FEATURE – My life-changing medical mission to the Republic of South Sudan reminded me once again what is special about being a physician. Supported by the Healing Kadi Foundation, Dr. Joseph Dumba of Omaha, Neb. led a group of six physicians and other medical support staff back to his home village, now that the war-ravaged country has found at least temporary peace.
During rebel bombings, separated from his family, Dumba left as a refugee and returned years later after finding his way to an education and completing medical training in the United States. As one of the physicians who accompanied him, I felt fortunate to work alongside this team of incredible people from Utah and Nebraska. Our hearts were deeply affected while bringing medical care to thousands of villagers in an area called Kajo-Keji.
After a two-day flight to Juba City, the capital of South Sudan and a seven-hour jeep ride across the African bush, we arrived in Kajo-Keji to a hero’s welcome. A procession of villagers chanted, danced and sang. Soon we started our work. In the evenings we spent hours sorting the barrels full of donated medications we brought. In the daytime, our medical team ran a clinic that changed location with each sunrise.
Arrangements were made to use schoolhouses or village classrooms, and thousands of patients streamed into the makeshift clinics daily. Many of these humble people live with disease and suffering yet sang African welcome songs with beautiful voices as we approached their meager buildings. Word spread through the villages and before we could set up the pharmacy, nursing triage area and the physician treatment rooms, a long line formed, most days in excess of 1,000 people.
The days are long but painless because of our innate desire to help all that have walked so far to be seen by the doctors from the West. Limited tools and resources often times left pangs of regret that we couldn’t do more to alleviate suffering from a myriad of diseases. Though we came armed with much, many of the diagnostic and treatment modalities necessary for cure were simply not available.
The illness, poverty and destitution was sobering. The remote villages are scattered across a land full of African beauty and grandeur. In a land full of paradox and extremes, sometimes it felt like I’d done little at the end of a long day seeing so many serious ailments, infections and parasitic diseases. Dumba quickly corrected that erroneous thinking the very first day when he said, “No, you did help them, you touched them.” Sometimes we forget that the physician’s caring, healing touch, is medicine in and of itself.
Many of these patients had never before seen a western doctor. It impressed me that though they have ailments ranging from cataracts, parasites and skin infestations to HIV, typhoid and malaria, they still smile. The children especially touched my heart. Many times each day I would wish that I could take a particular patient home to the U.S. with me and care for them with the technologies and treatments we have here. Those longings were greatly outweighed, however, by the joy I felt inside when our medicines, supplies and treatments brought relief. There is nothing better in medicine than to treat a suffering child and to see the relief come into their eyes and into the eyes of their parents.
The resources pooled and transported with the medical team were a combination of donations from the team members, their families and friends, as well as generous charitable contributions from individuals from Omaha to St. George.
The health and wellness we enjoy, and maybe take for granted at times, is in part thanks to the medical technologies that are second to none in the world. What is life-changing is seeing those in need on the other side of the world and being able to take a portion of that first-rate medicine to them. Yet, it was unexpected that I’d be the one who gained the most in each special physician-patient encounter.
A documentary on the medical journey through South Sudan can be viewed here.
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Written by Dr. Robert Benson, M.D. M.B.A., for St. George Health and Wellness magazine and St. George News.
Benson is the medical editor of St. George Health and Wellness magazine and currently works as a board-certified Emergency Medicine physician.
Email: [email protected]
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