Watching, Waiting, and Hoping
Gouro Bah & his mother came to Dr. Oumar’s hospital for the first time on Saturday April 4th. Dr. Oumar examined him and recommended they return when the Medical Missions Foundation surgeons arrived. They came back on Monday to wait, and Gouro was one of the first patients screened by Dr. Brandon. He’d had surgery in Sigassou last October, but it clearly wasn’t completed properly. There was little to no abdominal fascia, nothing to hold his bowels tightly in the abdomen. It didn’t hurt him, but it was uncomfortable and unsightly, and would swell when he ate. With no abdominal musculature he had trouble with basic activities; even sitting up was a chore. We knew we could help him, but unfortunately the mesh needed for the repair was in one of the four suitcases that hadn’t made it on our flight from Paris. Ibrahima returned each night to the airport in Bamako to meet the incoming Air France flight, but came back to the hospital disappointed. Gouro and his mother stayed in the hospital compound, waiting and hoping. Every morning he would sit in one of the chairs directly in front of the hospital doors, rather than under the shade of the huge Shea tree on the side as most families do. His big eyes watched every movement – the doctors going to the clinic building to screen patients in between surgeries, “runners” escorting patients to the pharmacy or calling for the next patient to come in to prep. Flashing a big smile when he would see us watching him. Wednesday night when I explained to his mother and him about the lost suitcase, that I wouldn’t know until late if it had been located, and that they could come back in the morning to find out, he said emphatically “Oh, I will wait! I’m not going anywhere!” Midnight Wednesday, finally, the suitcases arrived, and his surgery was scheduled for late the following day.
Thursday afternoon, he laughed when I reviewed the consent form with his mother and asked her to sign, because she couldn’t write, but he could. After chastising him for laughing at his mother (he apologized) I asked if he wanted to sign the form after she made her mark – unnecessary, but just so he could show off his skill. He proudly said “I will write it in Arabic” and proceeded to do so, beautifully. He explained through a translator that he attends an Arabic school in Ouéléssébougou, although his family lives in Molobala. He hopes to become a doctor one day. When Abby asked him teasingly what he thought about having to wait so patiently, four long days in the hospital courtyard, he surprised us by answering very seriously: “happy.” He said that he had been watching us, could see our dedication and our hard work: it made him happy. The waiting meant nothing.
The surgery went well, a long one, with many prior mistakes to clean up. We hope Gouro will come back to say hello to us next year, as many patients do – proudly showing off the results of their patience – women displaying beautiful goiter-free necks, mothers with children like Ba, who we met 2 years ago when he was mostly skin and bones, near death, having destroyed his esophagus by drinking bleach. Dr. Tammy inserted a feeding tube, and since then every year when we visit his mother brings his plump, healthy, happy self to say hello and thanks. We hope likewise to see Gouro’s big eyes and big smile again next year.