,” a little black book intended for…journaling. I use mine to catalogue all the surgical cases I do here at Tenwek, and the daily reminder to “not waste my life” helps keep the daily challenges in perspective. So far I have filled one book and am now on my second. I lost count at 300 about halfway through the first book.

Most other medical specialties allow for board certification of physicians while doing full-time missions: OB-Gyn, General Surgery, Family Practice, etc. However, this is not the case with orthopedic surgery. The American Board of Orthopedic Surgery bylaws currently state that it is a requirement for prospective fellows to work in the United States for two years before allowing them to sit for the oral boards. Thus, although I passed the written boards last summer, as it currently stands, I cannot be fully board certified working as a busy orthopedic medical missionary in Africa.

However, I also believe God is able to do a miracle, and that is the reason I am keeping my “little black book” of Tenwek cases, in the hopes that some day, the policy may change, and I may be able to sit for my oral boards with cases that I have done while following the call of God here in Kenya. The book is not perfect, including a “few” cases treated in ways non-conventional, what I like to call “MacGyver orthopedics” (the show from the late 80s/early 90 in which MacGyver could create anything out of the most elementary supplies). We do what we can with what we have. On the other hand, we are very blessed at Tenwek to have, what I have been told, the best orthopedic inventory in Kenya, thanks to our friends in the US who are so faithful, behind the scenes, working to secure supplies for Tenwek.

How our culture defines a successful life (i.e. wealth, power, status, education ) may actually be a wasted life. On the other hand, what is viewed as a “wasted life” may actually be the most fulfilling, meaningful, and eternal. Paradoxically, in God’s economy, the path to a life not wasted is by the very act of losing it. The challenge is for me, you, all of us. Thankfully, I have a daily reminder of this every time I write a case in my little black book. Let us encourage each other to not waste our lives.

Matt. 16:25-28 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harvest Time

Kenya, being a climate which I would classify as “perpetual springtime in Ohio,” enjoys a year round growing season. And although July is the peak of summer fun in the Midwest, in Kenya, it is actually the “coldest” month, with highs in the upper 60s and lows in the upper 40s. Thus, this is the time of year for harvesting maize. And, after a busy week of moving into our new “temporary” housing, and a caseload of almost thirty surgeries, what better way to relax and spend a free Saturday than harvesting maize?

Maize is a critical crop for Kenya, because it supplies the brunt of the caloric energy for daily living in rural Africa in the form of a pasty, tasteless starch called “ugali.” Maize (or corn) is planted, harvested, dried, and ground into a fine meal, then boiled in water, without salt, until it becomes a firm, starchy mass of pure carbohydrates, and the perfect accompaniment for every Kenyan meal. After tasting ugali and out of curiosity, I have asked many Kenyans what, in their opinion, is so special about ugali. Answers vary, but the common underlying thread is that “ugali fills the belly.”

So when Peter Ronoh, our outstanding maintenance man, invited us to his “chamba” (farm) to harvest maize, we were honored. Sarah Galat (our new niece-in-law) and her mother Cindy (a nurse anesthetist), who are currently visiting from Ohio, came as well, and we all had a ball, hand picking and shucking corn and tossing the ears into large piles. It was actually therapeutic, and downright fun. Afterwards, we all enjoyed a cup of hot chai with a large scoop of sugar.

Two thoughts went through my head as I was working in the field. First is the scripture from Matthew 9:37-8: "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." In addition to our family, about 20 or so of Peter’s neighbors came to help harvest his maize, out of their own free will, without even being asked, or expecting anything in return. They just showed up. With all the help, in less than three hours, almost an entire acre of corn had been handpicked, the job complete. The spiritual harvest is not so, however. According to Jesus, the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. If more were willing to just “show up,” would the spiritual work be done?

Second, I asked Peter what he was going to do with all this harvested maize (incidentally a “bumper crop”). “Are you going to sell it?” I asked, in my mind, thinking what the income could buy: schooling for his kids, an addition onto his miniscule two room house, maybe a new dress for his wife, or a few other luxury items. “I would,” Peter answered, “but I get afraid of my kids going hungry if I don’t save enough.” How many of us actually worry that we won’t have enough to eat, even with the downturn of the economy? Incredibly humbling words as we drove back to Tenwek, and prepared a supper of BBQ beef sandwiches for a visiting work team. No room for plain old, bland ugali in our house...

Thanks for your recent prayers and email encouragements. We really depend on your support of the work here at Tenwek. Please let us know how we can be praying for you as well. And please keep Alex (our nephew, and Sarah’s husband) in your prayers, as he is on tour with the Air National Guard in Afghanistan for the next six weeks.