A Missionary Doctor's Autobiography
From Mountains to Desert
In BC 16 we travelled from Maluti Hospital in Lesotho to Kanye Hospital in Botswana. No kidding - BC 16 was not the date but the registration number of our Chevrolet car!
It was a long day's journey, over dusty washboard roads, of which only a few miles were tarred. The advantage of car travel is that you can fit so many things into corners, under seats and even behind the spare wheel, which we did on this occasion. Unfortunately we had a puncture - and had to remove all the carefully packed odd and ends to get to the spare.
While at Kanye, we lived in three different houses. First we were given the "old house", which was probably the original building on the mission. With its wooden floors and thirty-inch walls, it had been condemned for demolition in nine months' time but was still livable. Later we lived in a thatched roof "house" which consisted of two rondavels which were bedrooms, with a connecting living room. Eventually we took over the Sisters' house, when they had moved to their new flats, which in turn, were built on the site of the condemned "old" house.
Dr Jack Hay was the doctor in charge. The story of him and his wife Trudy is told in the books Judy Steps Out and Judy Goes to Africa. His fiery, energetic personality made him an interesting person to work with.
Beside our medical work, we also rewired the electrical system of the whole hospital. This involved checking the electrical circuits in all the houses as well as the hospital itself and putting in new overhead wires connecting the whole campus to the power house. This was one place where my maintenance training at Helderberg came in useful. (For the installation of the control panel and switchboard, we enlisted the help of a qualified electrician.)
Kanye is on the edge of the Kalahari Desert and one of the highlights of working there was the regular Kalahari trips. The trips were made with a Bedford five-ton truck. It would be loaded with all the fuel, water, food, camping gear, spare parts and medical supplies that we would need for a ten-day trip. On top of the load would be the staff, patients returning home and any visitors who might be going along for the ride.
Getting stuck in the sand was a frequent occurrence and if the truck broke down it was a matter of fixing it or else waiting until a passing trader took a message to the hospital and the repair part was bought and sent out.
Clinics were held in schools, empty huts and even a hide store at the back of an Indian's store. A clinic in a hot, poorly ventilated room full of skins is an experience! Adaptability was essential - once Dr Hay performed an emergency appendix operation on a child in the Police office, using the truck headlights for illumination and a well-boiled piece of cotton and a sewing needle to close the wound. The patient made an uneventful recovery.
It was at Kanye that our son John Milton was born. It was a normal delivery, on a Sabbath morning, conducted by Jack Hay in the sisters' house. I still remember the feeling of elation as I sent a telegram to my parents, telling them they had a grandson.
When he was only a few months old, the Division requested that I go up to Malamulo to relieve Dr Jack Harvey, who had contracted Bilharzia (Schistosomiasis). He needed to go to Johannesburg for treatment, which in those days consisted of a three-week course of daily intravenous injections.
Again we loaded up our Chevrolet car and made the long trip across Botswana, Rhodesia and Mozambique to Malawi. It took four days and by the time we arrived, the car needed a major overhaul, but fortunately we had no trouble on the way.
At Malamulo, I was the only doctor, which meant that many things usually done by a medical person were done by someone else or not done at all. In addition to my medical duties, I also had to supervise renovations on the house that the second doctor would occupy. When Dr Ralph Royer arrived, we were free to return to Kanye - but there was a problem - the Zambezi was in flood and we could not travel by road. However the railway was still just above water level and we put the car on a freight train and then followed a week later. We still had to wait in a hotel in Umtali for three days for the car to reach us, before we could continue homeward.
When we had lived in Botswana for two years, I applied for British citizenship, as it seemed wise for us to both have the same passports. A South African passport was not highly regarded at the time and if I became British, it would eliminate visits to two different consulates. In view of my father's descent from the 1820 settlers and the fact that I had married a British wife and we had lived for almost three years in a British protectorate, my request was granted. I had to give up my South African passport and was given a certificate stating that my passport was being processed.
It was at this moment that an urgent letter came from the Division, asking us to go to Yuka Hospital in Barotseland, which is now part of Zambia. We had two small children, we were comfortably settled in our house and had done a lot of work on the garden, and I didn't have a proper travel document - all good reasons why we should not go. However, after prayer and reflection we felt that we should accept the call.