Now 75, for the last three and a half years Dr Ross has been doing since month stints in the Maternity Units of Malawi’s hospitals. He started in Mzuzu general a government hospital who observed his work for six weeks before he was licensed to practice here. He is “self-funded” which means that he meets all of his travel and food costs. The hospital providing accommodation, he does not want more “to avoid being a burden” on the community here.
His early experiences of some of the struggles women go through here are too horrific to write about. Most of these were complications because women arrived at the hospital far too late in their pregnancy. You can hardly hop on a bus out in the bush and fuel shortages and mobile phone outages make ambulances an uncertain last minute option. So now, all expectant mums are admitted at 36 weeks. Dr Ross has focused on passing on a life times worth of obstetrics experience to the local team, who try to keep his enthusiasm in check on occasions. He works a full day, starting his ward round at 6:30am (after a bowl of scots porridge oats of course). When he finishes at 6pm, he spends the evenings writing new procedural manuals for the staff and developing project plans for the maternity unit.
Guardians who accompany expectant mums stay in a shelter nearby and cook in the open.
He told me about someone the challenges of the role. Recently, there was a power failure at the hospital and the emergency generator did not click in. He was mid-way through a C-section and got two of the attendants to shine their mobile phone screens over the patient, so that he had more light to complete the procedure.
Dr Ross is based at in a hospital far from civilisation as we know it. To visit it is a 24km drive from a tarred road, my Audi A4 struggled up some of the sand hills on the route, so I was glad it was not the rainy season. In the middle of the bush is a “mission town” of church, schools, special needs schools hospitals and staff accommodation. It has changed little from the original 1901”town plan.”
Houses used to be built on stilts because in 1900 people believed Malaria could be combatted with improved air flow.
I was impressed with the standard of Education here. This young lad stopped me one lunchtime to show me the work that he had done in his Exercise books. Embangweni did not feature on the neat map of Malawi hand drawn on the left hand page.
Of course, for Dr Ross being the only Msungo (white person) for many miles around can pose its challenges. Whilst he knows plenty of Tambuca, the local language, he does enjoy a conversation in English. Dr Ross is also glad of an occasional copy of the Scotsman left by visitors. He tells me that he reads it twice from cover to cover and then a third time to check the punctuation and grammar. His latest passion is a Kindle an early Christmas present from his son, which he keeps well stocked and helps deal with restrictive airport baggage limits. I ask him if he feels fulfilled and he smiles and says, “I am having the time of my life. I hope I can keep coming back as long as I have health too.”
My journey back to Mzuzu was eventful to say the least. At one stage, I had to dig the Audi out of soft sand on the track, not much fun when the temperature outside is 34C. I now have nearly 500km of off road driving under my belt. People would pay a fortune to do real off road driving in the UK. Back on the main “M1” some of the local lumber jacks were upset at not being paid on time and had torched some of the trees on both sides of the road. It created a smokey tunnel of about 400m with flames leaping out from both sides of the road. It felt a bit hot through the glass in places. Oh and of course, a police roadblock with a hungry police man asking me for something to eat.