Friday, December 7, 2007

A Fallen Hero

Bundibugyo, Uganda
Volume 2, Issue 17
December 7, 2007

-A Fallen Hero-
…Dr. Jonah…

Chink….chink…..chink……as the hoe hits the ground….thud….thud…..thud… the dirt falls on the newly lowered coffin……wails and screams from mother, wife, daughters as the few onlookers gather to honor the fallen hero, Dr. Jonah. The burial yesterday was difficult for all involved, extremely sobering, and not at all what you would expect for a man such as Jonah. Because of intense fear of contracting Ebola very few people came to the burial. In a culture where hundreds of people usually greet the family at their home and just as many are at the burial, it was eerie to see so few pay tribute to such a loved and well respected man.

Ebola is a horrible way to die, but even more horrific is the intense fear and panic that has befallen people hear. Someone even told me yesterday that people in my community are afraid to come near me, as they know I treat patients at the health center. Maybe that explains that lack of knocks on my door.

Jonah was a God fearing man who loved and served people in all he did. It was an honor to know him. I was in the district when he first arrived in February 2006 as a new medical officer, and now I am here when his duty ends. I am a better person because of Jonah, and I mourn the loss of such a caring man who was so committed to helping his brothers, friends, neighbors, and all people in this world. He gave his life so that others could live.

I wrote the following article on March 12, 2006, shortly after Jonah arrived back in the district as a medical officer.
Jonah’s Tale

Jonah is a young man from Western Uganda that recently graduated from training as a medical officer (doctor). He is the first individual from his community in over 29 years to obtain such a high level of training, and most people are ecstatic to witness his accomplishments!

Though for many he is a welcome his sight, his agenda varies dramatically from many other of the medical personnel. Corruption and lack of a strong work ethic are major parts of everyday life in Bundibugyo, especially among many of the health care employees. All services are to be provided for free in Uganda as part of the national health care network, but too often surgeons force patients to pay them directly before they will perform a certain procedure, even if it an emergency. Jonah originally came to Bundibugyo two weeks ago, anticipating a warm welcome from the chief medical personnel officer. What Jonah received was completely different.

Even though this area is severely understaffed, the chief told Jonah to go home and rest for two more weeks, he was not needed here as of yet. The politics of this situation are immense (I hope I can explain this well), the chief officer knows that Jonah is a strong Christian man who diligently tries to uphold strong morals and principles, failing to compromise in his character. This leads Jonah to serve humanity how ever he can, in whatever form. This also means that Jonah will not force patients to pay him privately for services rendered, as he knows that the services are ‘supposed’ to be free. Jonah will also show up for work on time, and he will perform all the tasks and duties assigned to him.

When Jonah recently returned, he did not speak to the chief medical officer, but instead went straight to the director of the entire medical system in this district. Luckily, this director gave Jonah a posting at the hospital, welcoming him to the staff. The very next day Jonah was walking around the wards being introduced. As he walked into the surgical theater, there lying on the table, was a full-term pregnant woman who was having major complications. A caesarean section was warranted. Though the woman had been at the surgical theater for more than two hours, the local surgeon would not perform the desperately needed surgery because the woman could not pay him the 60,000 shillings he demanded (the surgery is ‘supposed’ to be free!!!). Instead, he left her in great pain and near death, for both the mother and the infant, until she could somehow come up with the money. How did Jonah respond? Though he was not yet to be working, and was only in the area for introduction, he immediately changed clothes and performed the surgery. At last check, the woman and child both survived and remain in the maternity ward for complete recovery. Two days later, a very similar incidence happened, with the same doctor involved. Once again, Jonah appeared in time of great need.

What Jonah did was gracious, humbling, and necessary. Had he not intervened, the woman and child would surely have passed. As you can surmise, this act of Jonah has created heated tension between him and the other doctors. Word spreads quickly in a small town, and individuals now know that Jonah does not accept or require bribes. This has the other doctors fuming, because now patients will no longer go to them and individuals know that the services rendered should not require a bribe.
Though I believe the coming of Jonah is a true blessing to this area, he is in great danger. The other doctors will no doubt retaliate and attack Jonah at every opportunity. I pray that Jonah will have the courage to carry on despite surmounting obstacles. I pray for the people of Bundibugyo, that they will receive the care that is greatly needed and that they will not be forced to pay large bribes in order to have needed medical interventions.

Jonah has already expressed great interest in teaching me, and I spent a day with him at the hospital. Though he is a big ‘pimper’ (he asks me lots of medical questions to test my knowledge), he is well-versed in medicine and cares deeply for his patients, and I think I will no doubt learn many things from him.


Andrea Crivelli-Kovach said...


Just reading about the harsh reality of your experiences puts so much into perspective in the US. I remember showing the Ebola video in Epi Class when you were just starting your PH courses and observing the reactions of the students as the drama unfolded and far from us is this experience of poverty, sickness and suffering. Now here you are in the thick of it.

You truly are doing God's work and know that we are there in spirit with you. "May the Lord Bless you and keep you....May the Lord's face shine upon you and be gracious to you... and May the Lord lift up his Countenance upon you and bring you peace."

Be well...your professor....Andrea Crivelli-Kovach

claire said...

What a beautiful picture of a life. Though he is no longer with us, leaving us with grief and pain, and creating a huge void in the system, Jonah's life, marked by integrity and dedication, allowed so many others to live. That is something to praise the Lord for.

We are praying for your continued strength and protection in VA.

Roberta Simmons said...

Thank you so much for allowing us into your heart and your life here. Please know that many, many people all over the world are fervently praying for everyone there. Our hearts just ache for this tragedy and the continues threat you are facing. We grieve alongside you and the others.
the Simmons family (in Tennessee)