Ethiopia- A Truly Humbling Experience

Northwestern Medicine
News February 12, 2013
Today I had an amazing day in Ethiopia. We woke up around 5 a.m. to drive to the mountains, Wunania, which are about 40 minutes away from Gondar, Ethiopia. It reminded me of why I love the third world.

A group of Ethiopians sitting and listeningFirst off, we were in a VW-like bus. There were no seat-belts. The road was unpaved half of the way there. The paved part, was actually a little bit more scary. People walk on the streets since there is no sidewalk. Donkeys, at times, dart into the middle-of-the-road making us brake suddenly and fall out of our seats.

Rahul Khare, MD, is an emergency room physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Khare has taken numerous volunteer trips abroad and is currently working at a hospital in Ethiopia. He shares part of his journey in his own words below.

People carrying their flour, teff on their heads, beautiful children and their mothers walking hand-in-hand, and different smells both good and bad were everywhere. We hiked for about three miles up to the mountaintop. Then the guide stopped and told us to sit. For 30 minutes we sat silently on top of the mountain just looking at the beautiful scenery. For 30 minutes, no talking, just us and the birds, and down below the monkeys. The monkeys were just playing, it look like a game of tag. It was a good time for me to think about this entire trip, and possibly how it will change me.

After our hiking experience, we went back to the clinic. It was a beautiful clinic today where we screened about 40 people. The kids, their mothers, fathers were all there to get checked by me and the nurse I came with, Leanna. We found several different pathologies, but most of all we had fun playing with them, laughing, giggling, and tickling their small protruding bellies.

At 3 p.m., I went over the hospital to lead rounds on the surgical ward. The head of surgery asked me to talk about trauma. In particular to talk about the treatment of a collapsed lung (pneumothorax), femur fractures and wound infections. There were about 20 medical students with notebooks open with pen on the paper, just excited to have a different perspective. They presented three cases, then I got to ask them all questions. We talked about pathophysiology and the treatment in the US versus the treatment in Ethiopia. Much of it was the same. Some of it, however, was much different. Since they do not have wall suctioning, treatment of collapse lung is a bit different. Since they do not have portable chest x-rays, the treatment of tension pneumothorax comes more on clinical acumen. Since they have way more trauma than we could ever possibly think about in Chicago, they were all little experts on trauma care. For an hour and a half we discussed all of this and they seemed enthusiastic. It truly was one of the highlights of my trip. We got back to the hotel and I was exhausted. I mean, when the last time I hiked five miles in about 6000 feet altitude, and then worked all day! It was well worth it. Although it’s dismal to see such poverty, naked babies, severe homelessness, or seven people living in one hut, there was so much beauty in how much happiness and optimism they all had. The kids were still kids. The mothers and fathers trying to do the best they could with the resources they had. Today was the Ethiopia I was hoping for, however had never been to. As Leanna and I had some food on the balcony restaurant of our hotel, overlooking the plaza, exhausted, both feeling like if we had to go home tomorrow, it would’ve been all worth it.

Check back in a few days when Dr. Khare reflects on his trip!

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