A Missionary Doctor's Autobiography

by Robert M Buckley


1. Cape to Rhodesia
2. Good Hope and
 Emmanuel Mission
3. Mission Life
4. Early Schooling
5. Further Schooling
6. Medical School
7. Trip to Malawi
8. Malamulo Hospital
9. Eventful 1953/4
10. To Lesotho
11. Kanye & Kalahari
12. Yuka Hospital
13. London & Kenya
14. Kenya & Uganda
15. Walking the Valley
16. Further Studies
17. Kendu & Nairobi
18. Hong Kong
19. England & Norway
20. Maluti - Again
21. Retirement
22. Move to South Africa
Kalahari Diary


Chapter 17

Kendu and Nairobi


When we left Africa in 1967, we intended returning to Ishaka but in Gods providence, when we got back, we were posted to Kendu for a short while and then to Nairobi.

During the time at Kendu, we had two experiences that brought home again the sacrifices that missionaries have to make.

Kamagambo Training School, which was about 40 miles away, like the hospital was in a highly malarious area. Among the expatriate staff, who trained teachers and other workers, there was an American family - husband and wife, both teachers, who had two young girls. The wife went to the local clinic for treatment of a malarial attack (confirmed by blood slide) and was given an injection of chloroquin, which seemed to have been effective. Some weeks later she became increasingly fatigued and developed severe jaundice. We arranged for her transfer to the Nairobi Hospital, where, in spite of care by a liver specialist and a surgeon, she died from liver failure.. With hindsight, it seems that she may have contracted Hepatitis from the injection at the clinic. The husband and two girls had to return to their homeland.

Then there was the young son of the works manager at the Africa Herald Press, which was just two miles away. He was admitted with malaria and seemed to respond to treatment. Then he suddenly collapsed with what must have been cerebral malaria and in spite of our efforts to resuscitate him, he died. I felt this experience deeply, in view of the loss of our own son, just a few years previously. In spite of their profound loss, this family completed their term of service and later did another term, in West Africa.

Before long, we were on the move again - this time to the Kenyan capital. Dr Cyril Blaine had started a medical practice in Nairobi and when he had to leave, it was decided that I would take over the practice until the Union could find another doctor to care for the general practice. At which time, I would confine my practice to the specialty of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, which is what I had trained for, in England.

I was in the employ of the Union and with their advice and financial support, we designed and built a new medical centre, with two dental suites on the ground floor, a medical facility for two (or three) doctors, together with a laboratory, on the first floor and three apartments on the second floor. It was a modern facility and a joy to work in.

Looking back, I think the ten years we spent in Nairobi were probably the busiest, but also the happiest of my working life. Situated about 100 miles south of the equator, but over 5,000 ft above sea level, the climate was ideal. Conventional seasons did not exist; there were just wet and dry seasons.

I enjoyed my specialty practice, as I was a consultant, to whom other doctors referred patients. I had the use of the nearby Nairobi Hospital, with its excellent facilities, but did not have to worry about the mundane problems of running a hospital. Trips to the hospital at night were easy, as our house was about a mile away.

When the medical centre was built, part of the lower floor was left unfinished, and was used for storage. Later, we decided to paint the area and put in lighting, so that we would have a facility that could be used for health education. We called it the Better Living Centre and we conducted regular classes to stop smoking, for weight reduction, stress control, exercise classes, healthy cooking classes and spiritual awareness talks. These were held in the evenings. Many patients and their friends attended these classes and were benefited.

Church activities also took up considerable time. I was the head elder and preached regularly, as well as organising the preaching plan. I also taught the baptismal class for several years. Lilian and I also led out in the Youth Sabbath School one year.

Besides all that, Lilian and I found ourselves deeply involved in the Pathfinder club. We had not done this type of activity before, but we went along and asked if we could be of help. At the end of the first year, I was asked to lead the club and the following year Lilian took over. For most of our time in Nairobi, we alternated the leadership, but before we left we trained some of the local young adults to take over. We had meetings every Sunday afternoon and an outing once a quarter. These "outings" involved camping at sites like Lake Naivasha, Watamu on the coast, Mount Kenya and other places closer to home. When we had a Union-wide Pathfinder Camporee, at Kamagambo, our club won the cup for best overall performance.

It was not all work -- we did have our annual vacations and spent some happy times down at the coast and in the game reserves.

After ten years, I felt that it was time for a change and plans were under way for us to move to Malawi to open a new medical centre in the capital, Lilongwe. But things didnt work out and, as the result of a series of events, which I will now explain, we landed up in Hong Kong instead. [If you are not interested in medical details, just skip the next three paragraphs!]

Since the age of about 16 I have had Keratoconus. This is an eye condition in which the cornea bulges forward in a conical manner. It is usually bilateral but fortunately only my right eye was affected. Due to the unusual shape of the cornea, ordinary glasses cannot correct the condition. Over the years I have had operations and worn glasses with prisms, with but little benefit. But finally, with the advent of contact lenses, a reasonable level of vision was obtained for my affected eye.

During our final year in Nairobi, my contact lens practitioner informed me that the cornea was very thin and advised that I see my eye specialist. We were about to go to England on leave, so I was referred to the Eye department at East Grinstead, which specialised in corneal grafting. I duly had a graft to my right eye and then returned to Nairobi, to prepare for the handover to my successor and our move to Malawi. It was arranged that I would have the stitches removed at a mission hospital in Kenya, as the doctor there had been trained at East Grinstead.

When the stitches were taken out, it was found that, for some reason, the wound had not healed, so two further operations were done to hold the graft in place. Then to top it all, the eye became infected and was only saved by high doses of the latest broad-spectrum antibiotics.

We had to hurriedly pack up our goods and return to England, so I could be under the care of the surgeons who had done the graft. We arrived on my 50th birthday and I recall how discouraged I felt, wondering what our future would be. Then the words of a song came to mind, "My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, All I have to do is follow." It is amazing how the words of a simple song can bring comfort and strength.

The eye surgeon said that nothing further could be done at the time and we would have to wait for six weeks, to remove the second set of stitches.. We were able to rent a cottage near East Grinstead, in which to stay, until our future was decided.

After the infection cleared up and the stitches were removed, I was looking around for something to do and remembered that Robert Wieland, who was in charge of producing books for Africa had asked me to write a small book, aimed particularly at college and high school students, setting out the arguments in favour of creationism and against evolution. I did the research and typed and sent off the manuscript for the book. (There were no computers or word processors in those days.) To the best of my knowledge, it was never published. I wonder if maybe God arranged the exercise as a form of occupational therapy for me.

At this time I had a phone call from the Hong Kong Adventist hospital, asking if I could fill the place of the obstetrician/gynaecologist who had been suspended (and was subsequently repatriated.) I contacted my eye surgeon and he approved of my going, after promising that he would do a second corneal graft some months later "when everything has settled down."

That is how, instead of going to Malawi, we went to Hong Kong where we served a six-year term.