Dr. Sawyer in Papua New Guinea.

Dr. Sawyer in Papua New Guinea.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Words of Affirmation

Proverbs 12:18 (ESV) says, "There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."

My wife would be the first to tell you that I LOVE words of affirmation, and I'm particularly sensitive to words of criticism. Recently while speaking at a Christian medical missionary conference in Orlando, Florida, I shared a truth that I had discovered about being a short-term medical missionary. That "truth" is that it is far better to go to serve at a mission hospital and to watch for what is good rather than to point out what is bad. Then I shared with the audience that I, too, LOVE words of affirmation, and half jokingly said, "so if you liked what I had to say today, then please come up and tell me what a good job I did; and if you didn't like what I had to say today, then please don't say anything." 

Well, as you would guess, after my presentation was over, people from the audience came up to tell me what a good job I had done, and that they found my presentation very helpful and interesting.  Even if they were being disingenuous, I still LOVED their words of affirmation.

But this also caused me to have a moment of self reflection; actually, far more than just a moment, but rather weeks of reflection about how critical I have been in the past, in fact, for most of my career. It seems I have a particularly keen eye for what is wrong with something, and am more than willing to point out how something could be fixed. But my eyes are often myopic when trying to see what is good, admirable, and perfect. 

So, as I departed this time to go back onto the mission field to serve, I made an intentional effort to see what was good, admirable and perfect; to look for the excellence and incredible intellectual and character traits in the people around me.  But not just to leave it at the point of observation, but also to speak aloud and articulate what I see is good, admirable and perfect; in essence, to speak aloud those words of affirmation that I, too, so LOVE to hear. 

Just a few days ago, five short-term physicians left after covering for the long-term physicians who had been away at a conference. I wrote each one of them a note, telling them the positive attributes that I had witnessed in them, and how grateful I was to serve beside them. Several of them messaged me back to tell me how much these words of affirmation meant to them.

My challenge for myself, and for you, today, is to keep your eyes open and focused on what is true, honorable and just; watch for things that are pure, lovely and commendable; searching for what is praiseworthy.  Then open my (your) mouth and speak those words of affirmation people love to hear; spurring them on to do more good and to LOVE more. 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Doing Something Bigger Than Yourself...

In late November 2018, I was returning home to Arizona from Saipan.  One month earlier I had never heard of Saipan.  On October 24, 2018, super typhoon Yutu hit this small Pacific Island with a category 5 typhoon, with winds from 180 to 230 miles per hour that continued for five hours. Samaritan's Purse deployed their DC-8 along with their Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to go to serve on Saipan and the sister island, Tinian.

After being home for a month, and allowing the thoughts simmer in the back of my mind, it seems that my fingers are ready to write; to type out what has been percolating in my mind.

In early November, my flight landed in Honolulu, where I was to join the rest of the team who were arriving on the Samaritan's Purse DC-8 cargo plane, which, by the way, will turn 50 years old on December 24, 2018.  Of the 20+ people I was joining, I only knew one of them.

When we landed in Saipan, the jet bridge that should connect the terminal to the airplane had been destroyed by the storm.

We met our team leader, Mark Langham, who had only been on the island for 36 hours before we had landed.  He looked like a mix between a contemporary Jesus and a hippie leftover from the sixties who got lost on his way to Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco and time warped into 2018.  But what I came to love about Mark was that his external appearances were completely deceiving. The adjectives that describe Mark are: articulate, kind, compassionate, devoted, committed, passionate, uncompromising integrity, insightful, and genuine.

And those are just the ones that are on the tip of my tongue. But then there were another 23+ people who I could say the same thing about. Most mornings, a different team member would speak during our morning devotions; speaking from their life experiences and from their hearts.

As these team members, over the course of about 7 weeks, served the needs of nearly 8,000 homes on the islands of Saipan and Tinian, they were the image of Isaiah 52:7 and Romans 10:15. We watched in amazement as God opened the doors for us to serve. There was one particular marginalized people group in Saipan that lived in three different communities.

One morning we had no idea how we were going to serve the medical needs of this community, and by the end of that day we were doing a medical clinic in front of one of their places of worship and with the blessing of their community leaders.  This scenario repeated itself three more time over the next 5 days.

In a few days I leave for North Carolina to receive training specific to Ebola and then soon after returning to Arizona, I will deploy to serve in an area at high risk for Ebola. I'm grateful for each of you who reads this blog and prays for the work that we are doing. In return, I am praying Romans 15:13 for each of you.  "May the God of all hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Cup of Water...or a Night of Air Conditioning...

Last month (April 2018) I visited the home of two American nurses in Togo, West Africa.  April is one of the four hot months in northern Togo, located on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.  Temperatures were over 100 degrees every day, with 40% humidity, making it feel like 120 degrees every day. 

At their home, they only had ceiling fans to cool them down and no air conditioner. There is a nurses sleep room nearby with air conditioning, however, it was not being used because it cost $1 an hour to run the air conditioner, and it was complicated to figure out who owed what, so the sleep room wasn't getting used. 

I posted a plea on my Facebook page asking for donations to help pay the cost of air conditioning, and in two weeks, over $8,000 came in so that these nurses could sleep in air conditioning.  Effective immediately, the AC will run 16 hours a day (8 hours during the day for the night shift nurses; and 8 hours at night for the day shift nurses) during the four hot months of the year.  Also, the hospital administrator thinks they may be able to reduce the electricity cost to 50 cents per hour, which means that the $8,000 that was donated is enough to pay for 8 years of air conditioning.  Below are some of the nurses who will benefit from the generosity of so many people. 

As I thought about this gift to these nurses, I thought about how in two of the Gospels is an account of Jesus talking about people giving even a cup of water to someone who is a follower of Jesus, and that the giver of the cup of water will receive their reward.  In much the same way as a cup of water, a night of air conditioning is even better!  Thank you.

I will be returning to Cameroon in June, to teach and serve at Mbingo Baptist Hospital.  My wife and daughters, along with two others, will be joining me for the last three weeks that I am there.

For those interested in financially supporting this work, you can go to the website below and then scroll down to the box that says, "FIND DOCTOR/MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL" and type "SAWYER, ALLAN" in the box.  If you see a picture of me holding a little girl, then you are on the right page.  Thank you!  Here is the link.

My favorite benediction reads as follows:

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you wherever he may send you.
May he guide you through the wilderness and protect you through the storm.
May he bring you home rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you.
May he bring you home rejoicing once again through these doors.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

When doctors cry..

After a long labor, I watched the first-time mother give one last push fully expelling her first-born child. The labor had been so long and difficult that the patient was joined by the labor nurse and the doctor in the throngs of exhaustion. But as I wiped the baby and lay this precious new life on the mother’s belly, I heard not just the cry of a baby, but also the muted cry of someone standing behind me.
Earlier in my career I had hosted medical students from a nearby osteopathic medical school. This particular month I had a delightful female student shadow me. She, too, was exhausted from the long labor, and when she witnessed the birth of this baby, the first birth she had ever witnessed, it proved overwhelming for her and she began to cry. Our eyes met as I turned to see who was crying behind me, and she tried even harder to hide her tears. When we walked outside into the hallway, she apologized to me for crying. I put my arm around her and told her that I never wanted her to hide the tears and emotions of compassion and empathy from her patients; that these traits are what would make her a genuinely great physician. Over the years, she has never forgotten this encounter; nor have I.
It doesn’t take much for me to cry. Ask our daughters. It seems I cannot even watch Nemo’s father at the end of the movie allow Nemo to leave the sea anemone alone; or in the movie Wonder, when Augie’s father removes Augie’s space helmet and says to his son, “You are my son, and you are beautiful, and I want to look at my son.” (This was just one of many moments that made me cry watching Wonder.) But these examples are the tears of a father, and not as a doctor.
Looking back at a career in medicine, specifically obstetrics and gynecology, there have been a few moments that come immediately to the forefront of my memory. There were many times of what I would refer to as “doing heart surgery” where my staff and office full of patients would wait patiently for me to finish an appointment where I was speaking more to a patient’s heart than addressing her diagnosis. One such appointment was when I was meeting with a young patient who was at the end of her fight with a horrible and painful cancer. As a Christian she continued to pray for healing, but had reached a point of realization that without an incredible miracle, that this cancer was going to take her life. But like in the story of Daniel in the Old Testament, she would walk through this praising God for being God, and for being a good and loving God. Hearing her say this, I pulled open my laptop in the examination room and asked her to watch a video made by Shane & Shane. Here is the link so you can watch: https://youtu.be/qyUPz6_TciY.
Fortunately, she was the last patient of the day, and after she left the office, I went into my private office and sobbed. I cried because of the apparent injustice of such a beautiful young woman dying of cancer; a woman of incredible courage; a mother; a wife. I cried because there was nothing I could do as a doctor; as a healer; to heal her. And then I cried again as I sat at her funeral, listening to her friends and relatives eulogize her beautiful life.
But this example, like most, was a time when I cried in private. My office staff probably heard me in my office crying, but they left me alone in my grief. Looking back over my career, however, there have been some memorable and moving times where my crying did not occur behind closed doors, but rather quite publicly.
Nine years ago today, on April 13, 2009, a baby boy was born who was given a middle name that was one of my middle names. This little life would not be long in this world, as his lifespan was measured in minutes rather than decades. His story is what prompted me to write this blog today. His parents asked for me to eulogize their son, and so I set out to write a eulogy about the meaning of each of his three given names. A week later, in a church filled to capacity, I looked out over the sea of people who had come to support this baby boy’s family. As he was the son of a police officer, half of the room was filled with police officers and their spouses. I began to weave my way through the eulogy, tying together the names this couple had given their son, and bringing to light the significance of his names. But nearly halfway through the eulogy, my throat swelled, and tears flowed freely down my face. My eyes connected with the eyes of the pastor who was sitting several rows behind the parents. His lips moved and I recognized what he was saying, “Would you like for me to finish?” These seven words were gladly received, and we traded positions; he at the pulpit, and me seated behind the parents. This brilliant pastor had seen where I was going, and as if planned this way, he skillfully wove the eulogy to completion in a manner that was far better than I could have done. As a doctor, I couldn’t save the life of this baby boy, and because of my grief, I could not even finish his eulogy.
The last time that I cried for a patient was yesterday.
After having spoken to the family of a sudden and very unexpected loss, I sat alone in the counselling room and finished drafting the medical report. As I finished the last line of the report, another doctor who had helped me walked back into the room and sat silently across from me. I closed the chart and set down my pen and walked across the room and sat next to her. Seeing her tears caused the tears rimming my eyes to flow freely down my face. We sat together, prayed together, and she shared some insight into her own grieving for patients that is not for me to share. But here in this tiny room in this corner of the world sat two doctors reeling from the events of the day. It was a solemn moment; a beautiful moment; a moment that would be conducive to the healing of two healers’ hearts.
My brain wants to spiritualize this message; or to have some profound conclusion to it, but my heart says to just come quickly to a period at the end of the sentence and be finished. You can draw you own conclusion, and perhaps that is best.
Has a doctor ever cried with you?
Have you ever seen a doctor in a professional setting weep openly?
Were they tears of joy?
Were they tears of sorrow?
Please share your thoughts with me, either publicly or privately. I would love to hear from you.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Longest Commute

My twelve-year-old Toyota pickup truck only has 63,000 miles on it, mostly because my commute for the past 12 years has been a half-mile from my house to my office.  Then it was a mile from my office to the hospital. Then a half-mile back home from the hospital. Typically I would drive about 2 miles a day. I filled the gas tank of my truck once a month, and generally lived my life inside a one-mile radius.

Then, last January, after selling my ob/gyn practice, my commute changed from a half-mile to thousands of miles.  This coming January I will once more commute to West Africa, to teach African surgeons how to do the surgeries that I do, and to help them use their medical and surgical skills as their ministry to their patients.

If you are reading this, then you have likely helped to support me with these endeavors, and I am extremely grateful to you. This year I am scheduled to make at least three, and possibly four extended trips to three (or four) different hospitals in West and Central Africa. Inside my luggage for the first trip are three complete surgical trays, two for doing cesarean sections, and one for doing abdominal and pelvic surgery. These are brand new German stainless steel surgical instruments, of the highest quality, that will be used for decades. 

I'm extremely grateful to each of you who have helped me to go and to serve and to teach. Know that you are making a difference in the world, one patient at a time. The education that I will provide to these doctors, and the surgical instruments that I will bring, will continue to serve these communities long after I have left. 

If you would like to be a part of my team, you can follow the directions on the left side of this blog. I would welcome you to vicariously be a part of my work in developing countries. 

Thank you, and blessings to each of you, and Merry Christmas!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mango Trees & Motorcycles

Mango Tree with Ripe Mangos
Mango Trees and motorcycles just don't seem to belong in the same sentence, unless you are reading an article about things that motorcycles crash into, in which case mango trees would likely be on the list, at least here in Cameroon.

As you might imagine, if you were at a mission hospital joining the surgical team on morning rounds, you would expect to hear about what the on-call team had done the night before.  And so it is here at Mbingo Baptist Hospital.

But after a month here of listening each morning to surgical rounds, and also enjoying the incredibly delicious ripe mangos that are grown here, there seemed to be a connection between the ubiquitous presence of motorcycles and the tasty mangos that were being devoured at mealtimes.

Nearly every day surgical rounds go something like this.  The intern would show a series of  PowerPoint slides and discuss each admission:

Case #1: 12 year old boy with broken arm after falling from mango tree
Case #2: 42 year old male with spinal cord injury after motorcycle accident
Case #3: 14 year old girl with broken leg after falling from mango tree
Case #4: 49 year old woman with diabetic ulcer
Case #5: 24 year old male with depressed skull fraction after motorcycle accident
Case #6: 27 year old male with broken leg after motorcycle accident (hit Case #5)
Case #7: 8 year old boy with laceration after falling from mango tree.

This list is fictional, but still representative of the types of admissions that come in every night at Mbingo Baptist Hospital in Cameroon.

So, finally I raised my hand and asked the surgical team, "Are mango tree injuries seasonal?"  The room erupted in chuckles as everyone agreed that, yes, indeed, when mangos are in season, mango tree injuries increase in frequency.

I knew that motorcycles were dangerous, but I never imagined that morbidity from mango trees could occur with as much frequency and regularity as motorcycle accidents, at least during mango season.

And now you know how mango tress and motorocycles are related!  

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Saving Lives One Image at a Time

Doctors need good information in a timely fashion to make decisions.  In obstetrics, general surgery, and critical care, even minutes can make a difference in determining whether a life is saved or not.  The availability of bedside ultrasound for rapid assessment in critical areas such as the ICU, emergency departments and labor & delivery units has become more of the norm now than the exception.  Obstetricians certainly rely more on ultrasound than on a stethoscope!

Over the past year over 150 people contributed toward this beautiful, brand new, Sonosite M-Turbo ultrasound machine with two probes.  One probe is for doing obstetric and abdominal ultrasounds, and the other probe is a critical care cardiac probe which allows bedside cardiac, arterial and venous assessments.

Finally, after the efforts and generosity of so many people, this ultrasound has found a home in the ICU at Mbingo Baptist Hospital in Cameroon, West Africa.  Here is has easy rapid access to the doctors working in the ICU, surgery and obstetric wards and is available 24 hours a day!

As of a few weeks ago, the ultrasound was 88% funded, and I will receive an update on June 1st to find out if it is fully funded.  [Based on the initial response of so many donors, we proceeded with the purchase even though all of the funding had not come in.]  The ultrasound itself is the size of a laptop computer, and I brought it on the plane to Cameroon as my carry-on.

Truly this ultrasound will aid physicians here to make better and quicker decisions, and it is appropriate to claim that lives will be saved "one image at a time."

Thank you to everyone who helped to make this happen.  You have made a difference in the world!

If anyone would like to still make a contribution toward this project, or towards the work that I do with Samaritan's Purse in developing countries, you can do so at the link below this paragraph (you may need to copy and paste it) and then scroll down to FIND DR./MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL and type my name "SAWYER, ALLAN" in the box.  All funds are placed in my ministry account and will be used for supporting my work in mission hospitals around the world through Samaritan's Purse.  Thank you.  Bless you! You have made a difference in the world!