For the week of December 23 thru December 29, 1998  

Chicuque Hospital offers life in Mozambique

Local doctor and nurse went where they were needed


By PAM MORRIS
Express Staff

More than distance separates Sun Valley from Mozambique in East Africa.

The Sun Valley resort area regularly hosts some of the richest people in the world. Mozambique is one of the world’s poorest countries. There, $7 a week is a handsome salary.

Yet, Sun Valley and Mozambique have two things in common: Dr. Bryan Stone and his wife, Ann, who is a nurse.

Dr. Stone practiced in the Wood River Valley as a surgeon and family physician for nearly 20 years. Ann worked as a nurse, and they raised two sons, Greg and Quin.

For a time, Stone was one of just seven doctors in the valley. In 1993 when he left, there were 35. The Stones have a habit of going where they are needed. Before coming to the valley, they spent three years serving in a medical mission in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

Late last summer, the Stones visited the valley after a two-year stint as medical missionaries at Chicuque Hospital in Mozambique.

The hospital is 5 km north of the town of Maxixe in Inhambane province. It is a joint project of the United Methodist Church and the Mozambique government.

The Stones’ time there was frustrating, heartwarming and heartbreaking-- depending on what day it was.

Mozambique is still recovering from a bloody and devastating civil war that ended in 1992. Land mines and extreme poverty are its legacies. Even in peace, no one is denied the chance to become another victim of the war.

Dr. Stone cared for a man who had been walking down a road with his son when his son stepped on a mine. The boy was killed; the man’s legs were shattered.

Land mines have no mercy. When Jose, a farmer, knelt to plant crops, a land mine exploded in his face. The explosion split his lower lids and left him blind. It was the second mine for him. The first took a leg. After his hollow orbits healed, the hospital fitted him with two glass eyes and a prosthetic leg.

Dr. Stone said Jose felt fortunate to be alive.

Diseases that much of the rest of the world has eradicated are part of life in Mozambique. Cholera, bubonic plague and deadly diarrhea are common. Ann carried a bulging scrapbook full of newspaper reports on outbreaks and the hundreds of lives they claimed.

The matters of day-to-day life in the country exact an enormous price.

Small trucks ply the cascading chuckholes called roads; private passenger cars are scarce so people must pay for a precarious ride or walk. Passengers must crowd into the truck beds, which have no handholds. Stone said that was ironic considering Mozambique has a seatbelt law.

The hospital often treated people who had been launched from a lurching truck.

Dr. Stone said one truck victim came in scraped to the bone and in need of skin grafts. The man was surly and uncommunicative, a strain even on Stone’s gentle bedside manner.

One day the patient scraped away the grafts that had been painstakingly applied and treated.

Portuguese is the language of the country. Dr. Stone’s Portuguese was limited, so he communicated with that patient in the only language they had in common. He wheeled bed and patient into the street and left him there for the day. When retrieved, the patient had a highly cooperative attitude and healed very quickly.

The patient was lucky.

By American standards, conditions at the hospital are crude, although Dr. Stone said the hospital has an excellent surgical unit. Surgery regularly ground to a halt because of a lack of rubber gloves, gauze and other items taken for granted in American hospitals.

Dr. Stone said people who arrived at the hospital wrapped in the locally popular and colorful bolts of cloth were particularly fortunate. Normally, the cloths are used to carry goods and babies. The cloths were used as sheets on their beds. Otherwise, the patient might have none.

Contaminated items and other medical waste were put into an open-air pit, doused with gasoline and burned. The need for a better solution was acute.

One day the Stones received a message from Methodist mission headquarters. The people at the Idaho Mountain Express had read newsletters the couple had written for people back home. The Ketchum newspaper had donated $5,000 to the hospital. It was a lot of money considering that the hospital’s annual budget is $120,000, Dr. Stone said.

The budget is split 50-50 between funds from the Mozambique government and the Methodist Church in the U.S.

The newspaper’s donation made a modern incinerator possible. Work on it was underway when the Stones left.

The hospital has one nurse for every 40 patients. The nurses’ workloads are unheard of in American hospitals as are their shifts. Chicuque nurses work either from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 5 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The doctors and nurses at Chicuque often had to improvise.

They treated a gunshot wound in a man’s foot by placing it in a large bucket of sea water and handing him a "Jacuzzi" stick.

Getting to the hospital was no guarantee of survival. Men often fell while retrieving valuable coconuts from the tops of tall trees. If they became paralyzed from the neck or waist down, they did not survive.

Dr. Stone’s voice cracked and his eyes filled with tears when he told the story of a three-year-old boy named Creditar. He said it happens every time he tells the story.

The boy’s parents wrapped him in a blanket and left him to sleep by a fire while they worked in their fields. The blanket caught fire. Before he could escape, the fire scorched 40% of his body, including his arms, chest and genitals. The third-degree burns left him with no outer skin to protect him from infection.

Creditar, whose name means "faith," had to wait at Chicuque Hospital until he was strong enough to travel and until staff members could figure out a way to transport him to a bigger hospital.

His only hope was a gauze wrap that covered his wounds. The wrap had to be changed often. With nurses overloaded, Dr. Stone shared the duty.

Every time Dr. Stone peeled off the gauze, the pain for Creditar was something like being skinned alive.

The boy did not cry out. He only whimpered softly, "It hurts."

In Portuguese, Dr. Stone repeated to him over and over, "You have so much courage. You have so much courage, Creditar."

Creditar died before he could be moved. The child’s death was personal for Stone. "He should have had a chance," he said.

Contributions for Chicuque Hospital may be sent to: First United Methodist Church, 502 No. 11th Street, Payette, ID 83661. They must be designated specifically for the hospital.

The Stones are now looking for the next place that needs them.

 

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