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One Day in Bushulo

text by Brother Vincent Pelletier, F.S.C.
photographs by Asrat Habte Mariam


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Tap…tap…tap…on the bedroom window.

“Doctor, Doctor, equerta, tinish chiggera…wedda delivery room.” Doctor, Doctor, there’s a little problem, please go to the delivery room.

So, at 1:30 A.M., in response to the petition of the night nurse, Dr. Theresa rises from her warm bed. Dressing quickly, she rushes to the delivery room.

“Doctor,” says Almaz, the night nurse, “the Red Cross ambulance brought this woman in at 12:30 A.M. She is at full term, started labor, but stopped. And the mid-wives who were assisting her said she would have problems.”

Dr. Theresa, a 35-year-old medical doctor from Italy and a member of the Salesian Lay Institute, works at the Bushulo Major Health Center in southern Ethiopia. She looks at the patient, reaches down and strokes her forehead. She speaks to the woman, who is about the same age, in flawless Amharic:

“Simi, simish mano?” What is your name? Fekerta gives her name. “Fekerta, is this your first child? Did you have problems during your pregnancy?”

Dr. Theresa interviews Fekerta while checking her pulse, blood pressure and other vital signs. She then leaves the delivery room and consults with Fekerta’s husband to confirm the information she has received. Dr. Theresa paces the length of the hospital veranda to give herself time to make her decision. She returns to the delivery room and gives instructions to the nurse regarding medications – they will induce labor.

Two hours later, Dr. Theresa returns to her cold bed having delivered a healthy baby boy. Had Fekerta not been rushed to the hospital, and had Dr. Theresa not been summoned, both Fekerta and her baby boy would have died.

At 5:45 A.M., Sister Rose of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, seated on a mat in the chapel, prays before the Blessed Sacrament. She begins her day with prayer; she knows this will be her last opportunity for quiet time until after the sun sets. Morning prayer for this community of seven, led by Sister Rose, begins 45 minutes later. Finally, at breakfast, the seven sisters who run Bushulo eat, chat and conduct a little business to organize the day’s activities.

Dr. Alem, an Eritrean staff doctor, begins her rounds in the TB ward and checks with the nurse on duty at 8:00 A.M. Poor nutrition, dirty water and crowded living conditions have contributed to the rapid spread of TB in rural Ethiopia. Comparing notes with the staff nurse, Dr. Alem checks several patients and gives instructions to change the medication for a few of them.

The Ministry of Health has designated Bushulo as the TB treatment center for the entire population of the greater Awasa region, located some five hours south of the capital, Addis Ababa. The region includes some 320,000 people. A team from the hospital travels systematically to various site clinics and gathers statistical data to determine the number of registered TB patients. Bushulo regulates the distribution of medicine and checks the progress of the patients. Lengthy reports are prepared by the Bushulo staff and sent to the Ministry of Health. Periodically, the Ministry of Health sends teams of inspectors to examine the program at Bushulo.

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