Merde, by Dr. James Appel in Chad

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The word escapes from my lips subconsciously.  “Merde!”  (pardon my French) Somehow swearing seems so much easier in a foreign tongue.  Besides, I try to limit my non-missionary words to the OR.  But this is an exceptional case.  My whole body has just been covered with raw sewage.  How did this happen?

Yesterday, I’m coming home from the hospital and Sarah comes out to greet me.

“I just saw a couple of patients taking their patient home.  They say they can’t stay where there are no toilets.”

I wince.  It’s embarrassing but true.  A month ago, the toilet stopped up.  We had to tear it out and redo it without the nice odor trap.  It worked until two weeks ago when the septic tank overflowed from the hospital toilets into our yard.  The rain has been heavy, raising the water level to 2-3 feet from the surface.  That coupled with the large number of patients we’ve been seeing just overwhelmed our way too small septic system.  We had to shut down the toilets for about a week.  The patients had to go outside and pee and poop in the tall grass between our center and the football pitch.  It didn’t exactly endear us to our neighbors and we had a lot of complaints.  Finally, we got some guys to shovel the sewage out by hand and carry it in buckets outside to a large hole they dug in the ground.  All this happened at night.

The next morning, the septic was already half full with water.  We reopened the toilets.  Within two days it was overflowing again.  This time, we decide to do it right.  David, our business manager goes to the mayor’s office.  They have a truck and a pump and a tank.  They only wanted over two month’s nurses’ salary to do the job.  David turned it down.  Then I had a brilliant idea.

“David, we have the water pump for the well drilling outfit.  We also have those large plastic storage tanks we’re not using.  Go rent us a truck and get a couple guys and we’ll pump out the septic into the plastic tanks and cart it off into the bush with the truck.  No problem…”

David gets the truck and hires 8 guys who come out decked in OR masks and OR gloves.  I laugh at their silly over cautiousness.  The first problem is that the back gate of the truck has been screwed shut with a heavy angle iron.  We manage to finally get the rusty bolts off.  I fire up the pump and one of the guys dumps the heavy green hose with the large filter into the septic tank while another is mounted on the truck with the white hose in the top opening of the receptacle.  Nothing happens.  I remember we need to prime the pump.

Someone fetches water while I unscrew the top.  We pour in the water till it’s full and then I screw the top back down.  I’m kind of proud of myself.  Without me they wouldn’t be able to do this.  I’m getting kind of cocky.  We fill up the plastic container and the septic is still two thirds full.  The guys get ready to drive out and get stuck in the mud right in front of our porch.  We manage to dig and then push them out and they’re off.

After 20 minutes or so, the truck returns and we get set up.  I grab the pull start and let it rip.  The motor fires right up.  The sewage is about half way up the exit tube and won’t seem to go the rest of the way.  I laugh good naturedly and go to perform my trick again.  I slowly unscrew the cap, I hear some air escape but still nothing happens.  I unscrew a little more.  The other guys have fled, what are they afraid of?  I mock their fear and give the cap one final, fatal twist.

BOOM!  The cap shoots into the air and raw sewage spews 20 feet into the air after jetting directly up my nose, in my eyes and into my mouth.  I’m soaked from head to toe in the foulest, brownest liquid imaginable.  The guys I’ve been so recently mocking are standing safely 20 feet away, dry and laughing their heads off.

“Merde!”  I ejaculate in reaction as I jump back.  Then I start laughing too.  I deserve it.  Meanwhile, Daniel has kept his head and jumps in to flip the off switch on the motor and the putrid fountain ceases watering our trees and grass.

I walk slowly back to the house trying to keep my scrubs from touching my skin.  I reek.  I undress completely on the porch and take a long hot shower with lots of soap and shampoo before the stench finally comes off.  Meanwhile, the guys finish the job without further complication despite my absence.

The toilets are back up and running that evening and I’m a bit more humble.

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