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.
Posted by sl 68-70 at 2:14 PM