Blood, Sweat and Gangrene

 

Mosango hospital is located 250 miles east of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo and has a population reach of around 100,000. In 2013 I had the opportunity as a photographer to stay at the hospital for 3 weeks and witnessed first hand how difficult it is for doctors and nurses to work with limited supplies and money. One day, a boy arrived with a terrible leg injury. This is the story behind the pictures on the day of his surgery...

 Surgery room floor.

Surgery room floor.

It’s blazing outside and the sun sears my skin. I’m walking over a dusty road to the operating rooms and it really starts to hit me that I’m in a different reality now. It’s strange... even time feels different here.

In and around the hospital buildings there’s a smell I can’t get used to; a mix of sweat, dirty bandages and the typical hospital chemicals, all intensified by the muggy climate. I turn around the corner and there it is: the entrance to the operating rooms. There’s already a lot of activity. Nicaise Mwangu will be brought in for surgery today and by the nervous walking around of everybody it feels like it won’t be an everyday operation. I quietly observe everything for a few minutes...

 Staff at Mosango hospital.

Staff at Mosango hospital.

 Surgeon washing hands.

Surgeon washing hands.

A doctor told me that the boy fell from a mango tree close to his home and fractured his leg. The village doctor attempted to heal the open fracture with herbs and plants in the weeks following but all efforts in vain of course and when he arrived here yesterday, his leg had already turned as black as charcoal. Gangrene. Only one option left: amputation.

Nicaise is already on the table and the surgeons are preparing to start. For now I’ll just wait in a small area next to the operating room.  I’ve been here a few times but today feels different. I’m nervous. Do I really want to see this? The door is ajar and I peek inside...

There are a lot of people moving around the table and then, suddenly, someone puts a cap on my head and gives me a mask. The nurse signals me to go in.

She gives me a nudge and I open the door carefully with my elbow, not touching anything with my hands.  It’s not like it’s dirty in here, but I’m used to other standards when it comes to hygiene in an operating room. 

I shuffle in and look down at my shoes, the same dirty shoes I’ve been wearing for a week now. Really? Trying not to think too much about it and with my camera firmly in my hand, the mask flat on my nose I go in.

 Nicaise staring into the lens while surgeons amputate his leg.

Nicaise staring into the lens while surgeons amputate his leg.

 Recovery only days after the amputation.

Recovery only days after the amputation.

God, it’s sweltering in here... I try to breath normally but then the smell hits me in the face: a combination of rotting flesh and smoke from searing the incisions. Sweat pearls on my forehead and I try to concentrate on my job hoping not to faint.

I observe the operation and take pictures from the doctors, the instruments and also Nicaise, who received a local anesthetic, waist down. He looks a bit dazed lying there. Smoke from the searing rises up above his leg. I can’t imagine how this boy must feel as he’s listening to the surgeons removing his leg. Most of the time he stares at the ceiling, but then, suddenly, like he can hear me think, he looks right at me. I take the picture.

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