Mike visited:

» Thailand
» Myanmar (Burma)
» Laos
» Cambodia
» Vietnam
» India
» Nepal
» Egypt
» Jordan
» Uganda
» Tanzania
» Malawi
» Mozambique
» Swaziland
» South Africa

View a map of his route.

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Mobile Medical Clinic in Rural Uganda

Dr. Scott guided the scalpel in my hand as we made a small incision in the sand dollar-sized abscess on the two-year-old boy's rear end. Blood and pus immediately burst from the cut. Carefully, I dropped the scalpel blade into a safety receptacle for needles and blades. Then we inserted a forceps into the incision and widened the opening.

"Great job, Michael," Dr. Scott said. "Now you want to start squeezing the pus out."

Although we'd given the boy a local anesthetic, he was wailing nonstop. His mother held him tightly on her lap.

I applied light force around the incision. Yellow, angry-looking pus began blobbing out. More pressure around the incision brought out several fluid ounces of watery pus along with semi-solid globs that resembled cheese curds.

"Look around you, Michael," Dr. Scott said.

A group of around 50 people crowded tightly around us in a semicircle. They grimaced and winced right along with me throughout the gruesome procedure.

Once I was finished Dr. Scott poked around inside the incision with the forceps and gave the boy a final check before pressing a wad of gauze to the wound. The operation was over. We took off our gloves.

"Congratulations," Scott said proudly. "You just saved a life."

Dr. Scott Kellerman
Hospital Under a Fig Tree
I met Dr. Scott Kellerman, MD, MPH & TM, at the Buhoma Camp in Bwindi National Park. He was with a team of documentary filmmakers who were shooting a piece about the Batwa pygmies whom Dr. Scott works with. (Original inhabitants of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, the pygmies were relocated from the reserve when the government declared it a national park in 1991. Forced into a way of life that runs contrary to their hunter/gatherer roots, the pygmies are struggling to adapt.) Dr. Scott provides the pygmies with medical, educational, agricultural, and construction assistance. He also helps give them a voice in the government and abroad.

A retired family practitioner from the USA, Dr. Scott and his wife moved to Uganda two years ago. With the help of the church of Uganda, the Kellermans are building a hospital and clinic near Bwindi. The project is still under construction, so each week Scott sets up a mobile medical clinic beneath a giant fichus tree in a nearby field.

I was hanging around the park after visiting the mountain gorillas when Dr. Scott invited me to check out the clinic. "Come down for a few hours, take a look," he told me over breakfast. "You'll see a different side of Uganda."

people were waiting for us when we arrived
A Full Waiting Room
A crowd of about 75 people was waiting for us beneath the tree as we came groaning up in 4WD over a dirt track in Scott's Landrover. The crew consisted of Dr. Scott, four local volunteers, two volunteers from the park, and me. We parked near the tree, pulled two big plastic containers out of the truck, and set up shop.

Crash Course in Tropical Medicine
There were more sick people under the tree than Scott and his crew could ever hope to treat. I volunteered to help.

"How much do you want to learn?" Dr. Scott asked me.

"I don't know. I'm here for the whole day."

"That's great," he said. He put a stethoscope around my neck. "Let's look at this little girl here…"

the stethoscope lent me an unquestioned air of authority
The stethoscope lent me an unquestioned air of authority. Members of the crowd vied for my attention. Mothers with pleading eyes thrust their infants toward me. Severely ill patients lying on the ground reached out to me.

I did what I could. I took temperatures, inquired about diarrhea and vomiting, checked tongues and eyes for discoloration, and listened to hearts and lungs.

"Diagnosing malaria is essentially a process of elimination," Dr. Scott instructed. "If it's not malnutrition, pneumonia, or worms, then it's malaria."

In my evaluations I followed a simple equation: high fever + diarrhea + vomiting + chills = malaria. I'd make my diagnosis and then Dr. Scott would confirm it.

The vast majority of my patients suffered from malaria. One of the local volunteers told me that 90% of Ugandans suffer from malaria at one time or another. Dr. Scott estimated the percentage to be even higher.

The malarial patents were treated with quinine (followed up with additional drugs). In most cases, quinine was administered orally; if the patient's nausea was too extreme the drug was administered via injection.

a sick boy has his temperature taken
One of my first patients was a girl with a fever of 105° F, ongoing vomiting, diarrhea, and chills – an extreme case of malaria. There was no way this girl could keep any liquid down, so I filled a syringe with the proper dose of quinine and handed it to Dr. Scott.

"No Michael. You're going to do it."

With Dr. Scott's hand guiding my own, I plunged the needle into the (now shrieking) girl's thigh. We pulled the plunger back slightly to make sure our position was right, and then slowly emptied the contents into her muscle.

"Congratulations," Dr. Scott said afterwards. "You just gave your first shot – and you saved a life."


"Yep. No question. This little girl would have died in a week without that medication."

people just kept coming
Exhausting, Emotionally Draining, Rewarding
Over the next seven hours I diagnosed and treated twenty patients (all under the supervision of Dr. Scott). I gave three more injections. I drained two abscesses. I learned to diagnose scabies, pneumonia, tropical ulcers, and malnutrition.

It was exhausting work, emotionally shattering. The atmosphere under that tree was charged with suffering and intensity. At all times there was a great cacophony of crying children. And people just kept coming – literally hundreds more. There was no way we'd be able to see them all.

At 4pm everybody in the group was drained, Dr. Scott included. It was time to pack up shop. In total, we'd seen and treated 388 people.

"You did a great job out there today," Dr. Scott told me as we loaded the truck. "I mean it. You're cut out for this work."

The day had stunned me into silence. I did my best to break out of it and thank him for the unique opportunity.

For more information on Dr. Scott's work with the Batwa pygmies, visit

What do you think?

  • Do you have experience in tropical medicine?
  • Have you ever suffered from malaria?
  • Tell us about your experience working for an international aid organization.
Posted on July 27, 2003 02:56 AM


Comments (post your own below)

Good Job. Big pat on the back.

Posted by: Diana on July 27, 2003 09:49 PM

Great entry, wonderful site. As the author of an online travelogue myself, reading your experiences both fascinating and inspiring. I'm thankful Ben & Melinda gave you a wrap, giving me the opportunity to discover you.

Though I suspect my appreciation might rings somewhat hollow in the light of your experiences in Bwindi. I'm sure the appreciation of those who's lives you touched justifiably holds far more weight.


Posted by: Ben on July 28, 2003 04:02 AM

Wow, what an inspiring story. Does this inspire you to maybe do more volunteer work? This sounds like a life changing experience.

Posted by: Todd Adams on July 28, 2003 01:53 PM

"Come down for a few hours, take a look," he told me over breakfast. "You'll see a different side of Uganda."

Great story -- and it's exactly experiences where you get to see daily life and interact person-to-person mean the most to me on my travels versus just site seeing. I got to be part of a supply deliver to a medical clinic in rural Cuba and that stands out far more in my mind that something like seeing the architecture of Old Havana.

As for malaria and tropical illnesses, watch out for its cousin, Dengue Fever. Just thought out it this morning because I was at the dentist getting my teeth cleaned and had to explain yet again to another hygienist that the reason why I have damaged/receding gums is from being sick with Dengue and loosing 25 pounds.

Posted by: Mary Taylor on July 28, 2003 03:01 PM

Holy cow, Mike! You've been busy since I last checked in about 6 months ago! You are doing more in a year that entire neighbourhoods do back home.


Posted by: Jon Scaife on July 28, 2003 03:15 PM

When in Albania, we found ourselves suddenly on the "front lines" of refugee work during the Kosovo crisis in 99. We came away with a new reality. Your experience sounds similar, though perhaps more acutely intense. Thanks for a great account. Sounds like it might end up among the highlights of your highlights.

Posted by: SchmankBomb on July 28, 2003 05:29 PM

A powerful experience. The same experience can be had closer to your home in Eastern Europe, especially when working with Rroma (gypsies). Of course you won't see the malaria but worms, infected abcesses due to walking in human and animal excrement and repiratory disease inlcuding TB.

It is certainly amazing what a few dollars worth of medicine and a few people willing to give of themselves can do to change hundreds of lives.

Posted by: Randy Beckett on July 29, 2003 11:00 AM

"Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts."
-Albert Einstein

Thanks for sharing a part of your life with us. In contrast to a largely prejudiced and ignorant world, your views are refreshing. Keep raking up the good karma and be safe.
-an Indian living in USA

Posted by: baji on July 30, 2003 12:38 AM

guys you all sound amazing! how do you get to work in with these people in aid organzations? which ones would you reccommend? ill be travelling myself in the next few months and want to spend a few months volunteering wherever i can on my travels.

Posted by: jonah on August 16, 2003 08:09 AM

Great site!

Posted by: Jeffrey Lee Parson on August 29, 2003 08:26 PM

i just want to start out by saying thanks. you see most people think that i am crazy for leading my life the way i do. it is nice to see that you are doing this and not just because you can but because you really want it. i haven't lived in the same place for more than a couple of months in years. the thing is that i am only 23 and people look at me like---why can't she just live a normal life----i always knew that somebody else must be making a go of it---i am usually broke and that's okay with me--because i would rather have my memories to take with me than posessions any day---i have been trying to figure out--just how to keep this up and make a real contribution to the world and what dr. kellerman is doing is exactly what i have been planning----now if i could just stay somewhere long enough to finish school i could really do mark twain said, "travel is fatal to predjudice and broad narrow views of the world........people cannot accomplish that by stagnating in one little corner of the world all one's life"...loose translation--
but just keep it up as long as you can and know that one more stranger on the path applauds you--kate

Posted by: kate holmes on September 12, 2003 07:27 AM

Thanks for your story. I'm about to leave for Uganda myself to work alongside the Kellermanns (God willing) and you've enlightened me as to what I could expect over there.

Posted by: Ruth Hosking on October 26, 2004 02:02 AM

Comments closed.


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