Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Masanga Leprasarium - Dr. Samuel and Bernice Deshay

In December of our first year Susan and  I wanted to go to East Africa for the December Holiday break. We traveled to Freetown and arranged reservations with a Lebanese travel agent there named Mr. Yazbeck. We had wanted to go to Nigeria, but with the Biafran War ongoing we were advised against any travel there. So instead we chose Ghana as the stopping off point before going on to Kenya and Uganda. However this trip was never to come about. Just prior to heading down to Freetown the trip fell apart as our plane had been delayed due to the War and our plans either had to be cut short given the delays, or we could make other plans. We elected to return to Kenema  and spend our holiday in-country. There was a wonderful Agricultural Fair in Kenema where I could see  much celebrating and catch glimpses of secular devils such as Goboi, Jobai, Falwi, and others. I could see the Fula acrobats, and the Loko acrobats and listen to many songs.  During our first summer holiday (July and August in 1969) Susan and I arranged to work in the Masanga Leprasarium near Magburaka in the Northern Province. Our hopes of someday traveling to East Africa were put on hold. This government sponsored hospital was run by Seventh Day Adevntists (SDAs) from Norway and the United States. The medical director was an African-American doctor named Samuel Deshay. Both Dr. Deshay and his wife Bernice had been in Nigeria, but had been forced to leave under very trying conditions from their Nigerian post when the Biarfran/Nigerian War became intense in their area. I remember Dr. Deshay telling me of escaping in canoes from where they had been stationed. Rather than return to the States the Deshays lateralized to Sierra Leone and the Masanga Laprasarium.  A general physician, trained at Loma Linda (Ca) Medical School and in Canada, he and Bernice, who was an RN, were leaders of the community of SDAs in the area. Dr. Deshay was very conservative. He was  a very dedicated man. He was clearly a leader of the health community that was a part of the Leprasarium.  The leprasarium was large, isolated, and had about 100 in-patients. Dr. Deshay had general medical/surgical days in which he would operate. My primary job was to do evaluations of new patients (he taught me what to look for) and identify the types of leprosy. He also had me sit in on his surgeries. It was a very busy place. Susan worked in occupational health with patients who had damaged hands. She taught them to learn new skills. Our staff consisted of a number of nurses and assistants who did everything from assisting in surgery, to driving the back roads. Free time was spent talking to Dr. Deshay about his life,  his very conservative religious beliefs as part of the SDA religion. I was surprised by his dislike and frowning on jazz or other contemporary music because it was "music of the devil."  His main passion away from his work was playing  the piano. The SDAs were vegetarians and imported their food from the states. This was amusing to me as their food which often looked like meat at each meal was soybased yet made to resemble meat in its appearance. The Deshays house was ranch style and large and comfortable. Nearby was a hospital in Magburaka which was run by Soviets. Every Sunday we would arrange to play them in volleyball - however these plans frequently deteriorated as the Soviets were more apt to be off the road in a ditch due to their propensity for Vodka ingestion at any chance. From talking to them they hated Sierra Leone.  One of the Soviets who came from Belarus where my family had originally come from, was so ecstatic to learn of my roots, that when I came to visit he pulled out 3 or 4 books on Belarus and despite our inability to really communicate, he began showing me these books while tears ran down his cheeks. Most of the time when volleyball Sunday arrived we would be off looking for the Soviet doctors and pulling them out of ditches where they had driven their van in alcoholic stupors. After a few such episodes we decided to drive in and pick them up (about 10 miles) - and although they were still most of the time inebriated this worked out better on our consciences. One of the biggest surprises I had as an observer was how the Norwegian SDAs seemed more liberal. As medical director, Dr. Deshay was the boss - but the Norwegians were more liberal. There were times when this conflict between this European SDA liberalism conflicted with Dr. DeShay's more rigid philosophy and lifestye. Dr. Deshay was an occasional butt of their joking - and the Norwegian sense of humor was very funny indeed. However, generally speaking Dr. Deshay stayed above it all and concentrated on his work, his leadership as he saw it, and seeing to it that the Leprasarium was run well. His first love had been his work in Nigeria and to some degree, despite seeing his move to Sierra Leone as a step down, he committed himself to making the place a success. Indeed it was a very well-respected facility.  The Norwegian's called leprosy Hanson's Disease - and were very involved in supporting Leprosy Hospitals around the world. 

7 comments:

Richard said...

Any chance you remember a nearly two-year-old American boy (me) who came to Masanga for treatment of burns on both feet in 1968 or 1969? According to my mother (because I have no memory of it) Dr. Deshay was the physician who did a few surgeries to help me keep my toes and try to keep them from fusing together.

by Chad Finer said...

unfortunately I do not remember you - I suspect that I may not have been there when you came to the clinic. Dr. Deshay is still active - I believe he can be probably reached thru the Loma Linda (Calif>) Medical School. I think he ios active somewhere is East Africa and returns occasionally to the states with is wife to give lectures. He is involved with a development project ? in Kenya but I may be wrong on the country. I think you can google him on the internet and fond where he is
What were you doing in Sierra Leone and where are you now?
cf

Richard said...

My parents were missionaries for the Seventh-day Adventist church at Yele Mission in Sierra Leone. Dr. Deshay presented the sermon during alumni weekend this year at Union College in Lincoln, NE where I am a physics professor. It got me to thinking about his efforts on my behalf and I searched for him, finding your site. His sermon was essentially an autobiographical story. It only mentions Sierra Leone once as a passing comment, but you may find it interesting to listen to. Here is a link: http://audio.collegeviewchurch.org/mp3/20090404B.mp3.

Anonymous said...

I was unable to find his sermon. Dr. Samuel Deshay was a complex man - clearly a born leader. At Masanga he took on incredible responsibilities and was a very hard working doctor. I remember both he and his wife as wonderful hosts - my wife and I stayed in their Masanga house while working with them. In addition to his wife and his work in those days I remember his passion was playing the piano. I was surprised by his negative feelings about jazz, about blues, about African-American music but understood his feelings in the context of his intense religious beliefs. In those days I was young and yet he graciously took us in and made us part of his religious family there this despite us not being SDA's. I do remember some dissatisfaction he had with being in Sierra Leone. He had spent a number of years in service in Nigeria and I think this was where his passion was left in those days. He spoke glowingly about Nigeria, told wonderfully frightening stories about his hanging on there until the very last moment and then escaping by boat. For him I think Sierra Leone was not as exciting as Nigeria - almost a step down from what he had been up to while in Nigeria. He oversaw the Masanga Leprasarium as medical director, ran a general medical clinic for patients in Masanga and for those outside; he even ran a surgical clinic and had operating days. he had a very talented staff to help out. His wife, Bernice, may also have done work there as she was an RN. We spent two months there - it was a very rewarding time for both of us. I did go on to becoming a doctor as a result of this. I would like to read his sermon and will try to make a better effort at finding it. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

last post was by me but for some reason it would not take my password -
Chad Finer

Richard said...

I'll try the link again using html encoding (I didn't read the note saying that was possible before). It is available for realPlayer here or as an mp3 file here. If all else fails, the list of sermons for the year is available here.

by Chad Finer said...

I found it yesterday - it was easier than I had thought. Dr. Deshay has aged (so have I for that matter). In the days when I knew him he was black haired, thin, tall. Yet I hear some of the same expressions that he had back then on listening to his sermon. I am so very impressed that he has remained so consistent over the years - I guess this is do to his SDA faith. Richard - thanks for sending me this address. When I went online to check out Union College I did remember that he went there - he had talked a lot about it in those days. I again do remember his passion for classical music in those days - I think it was this love that helped him through the stress of his work - as he would go back to his home and sit down and play such beautiful music. I think back to what the early 1950's might have been like for him as an African-American. In those days there were still separate facilities for the races and you had to be quite talented to get education. There were so many facets of this man's life that would be fascinating to read about - I only hope that someone sits down with him over time with multiple interviews - and does the story of his life (maybe I should do it?).
Chad