Saturday, March 3, 2012

Masanga Leprasarium

Having done all my premedical education before leaving for Sierra Leone in July of 1969, we decided to stay in country and work rather than go on a trip during our first summer break. I was able to contact Dr Samuel DeShay the general surgeon and chief medical officer at the Masanga Leprasarium in the Northern Province near Magburaka and through him we arranged for six weeks of work there. In early July 1969 we finished our teaching responsibilities at Holy Rosary Secondary School and at the Kenema TTC and then packed up the house, packed a few things, and headed by public transport to the Northern Province and to Masanga. We lived with Dr. and Mrs. Deshay. My job assignment was to meet and type all new patient arrivals at the Leprasarium. This included work with scraping lesions, staining slides of the scrapings, and looking at this under the microscope to see if so-called gram negative acid fast bacilli were present. Dr. DeShay provided me with both books and daily lectures about Leprosy. In addition - Dr. DeShay ran a general medical and surgical clinic there - and for this I was to tag along and learn. Susan spent time with patients doing occupational therpy. Dr. DeShay was an African-American doctor [Loma Linda Medical School] who by then had spent years in Nigeria, and more recently in Sierra Leone. He had barely escaped with his life while in Nigeria during the Biafran War - having made his last run out via canoe to escape. His wife, Bernice, an RN had also spent her entire professional career in nursing in Africa. They were Seventh Day Adventists [SDA's], very serious about their religion, and very committed to medical care in whatever community they were a part of. They celebrated their sabbath on Saturdays, only ate vegetarian food, and were very generous people. So in early July 1969 we arrived at the Leprasarium gate, were welcomed by Dr. DeShay and his wife, and rapidly became part of the health care community that was there. The staff was made up of several Norwegian SDA's who had adjunct responsibilities, of several Sierra Leonean health care workers including several male nurses, and then ancillary staff from drivers, to laborers. All were SDA's or at least most tried to please Dr DeShay each Saturday by attending their services that Dr. DeShay ran. Additionally, Dr. DeShay was an accomplished piano player and spent a good portion of his free time playing his piano that he kept in his home. Most of his music had a religious orientation to it. Dr Deshay's passion for his religion was matched by his passion for his work.
So first day, first hour my work began first under Dr. Deshay's tutelage and then at least as the typing and triage was concerned, on my own. Operating room work included mainly observation as Dr. DeShay had a very accomplished staff of health care providers. For me, the neophyte this was all fascinating and worthwhile. The Masanga health care community was close knit and inclusive - we rapidly became a part of it. We did not participate in the religious aspects. We enjoyed the staff get togethers, picnics, medical trips to outlying community clinics, and to volleyball which seemed to be the main sport activity. The staff was quite serious about volleyball which included weekly competitions with the Soviet Staff that ran the Government Hospital in nearby (12 miles) Magburaka. And I must admit this provided considerable entertainment. We did make runs to the Magburaka Hospital daily. It was on one of these runs that I was to meet their Soviet medical staff. And on this visit I was to learn of their trials as they saw it in rural West Africa. Suffice it to say that the Soviets only saw their purpose as medical, but otherwise looked upon their work as drudgery. They had no interest in local culture. And they were mostly bored. This did occasionally result in over use of vodka - and on occasion when they drove their van to Masanga for volleyball matches this resulted in the need for us to aid them in getting their van out of a ditch. However - the games were lively and fun - the Soviets could unwind - and we all had fun. Afterwards we would all celebrate successes with a picnic get together. When one of the Soviet doctors learned of my mother's mother with Belarus origins (where he also came from) the following week he brought me several picture books of his beloved Belarus. He gave them to me.
The six weeks spent at The Masanga Leprasarium were very special for both us. We returned to Kenema in late August (1969) just in time to begin our teaching responsibilities and our second year at Holy Rosary Secondary School in Kenema. By this time the Kenema Teacher's Training College was in its last years and we continued to teach there as well. By this time HRSS was larger with two forms and with this an increase to twice the number of students. It was good to have done our time at Masanga, but it was also good to be back "home" in Kenema and back teaching. 

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