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  • Writer's pictureSamantha McCandless

Goederts in Ethiopia Week 4: Our First Trauma Patient

Dr. Stice’s Arrival

Dr. Andy Yang and Dr. Coleen Stice arrived on Saturday and hit the ground running. Andy is  third year surgery resident from Creighton who accompanied Dr. Stice for this combination general surgery, plastic and trauma surgeon immersion in Ethiopia. Eighteen hours after their arrival, we rented a boat to take us out to Zege Peninsula. Lake Tana has several Ethiopian Orthodox monasteries within reach by boat, only a few hours from Bahir Dar. My favorite monastery is on the Zege peninsula because it is the most spectacular. The monastery has a museum and there is a community association that has wisely placed vendors along the walking paths, engaging in their art form. We could see right off that Andy was sharp when he boarded the boat and sat right next to the life preserver. I don’t mean the location where they keep the life preservers, I mean the only life preserver that was visible on the boat.

Trauma Patient Arrives

Martha worked tirelessly to organize the team and get all the right people on board for a tour of the new hospital for the surgeons’ second day. Dr. Andy was invited to the emergency surgery room to examine, with his Ethiopian colleague, the first trauma patient arriving with two arrows sticking out of his body, one in his chest, the other in his hip. It took the patient 12 hours to get to the hospital from Benshangul/Gumuz region where he lived. He was a lucky pastoralist, as the arrows closely missed his jugular, his spinal cord, and his femoral artery. He was lucky to have arrived the same day Stice and Yang started working alongside their Ethiopian colleagues! His story, emerged, that he was guarding the crops that were about ready to harvest. The assailants were thieves, obviously intent on killing him and raiding the crops. The University docs here also explained that the area is near the Sudanese border and, sometimes, it is difficult in that area because one of the ethnic groups there just assumes that all cows are theirs. The drama was intense, and the post-surgical spear photos made us all believe that the robbers were up to no good and fairly adept with the use of bow and arrows. The barbed arrow head was several inches long with about 5 inches of it embedded in his tissues, including bone. Andy couldn’t recall having an arrowhead removal class in medical school and the barbed head was definitely going to be a problem. I had some suggestion from my multiple experiences watching western shows on television, but the surgeons didn’t seem to place much value on the construction engineer’s contributions. The surgery to remove it lasted late into the night and solidified Dr. Coleen’ and Dr. Andy’s relationship with the surgical team. 

Epiphany Arrives

January 20th was also Timket, the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of the Epiphany (the baptism of Jesus in Jordan River conducted by John the Baptist). This is the biggest celebration of the year and churches prepare their versions of the Arc of the Covenant, carrying each arc from their church to the center of town. Some groups travel over twenty miles, with each step bearing their church’s arc of the covenant. On Timket, hundreds of thousands of people gather at the central park for a ceremonial baptism with fire hoses spraying water from Lake Tana over the crowd. In the morning, I went with Jetlie, an Ethiopian friend, since the others were at the hospital. Together we were blessed with a ‘sufficient quantity’ of Lake water that didn’t leave us any drier than if we had actually jumped in the lake. The Amharic News station interviewed me to see what I thought of the celebration. To the delight of the crowd, upon finishing the interview, I responded with Xavier Ystelign that roughly means “God Bless You” in Amharic.

Around 11:00 there was a big blessing on all the churches and each began their journey back to their home church. The arcs are accompanied by huge swarms of people including priests, bands, parishioners and those laying and sweeping the red carpet. Your read correctly. Several young men lay red carpet in front of the procession. Others sweep the carpet with reeds. Once the long troupe passes, the red carpets are rolled up, and the young men run while carrying the carpet on their backs to the front of the procession where they are laid out again and again and again the entire way home. (See Timkat Parade Video at

Andy left on Thursday night but not before getting a chance to sample the local cuisine. He really liked to sample everything-impressive millennial! We took him to a place called Shimela Lodge which is a restaurant with Tukul lodges tucked around the Lake Tana shore. He seemed to be looking through the menu for the most exotic dish he could find. For me, exotic means risky and I try to minimize the number of risks that I take here. I explain to Martha that I am a really sensitive guy, but she reserves the right to be the judge of that. In either case, I  warned Andy of the possibilities of his choices, but Andy had no problems, and tested my theories about gastrointestinal distress to the limit. Ethiopians seem really put off if guests don’t eat and eat and eat. They really fell in love with Andy as his appetite for the local food (really any food) was nearly insatiable. 

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