Pulitzer finalist of the “Post and Courier” Tony Bartelme spoke about his book, “A Surgeon in the Village: An American Doctor Teaches Brain Surgery in African” in Dial.
Bartelme was invited by the English Department to talk about his nonfiction story of the shortage of doctors, especially surgeons, in Africa. The book was derived from his 5-month experiences being in Tanzania.
Bartelme describes how his book relates to what he learned from surgeons. The brain has 80 billion brain cells that communicate with each other which creates a “potential neural pathway” and is created by thoughts. Then when it’s activated the architecture of the brain begins to change and the “pipelines” that connect the brain cells starts to grow thicker and communication starts to flow in more quickly.
“My underlying theme throughout this book is the transformational and healing power of teaching,” he said. “It’s really teachers that awaken the things growing inside of us.”
In this four-part series, Bartleme’s talks about his editor describing a case where a doctor was using a saw to perform brain surgery on a person. Bartleme was instructed to go to Tanzania where he meets Dr. Dilan Ellegala, a neurosurgeon who escapes his career to stay in Africa for six months.
Throughout the world, there are about five billion people who lack access to safe and affordable surgery. These are also people who can’t get to a hospital in time because they don’t have transportation.
More often, if they do get to a hospital, there aren’t enough doctors to properly treat everyone.
“So, what happens when five billion people lack access to affordable surgery?” Bartelme said. “17 million people die every year, to put that into context, that’s more people who die every year from AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, diabetes and bronchitis.”
According to Bartelme, Ellegala was a man who spoke highly of others but never talked about himself. He taught a man named Emmanuel Mayegga, now a clinical officer, the basics of brain surgery for about six months.
“He did something transformic, Dilan taught Mayegga how to teach others,” Bartelme said. “The country went from having three surgeons to six.”
Before, Ellegala noticed that there was injustice within the Haydom Lutheran Hospital, built originally by Norwegians, because the foreign doctors and medical students would teach the Tanzanians to doubt themselves. Ellegala took the first step in not tolerating the injustice by teaching Mayegga and then making sure that Tanzanians were front and center when the teachings were going on.
As part of his teachings, Ellegala showed the Tanzanians that using what you have to make a difference without depending on someone else will help others. Instead of waiting for medical tools from the U.S., Tanzanians would make their own tools from what they had.
In the video shown of Ellegala speaking about making the tools, he said to see his partners be able to do this in a remote part of the world with equipment that’s available locally, it makes you realize that anything is possible and that you can do it.
In his book, Bartelme brought cultural experiences from a village in Tanzania like the term “ohayoda” which is a call for action to call friends and family to come to help if something is wrong.
Bartelme describes how there was a four-year-old girl lost and the residents cried out “ohayoda” to bring awareness that the young girl was missing. They eventually found her.
“Call of attention and call to action is what I used within my book to address the biggest global health issue [shortage of doctors] across the globe,” he said.
He signed copies of his book after the event concluded as well.
PN Photo/Octavia Johnson