The Gas We Pass

(by Greg)

While it is true that our bean consumption has increased dramatically since our return to Burundi, this blog post is about another kind of gas.  I am talking about oxygen.  

When we first came to Burundi, friends back home would sometimes ask me what I missed most about working in the U.S.  My answer was always oxygen.  As an anesthesiologist working in the U.S., I took oxygen for granted.  While we need O2 to run our anesthesia machines and to treat patients whose oxygen levels are low, at every hospital I have worked at in the U.S. oxygen came out of almost every wall of almost every unit of the hospital.  I never gave much thought as to where this oxygen came from, assuming rather that it was delivered by the oxygen fairy, who I like to call Florence, or Flo for short.  But somehow, upon my arrival to Burundi, it seemed to me that Burundi must have been outside Flo’s service area.  

While we had a few small oxygen concentrators with which we could give low levels of oxygen to patients in need, we relied on larger cylinders to run the anesthesia machine.  The hospital purchases these in the capital, however, once purchased we often burn through our supply within a couple weeks and then have nothing for 3 or 4 weeks until the next purchasing.  Almost daily, a medical student would approach me to ask for help getting oxygen to a patient in need.  And most days, our small supply of concentrators were all being used by other patients.  For years it was not uncommon for patients and especially children to die for lack of oxygen.  It was heartbreaking.  

So, after a donation to our team fund, we were able to purchase a large, industrial strength oxygen concentrator.  This concentrator was shipped over on a container in 2016.  And last month, an engineer from Samaritan’s Purse, David Bucklin, who has experience with installing this machine, flew to Burundi to help Caleb, our engineer, set it up.  Accomplishing this involved some major hospital renovations, including clearing out an entire room to house this machine alongside the generator.  Caleb and David got it up and running and we now have continuous oxygen piped through the walls to our 2 operating rooms as well as the NICU.  As the hospital continues to grow, we will add oxygen supplies to other departments of the hospital as well.  I am incredibly grateful for all the work and money that went into this project.  It has dramatically changed my life and even more so for the lives of our patients.  It is truly a lifesaving gas.  I guess that is why we can’t live without it.

David installing the copper pipes through the attic.
David and Caleb standing on dangerously thin ceiling material.
Our shiny new machine.  Isn't she beautiful?
And this is the wall of our OR.  It might not look like much, but it will without a doubt save many lives for many years to come.


Rebekah said...

This is exciting! Praise God for the many people who used their gifts and talents to bring this to fruition!

Sara Davies said...

I was going to tell you about low gas flow anesthesia, but now thankfully you won't need that skill 😊