LIVING LEGENDS

Temporary bush clinic with early morning patients lined up for treatment
Temporary bush clinic with early morning patients lined up for treatment

Continued from previous issue

This series of Living Legends is about Vida McLellan, a missionary nurse who served in Ethiopia from 1955 – 1974. Vida grew up on a farm in the out-back of New South Wales. In 1955, after nurses’ training and Bible College, she travelled to Ethiopia to serve in very remote and difficult areas in southern Ethiopia. Vida, married Dick McLellan, while at language school in 1955. For sixty years Vida has served alongside Dick both in Ethiopia and after their return to Australia. The last episode told of Vida’s and Dick made their way to Ethiopia, let’s continue..

Again we moved on and then went into another bog and nearly went over the side of the road as well. While were there waiting, we saw a large group of people coming up the hill carrying the dead body of a boy. As they walked past I saw his foot move and told Dick, “That’s the first time I have seen a corpse move his foot”. They stopped near the truck and we went over to the body. They tried to say the truck had run over him. But the boy was very much alive. So they changed their story that he had fallen from the truck. It was all lies to obtain money from the truck driver. The boy did have a very high fever because, as we found out, he had fallen from a tree earlier breaking his leg and was very ill, but very much alive. Then they continued on to the Bulki town ahead of us with the ‘dead boy’. Three days later we arrived in Bulki town. There we were met by the police force. They put the truck driver under arrest and kept him for a week. They made him pay 200 birr (200 Ethiopian dollars). We stayed there for a week, camped in our floorless tent, whilst we organized mules and head carriers to take our goods for the journey to Bako station.

During this time many sick people came to our tent and I gave them medicine and treated them as best I could at the tent door with hardly any space to turn around. We went to where the very sick boy was and gave him a penicillin injection. The boy’s leg was very swollen. He was very ill. We do not know what happened to him after we left.

On the 29th of May, 1956, we left Bulki by mule with one of the Bulki evangelists and several head carriers. We were glad to be away from the town of Bulki. Two hours out from Bulki the rain started to come down and we had to stay for shelter beneath a great tree. The road became very slippery and the mules began to slide from side to side on very narrow little paths, so we had to walk a good deal of the way. The mule track was so muddy in places that the mules sank into the mess up to their bellies. It took nearly four days to get to Bako from Bulki. On arrival we paid a visit to the Police Station to report our presence. Then we were welcomed by Don and Christine Gray who were missionaries from Canada. I had a glimpse of our first home together and where we would spend the next eight months before returning to Addis Ababa. There was much to do as we settled in. I made curtains for the windows. The cedar floors needed oiling. A stove had to be installed and the garden commenced. We had our meals with the Grays for a week while we unpacked and sorted things out.

Being in such an isolated place as Bako we relied on a vegetable garden. There was an abundance of all kinds of green vegetables. But, large red ants got at the potatoes, beans and cabbages. With the aid of some poison we were able to keep them away. Then birds invaded the peas. So we dressed up a lady scarecrow.

I was appointed to do the clinic work at Bako. A young man named Uri worked for us along with his brother. They had both worked with Dick when he was building the station the year before and were Christians. They needed training to help out in the house and the clinic. It was a work that certainly had its ups and down. But, as I think of ‘ups and downs’, I always remember the words of our wise old Bible College principal, Mr Kerr, “When you think of your ups and downs always think of them as your downs and ups and then, you finish on the top side. In all things it was good to have a partner as patient as Dick to share the work. There were just so many strange and terrible cases.

One man came to us who was a cripple. He had not been able to walk for four years. He had to slide along the ground. He said he would not go back to his country unless he was healed, but it looked hopeless to Dick and me. But after starting to massage his legs daily we stood him on his feet and began to teach him how to walk again. Dick made him a pair of crutches and he learned how to use them and walk by these means. Many weeks later we saw him come back and show us how he could walk without crutches.

A woman came with very bad teeth and she sat still whilst I pulled out four of her teeth. She didn’t want local anaesthetic. She was so grateful to have the pain gone that she bent down and kissed our feet. We told her that there was no need to kiss our feet because we were God’s servants.

Childbirth could be terrible. One time a man came to us very distressed. His young wife had been in labour for four days. We went to the home where I applied instruments to deliver the twins, but to no avail. We couldn’t help her and she gave birth to stillborn babies. Another man came for the same reason, but we couldn’t help his wife at all and she died in childbirth. Some things were unbearably sad.

Children were always getting hurt. Many were brought to me having been badly burned around the open fireplaces inside their homes. One Sunday a father came running saying that his little girl had had her eye kicked out by a mule. Her mother carried her. She was semi-conscious. The eye was not damaged, but there was a deep gash above the eye. I sutured the gash and her eye healed well. The parents were so grateful they brought us gifts of eggs and milk.

We were often amused at the things patients said. A man came in with very large feet. His complaint was that he had a very bad sickness.

We asked him what it was and he replied, “My blood runs all through my body. I want some medicine to cure this.” Another man came and placing his hand over his heart said, “My trouble is here. It goes thump, thump, thump all the time. What medicine can you give me to stop it?” An evangelist came and said that his heart thumped against his ribs and he found it hard to breathe after steep mountain climbs. He asked me if I had medicine to stop it going pitter-pat. Many of the distant tribal people came to the clinic. They would say they had been bitten by the evil eye. Everyone feared the eye, a power that caused illness, accidents and death. The sickness they called, “mitch”, was a real mystery to me. When I questioned them about this sickness, they would reply, “I had a large meal. Then I went outside and passed urine. A strong wind rose up and hit me.” They had swollen lips and numerous sores on their limbs. Local medicines could be a real problem. One woman came with her face badly burnt. She said that she had a bad toothache and had gone to the witchdoctor. The silly fellow had put a poultice of garlic, red onions and hot pepper on her face. Her face was in such a mess and one of her eyes was all swollen and burned.

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Living Legends
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Living Legends
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This series of Living Legends is about Vida McLellan, a missionary nurse who served in Ethiopia from 1955 – 1974.
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