Throughout my teenage years, I used to suffer from acute attacks of sore throat especially during the hot and dry December holidays. On one such occasion, I found myself in the office of the Medical Superintendent of the New Mulago Hospital. Dr. Y. Semambo(RIP) was expecting me since my father had called him earlier on.
After the usual pleasantries, he stood up and walked to where I was seated. “Could you please stretch out your legs,’’ he said.
I found it rather odd but I complied.
Wearing a white coat over a sky blue shirt and navy –blue tie, he bent down to look at my legs. He broke into a big smile, “It’s you. I’m happy to see you once again.”
On realizing that I was perplexed, he went on to tell me the story of how my mother had taken me to him in Old Mulago hospital for treatment. I was two years old and had a high fever associated with vomiting. I badly needed some intravenous fluids. He had punctured me several times but failed to get into my small veins so he resorted to opening the big superficial vein just above the right ankle.
“You see this scar; it is the result of that ‘venous cutdown’. You did well and was out of the hospital in two days.”
In my mind I thought that like a bad penny, I had turned up when he least expected me. Thankfully , I was no bad penny but a symbol of his handiwork as an internee.
I looked at him fascinated, “Thank you very much for having saved my life.”
I seized the opportunity to tell him that I was working hard at school to find my way into the Medical school.
He gave me a firm handshake, “ Go for it. But……… I must warn you that you ‘ll never be paid enough but the service offers other great rewards.”
Since that ‘cutdown’ ,he had risen through the ranks to become the first local doctor to head the only and biggest referral hospital that also served as the only teaching hospital of the Makerere University, faculty of Medicine in Uganda.
From his office, I was taken to the private wing of the hospital to be seen by the Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist: Dr.Tumusiime- Rushedge(RIP). After taking a thorough history and examination, he had treated me for the sore throat and arranged to remove my tonsils during the following long holiday. This was to prevent further attacks and complications.
Later, when I told my mother the ‘venous cutdown’ story, she was also happy that Dr Semambo had had the chance to see the product of his good works. She even asked me whether I had remembered to share my dream of becoming a doctor with him.
Two weeks ago, I attended a wedding where one of my patients had taken the trouble to look out for me and introduce a healthy robust man in his late thirties to me. “This is Fred, my husband,’’ she turned to talk directly to Fred, “you had your family doctor, this lady was our family doctor. She was available to us 24/7.”
I was humbled as Fred gave me a firm handshake.
That same week while I was picking a few groceries from the Game supermarket, a lady in her sixties, dressed in an African print skirt and blouse, stopped her shopping trolley near where I was. She excitedly called out my name ,“Could I please say hello to you?” Unfortunately for me, I had no idea of who she was.
“I remember many years ago, you were on duty in the labour ward in New Mulago hospital. You were heavily pregnant but that night you delivered six women by Caesarian Section. I happened to be the last one you operated on at 6:00AM.”
I nodded my head and smiled, having remembered vividly that whirlwind of a night.
She continued, “Thanks, your daughter is a nurse and has two small children of her own. I know you’ve been away but when you settle in and start practicing again, I’d want to reopen my file.’’
Two days ago, I bumped into one of my most respected and admired teacher at the medical school. He was trying to place me when I second- guessed him. “Professor, I belong to the Graduation Class of 1977.We celebrated forty years of service in March this year.”
“Oh! That’s a big milestone. Actually, I graduated seventeen years before you.’’
I just could not believe it; he looked ten years younger. I thanked him for his selfless service to all and more so for having turned us into the kind of doctors we were. “I remember you emphasizing to us throughout our training that you were training us to work anywhere in the world and that you were after quality and not quantity.”
He had thrown his head back and laughed. “You ‘ll be glad to know that I’m still teaching and hardly a day goes by without me telling the students the very words you ‘ve just told me. I hammer this idea home because I know that in this Noble profession, we‘re dealing with life not commodities.’’
Indeed the professor had added years to his life but his energy, enthusiasm and organized mind had never diminished. I was the richer for having had him as my teacher and mentor. A part of him and many of his kind had become part of me.
Seeing him after all these years, reminded me of this quote by an unknown author: “Our fingerprints cannot be erased from the lives we have touched.”
All our teachers and mentors have also left indelible footprints where they have passed for others to follow them and create their own.
For the young doctors, nurses and other health professionals, strive daily to give of your best and to do the right thing. You live fingerprints on those you touch and footprints where you walk and you can never know when you will bump into each other again and under what circumstances.
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