It’s sort of a dubious distinction, but I have been in many hospitals and had many surgeries from Los Angeles, to Boston, to Tulsa, to Northwest Arkansas, and spent many nights in those American hospitals (totaling more than 47 nights in all of them). I have also broken records in two or three of them for needing more anesthesia than anyone else to put me out (something to do with my size and former drug problems). The one thing that all of them had in common was the most state-of-the-art medical equipment and doctors who were very, very good at what they did. I was never nervous about the competence of the doctors or the equipment and operating room conditions. It was always the best. The bed I had at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa adjusted to my every movement to prevent me getting bed sores. They were all spotlessly clean, antiseptic, and kept in tip-top condition. I’ve had surgeries for cancer, a ruptured gall bladder, the implantation of a defibrillator, rectal surgery, cosmetic surgery to replace the top half of an ear and more skin cancer removals than I can count. All of this incredible A+ surgery, competent doctors, and modern equipment certainly kept me alive—and for that I am incredibly grateful. I have also had numerous surgeries here in Africa. Two in different hospitals in Nairobi, Kenya, some right here in Bunda at the District Designated Hospital, three at two different hospitals in Arusha, and three at three different hospitals in Mwanza. I have had to spend several nights in these hospitals as well, but there were many differences. The skill of the doctors was just as good as I could get, and I have not a single negative thing to say about their competence. I have had Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian surgeons here in East Africa. I honestly don’t know about the religious affiliations of most of the surgeons I had in the United States—it just never came up. I know one or two were Christian, but the others could have been anything which is to say I don’t think religious orientation has anything to do with the quality of care or the competence of the surgeons who worked on me.
Here in East Africa, I have had skin cancer removals, a testicle removal, removals of tumors from tuberculosis of the skin, prostate cancer surgery, and two implanted defibrillator replacements (both in Nairobi). The hospitals were not new, were not full of state-of-the-art equipment, and the rooms had paint peeling off the walls, no air conditioning, metal beds from around WWII (only two had controls for automatic repositioning), and the operating rooms had windows open to the outside. On one memorable occasion, Vervet monkeys came in and out of the upper windows while the surgery was taking place. Two of the operations were done without anesthesia, and those were tough believe me. Only the hospitals in Nairobi brought food to your room, in Tanzania, family or friends had to supply it. Yet, in spite of all that, I got no infections from the hospitals or their equipment because they kept it very clean. The doctors know they don’t have the best equipment, but they do the best with what they have. (Isn’t that what we all have to do?) What they do have is the most care for the patient I have ever experienced. Other doctors (not my primary care physician) would come by to check on me, and the primary doctors spent more time with me than any American doctor ever did (I understand the pressures on American doctors and I don’t blame the men and women—it’s the system). The other main difference was the nursing care. I have never had as wonderful and concerned nurses, even extending to the night time security guards who would come check on me and talk to me. I know many wonderful, caring nurses in the United States, but they were never the nurses on my floor when I needed them, and I think the good American nurses would be the first to agree that there are a lot of bad ones out there. The nurses here hold my hand during surgery and recovery, patiently talk to me if they think I’m anxious, and laugh and joke with me when I’m better. The whole point of this is that when those doing the work really care about you, things are better. They had to deal with some disgusting and embarrassing for me situations frequently, but always did it with grace. I would apologize and they would tell me not to worry about it. Yes, people do die here at alarming rates who would be alive and well if the hospitals here had the proper equipment. There is no hiding the fact that lives are lost because of the lack of state-of-the-art equipment but having that equipment is no guarantee of great success either. What I’ve learned from my experience is that I would rather be in the care of doctors and nurses who cared about me as a person and really wanted me to get better without worrying about insurance forms than any other kind. Caring is what counts in just about everything. I’ve seen what a great teacher my wife is because of her love for the children first and foremost. Everyone wins when great caring is a major part of the healing process. I am blessed that I have had that here. I would have died any number of times had that caring not been there. Since I have never been confused with Paul Newman or Brad Pitt, I know it’s not because of my looks that these people have cared. Neither has it been about money as we have had to make lots of deals and payment plans to cover costs. My belief is that loving others and kindness is the biggest factor in good medical care, good education, good parenting, being good neighbors, and having a vital, active, and alive church experience. You care. You love. You show kindness. The world will see Christ through you whether you’re a nurse, a doctor, a bus driver, a teacher, or a parent. And that’s a fact.