Wednesday, December 25, 2013

March 8, 1939 - Aba, Belgian Congo

16 days of surgery, 200 operations and an airplane crash.  February and March of 1939 were full of adventure and excitement!   

Aba, Belgian Congo

March 8, 1939 (completed two weeks later)

Dear folks,

Our last trip to Banda (1) for surgery was over fifteen months ago, when in eighteen working days we operated on 101 people. Soon after we left others began to arrive at that station wanting operations, and when told that we would not return for at least a year and maybe more, most of them said they would just wait anyhow, and so built little huts for themselves near the station and started gardens. Thus easily can they adjust themselves – a simple life!  As the months passed more and more of them arrived until, when they got to be around two hundred Mr. Dix refused to put their names down in the book. That was four or five months ago, and Dix estimates that at least five hundred had come during the fifteen months.

It was hard to find a time to get away for the trip, what with maternity cases, Christmas time, the children’s vacation and other affairs to keep us here. As it turned out we had to squeeze the trip into a comparatively few days this time, as first we had to wait for a meeting of the Field Council of which both Dix and I are members, and then we had to be back in time for Yoane Kusala, the head medical boy who went with us, to be here for a government medical examination which he has to take. That meant rushing to get through with as many patients as possible and rushing to get back; and now that we are back we learn that the exam will not take place for at least three more weeks and we have already been back a week!  We wanted to take three medical boys along this time, one to act as “assistant surgeon” and two to take care of the post-operatives, but with all the supplies we had to take along there wasn't enough room in the car and so we had to leave one behind, much to his disgust. At the “last minute” too we found that we would have to invest in two new tires, and we were fortunate enough to be able to get them within a few days more or less “locally”, i.e. 100 miles.

Well, to make a long story short, this time we found more patients waiting than we could possibly care for in the time at hand. However, things went smoothly and by the Lord’s enabling we were able to operate on 120 patients, about 50 of whom had double or triple operations, this time in 16 working days. This time also there was one death, a very old man who got along well after an operation for double hernia and elephantiasis but about two weeks later developed dysentery, which proved too much for him. A larger proportion of the hernias this time were comparatively early than at previous times, but a few that we turned down were so large that they contained more of the abdominal contents than the abdomen itself.  One woman carried her hernia in a cloth that was slung around her neck and shoulder, somewhat as they would carry a baby, the kind that one book speaks of as “having forfeited its right of domicile.” The largest elephantiasis (scrotal tumor) this time weighed 78 pounds after removal and had hung to within a literal inch from the ground.  An interesting feature about this case was that, in spite of the fact that there is usually considerable hemorrhage in such operations, there was a very marked sudden slowing of the pulse just as the tumor was being removed from the body, due probably to the sudden decrease in the load on the heart. All the cases were done under spinal anesthesia only, a great boon in such work out here. It makes it possible to do more cases during a morning than if one had to wait for the induction of general anesthesia in each case, and eliminates the need for an anesthetist or frees the nurse for her many other duties.

It was interesting to note again that the people came from widely scattered areas and many of them from 200 or 250 miles away. Some had been waiting for as long as fifteen months and over half of them for more than six months. According to Dix, who is stationed at Banda, there is some real spiritual fruit evident as a result of previous visits, and all through his district new openings into villages have been made easy for him and his native evangelists. Some of the area from which the patients have come are as yet unoccupied by any mission, and the only Gospel witness they have had has been that received at Banda, or through those who have been there.

After our time was up there were still left around a hundred people in need of help. About twenty of these were considered inoperable, and of the remainder about seventy said they wanted to go to Aba. That would mean a good three hundred miles to walk and some of these had already come over two hundred miles from the opposite direction. We didn't really expect that many of them would actually start for Aba. Two more weeks have elapsed since this letter was begun, and a few days ago we were surprised to see these people begin to arrive here. Sixty-four have come, besides ten or a dozen friends or relatives who came along to help. They had done the trip in three weeks in spite of physical handicaps, fair sized loads, and little food. How they managed to get food and shelter along the whole way is more than I can say, for in one of the groups there were around forty people, a large number to make their appearance at a village all at once. For a couple of nights we were swamped for sleeping space, beds enough being out of the question; but somehow they all found places to stretch out, on, under, or between beds all over the place. After one day of rest they got busy building little houses of poles and grass, and tonight they are serenely comfortable around their various fires.

Photo taken by Ralph Kleinschmidt in March 1939. 
The further delay in writing has been due in part to extra duties with white patients since returning home. One of these is a missionary from Ibambi here for an operation. Another was an officer of one of the Imperial Airways flying boats which got lost on its way from the Cape to London and had to make a forced landing on a small river forty miles away from us (2). This was quite an exciting event – for Aba. One morning a shout was heard that an airplane was coming, and as everybody ran outside we saw a huge airliner approaching, flying low and slowly, and circling about as if in distress. A few hours later we heard that it had run out of gas and had landed at Faradje. They had finally found the small river there, not much wider than the plane. After “landing” on the water the plane had to turn around two sharp bends in the river at full speed, and then it struck a large rock. However, all the passengers and crew were safely landed before the plane filled with water. The radio officer had struck his head when the plane hit the rock and was dazed for a few minutes, but after that swam about for three hours rescuing mail and other
Reverse side of the photo taken by Ralph Kleinschmidt.
Description written by Esther Kleinschmidt Meyers. 
things from the ship. A little while later, however, he began to act queerly and then became unconscious, and so he was taken here (Aba Mission Hospital). We sat up with him a good part of the night, but his injury proved to be not very serious and after a few days of rest in the hospital he went back to help salvage the plane. One day Coralee and I went with him and had a very interesting time seeing the huge machine. It is one of the very latest models, much like the transpacific “Clippers”, weighing 18 tons empty, and using three tons of gasoline in five hours – enough to last our car two years! One of the passengers, by the way, was a sister of Prime Minister Chamberlain (3).

It is only five more weeks until the girls come home from school!  And that’s another event!  They continue to be happy down there and to do good work in school. The school staff will be short soon, as Mr. and Mrs. Winsor (4) are leaving for furlough. Their home is in Wheaton. Mr. W. is a brother of Mrs. Pierson. He is a very fine fellow and we certainly hope that you will get to meet him while he is in the States. We are expecting the Piersons (5) to arrive almost any day. They left America about three months ago on their return to the field. We have just heard that while driving up through Kenya from the coast their car was stuck in a river when suddenly a very heavy downpour caused the river to rise so fast that within a few minutes the car was nearly covered, and they barely had time to get out, and nearly lost their car and everything in it.

[The letter has no signature, so I don't know if it closed here, or if there was another page that I do not have.]

  1. I have not been able to locate Banda on the map. Mom says it's between Niangara and Asa.  
  2. This photo was taken by my grandfather, Ralph Kleinschmidt, of the Corsair which crashed on the Dungu River on March 15, 1939. My mother remembers it vividly. Here is what she wrote on the back of this photo: "The village that grew up around it for the workmen and their families was named Corsairville. It took months to build a dam and repair the plane. First they failed. More repairs. Second try it took off successfully, all 4 motors in full thunderous throttle."
  3. The story of this event is also told in "Corsairville - the Lost Domain of the Flying Boat" by Graham Coster.
  4. Mr. and Mrs. Winsor (Earl & Ada Rury). Earl was Mom and Edie's math teacher at Rethy. Ada was Earl's 2nd wife. He and his first wife Mary Park Winsor had two children, Faith and Austin.  
  5. Mr. and Mrs Pierson (Floyd & Amy Winsor) were AIM missionaries at Asa at least 50 years. They had one daughter, Betty Lou, who married Paul Teasdale.  

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