stories

My name is Ralf Krych. I am a trauma surgeon and orthopedist. I usually work in a practice in Mosbach, a small city near Heilbronn, but since 2019 I have done stints lasting several weeks in Burundi, in the heart of Africa, on a regular basis.

stories

Any physician who travels to a developing country will be confronted with some seemingly hopeless situations. In April 2018, Dr. Sebastian Freudenberg moved to Papua New Guinea and began setting up a hospital there.

donations

Twice a year, an honorary medical team from “Doctors of the World” consisting of surgeons, anesthesiologists and surgical nurses travel to Phnom Penh.

Where helping hands are needed

My name is Ralf Krych. I am a trauma surgeon and orthopedist. I usually work in a practice in Mosbach, a small city near Heilbronn, but since 2019 I have done stints lasting several weeks in Burundi, in the heart of Africa, on a regular basis.

Idealism is not enough

I often get asked why I go there, even using my vacation time to do so. Probably all of us physicians, or at least most of us, began studying medicine out of a sense of idealism. I wanted to help. Later I discovered that physicians must work in an economically viable fashion, and that hospitals must be run profitably as well. You do not necessarily get prepared for this reality during your studies. As an intern you don’t really get the big picture yet either, but by the time you have become a specialist, at the latest, there are clear guidelines that you must follow. Since completing my specialist training, I have often asked myself how much of my idealism is still left.

Let’s go to Burundi!

During my studies I always wanted to join Doctors without Borders, but this is a highly regulated program. Your work schedule is very rigorous before and after your deployment. I ultimately came across a small, self-sufficient association that is active in Africa: Helping Hands. It only has a few members, but they all travel to Mauritania or Burundi on a regular basis to help out there. They simply do what is possible under the circumstances. I liked that. My first deployment was in February 2019, when I went to Burundi for the first time, a country I had heard nothing about to date. Shortly before my departure I packed everything that I found lying around in our practice here in Mosbach along with things hospitals and companies like Erbe had donated to us – instruments, metal plates, screws, bandages, electrosurgical equipment. In other words, everything a trauma surgeon needs to begin with.

The hospital in Burundi is located in the northern part of the country, far away from the capital city of Bujumbura; it is a facility with only very basic equipment.. In the two weeks I spent there on my first stint, I saw more severe injuries than I had seen here over the entire course of my career. I am a trauma surgeon, and we see a lot of horrible things, but many of the cases I have seen in Burundi even traumatize physicians like me. When accidents happen, which is a common occurrence, emergency care is often unavailable. Dealing with such injuries is all part of daily routine at the hospital in Kirundo. Open limb fractures, burns, infections, malaria.

Banking on our experience, we operate using a fraction of the resources available to us for such surgical interventions here in Germany, screwing on some metal plates with no real x-ray machine for orientation. This has got to suffice. We have no alternative. Dr. Ralf Krych

A young man is admitted, having incurred a severe fracture of the femur weeks earlier. How did he even make it to the hospital, one might ask oneself. Banking on our experience, we operate using a fraction of the resources available to us for such surgical interventions here in Germany, screwing on some metal plates with no real x-ray machine for orientation. This has got to suffice. We have no alternative. The instruments provided to us by Erbe help us perform such interventions, however.

The encounters you have haunt you

After a long day of performing surgeries, improvising along the way, my colleagues and I stand around in front of our rented house and drink a beer. After a short conversation, we go to bed and fall into a deep sleep. It is strange that one sleeps so deeply after such experiences. Does it have something to do with the tropical climate? The encounters you have haunt you. I often ask myself question upon question. Could I have done more for the patient? Could I have helped her in some different way? What did you become a doctor for anyway? You should know what to do! I now make a point of not finding out the names of patients with really terrible diagnoses. Otherwise I would never forget them.

Two-week stints in Africa go by quickly. I have never counted the number of operations we perform during such a stint. How many patients were able to go home, but also how many died after my return to Germany. Our team cannot always be there; we all have jobs here in Germany. For this reason, the last few days before our departure are particularly demanding. We must make grave decisions and leave behind patients who have just been operated on, placing them in the care of African colleagues with less experience and fewer resources. Uncertainty is a constant companion on the trip home to Germany. But also the good feeling of having been able to save a few human lives.

I will fly to Burundi again as soon as the Corona pandemic allows for it. I will return to this beautiful country with all its friendly, open people. Back to the patients who suffer and must endure so much more than those of us here in Germany. In light of all the experiences I have had as a doctor in Central Africa I am glad to have a family back home that supports me in everything I do, and that honors my reasons for doing it. That gives me an enormous amount of fortitude. My eldest son is now thirteen years old. He said he would like to accompany me on my next trip.

Out of the ordinary

Any physician who travels to a developing country will be confronted with some seemingly hopeless situations. In April 2018, Dr. Sebastian Freudenberg moved to Papua New Guinea and began setting up a hospital there. Erbe supported the project through donation of a VIO unit and surgical accessories.

My name is Sebastian Freudenberg. I am a doctor in Papua New Guinea. Until a few months ago, I was Director of the Helios Klinikum in Bad Berleburg. My family and I have always been enticed by little-known, remote places. With a wish to explore far-off lands while in good health and before our youngest children start secondary school, we looked around for jobs on the Internet. We took a particular interest in the Pacific region since we are relatively unfamiliar with it. Our attention was ultimately drawn to the State of Papua New Guinea in Oceania. After coming across the job ad, we took a closer look at the country and soon felt that this remote region quite unknown to us was exactly what we were in search of.

In light of the fully expectable circumstances on site, our goals quickly took shape. We wanted to standardize the medical care in general and of course surgical practices in particular, and most of all, we wanted to train local recruits who would still be here once our work is done in about three years, at which time we would need to be returning to Germany.

I am also very committed to cooperating with the nation’s two universities. My objective is to expand surgical training at the elementary and advanced level for students and interns.

In order to equip the clinic in Papua New Guinea with what it needs, we had to start by raising donations in Germany. We took great pleasure in organizing a sponsored run together with various specialist clinics of the hospital, its administration and the support of local physicians, most of all our general practitioner of long years, who happened to be an ambitious marathon runner too. The proceeds enabled us to raise half the cost of an ultrasound scanner. Erbe donated a VIO surgical unit along with many accessories. The equipment and the participation of many helpers in Bad Berleburg as well as the friendships which have formed as a result are an unexpected boon.

So we ultimately took off for a far-away destination.

Our employer, the Protestant-Lutheran church, was quite adamant about us being well-integrated into the host country. This meant learning the national language, establishing contact with the inhabitants and familiarizing ourselves with various networks. In a country like Papua New Guinea this is not exactly an easy task.

Our orientation phase lasted several months. The people were totally friendly but their notions of family, the role of women in society, responsibility and property differ strongly from our own. Much of what you experience takes some getting used to. Unfortunately, there is a lot of violence in the more densely populated parts of the country, and vigilante justice is quite widespread. You hardly encounter any tourists. It is a country full of contrasts that you must grapple with.

Papua New Guinea is certainly one of the most enticing, multi-faceted countries on this earth. Its landscape is diverse, offering everything from beautiful ocean beaches and coral reefs with options for diving, fishing and bathing to mountainous regions; you can hike up Mount Wilhelm or visit a coffee bean roastery in the highlands, for example. You can also take a tour of the jungle or explore the banks of the Sepik River that runs through it, navigating the waterway in a dugout. And then there is the contrast between the modern city of Port Moresby with its high-rise buildings, streets and other present-day amenities and well over 750 tribes, each with their own language, most of whom live as self-providers dispersed across the country with no electricity or running water.

This is where our work began, because options for healthcare are limited. Of course there are hospitals in relatively large urban centers, but many people live far removed from them without motorization or access to public transportation. So-called health posts provide basic medical care, but it often takes hours to even reach these outposts. And one mustn’t forget that most people have very limited monetary resources.

Our work day at the Christian Braun Memorial Hospital always begins with the morning devotion – a small circle of people singing songs and saying prayers –, followed by night report, which is to say, the handover of night to day duty. Surgeries are performed two days a week. On the other days there are doctor’s rounds, consultation hours for out-patients and of course surgical emergency duty. There are usually two or three physicians on duty at our hospital, who share night duty with no nights off.

These are the structures that help us do the best we can under difficult circumstances.

Smile, Cambodia!

Twice a year, an honorary medical team from “Doctors of the World” (Ärzte der Welt e. V.”) consisting of surgeons, anesthesiologists and surgical nurses travel to Phnom Penh to provide advanced training for local medical personnel during the first week of their stint there. In the second week, the team of experts assists the local organization “Smile Cambodia” with surgical interventions.

Through basic and advanced trainings for local medical staff in various specialist disciplines, they are able to sustainably improve the care of the poor population in particular.

Erbe has donated various devices and instruments to “Doctors of the World” to promote their work in Cambodia. A The destination of the trip taken by the team in February was the Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital and the local NGO “Smile Cambodia.” This time around it was made up of two oral and facillo-facial surgeons, a plastic surgeon and an ENT specialist. In addition, there were three anesthesiologists and one surgical nurse on board ready to assist and advise the others. During the two-week stint, a total of 39 operations were performed. Among the patients were many children who had been born with a particularly disfiguring cleft palate.

As an impoverished country, Cambodia cannot afford adequate surgical treatment of such severe malformations without help from abroad. The health care system of this Southeast-Asian country struggles with undersupply in many places. State health care is lacking, just like modern equipment and experienced physicians. Essential medication is often only available on the black market. The dramatic lack of medical personnel is one consequence of the dictatorship endured by Cambodia until well into the 1990s. The regime persecuted academics, among them doctors, while systematically destroying hospitals. “Doctors of the World” devotes itself worldwide to medical care for disadvantaged people, with their focus lying on women and children. Politically speaking, the organization advocates free access to health care as a human right.

making of

Erbe sets its sights on stories. For good reason. Because we want to tell, as compellingly as we can, how we help people help people.

Visit our exceptional product websites