My mentors in Mozambique

My name is Dhruv Puri and I am a rising second year medical student. A little about myself: I was born in Stockholm, Sweden and raised in Austin, TX. My mom was born and raised in Sweden as well, and my dad is from India. I studied Molecular and Cellular Biology at UC Berkeley and during my gap year worked at the World Health Organization in Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health. I hope to pursue surgery after completing medical school.

I spent this summer in Maputo, Mozambique, working at Maputo Central Hospital (MCH). My first time on the African continent has had a tremendous impact on my beliefs. Before delving into my own thoughts and experiences (in another blog post), I would like, to the best of my ability, to tell stories about those with whom I worked with and the lessons I learned. I am immensely grateful to them for supporting me throughout my trip, especially during a pandemic.

I met Dr. Matchecane Cossa on my third day in Maputo. Tall and well built, he carried himself with a commanding presence and welcomed me with a bright, friendly disposition. He took me a tour of the hospital with a comfort and confidence that only came when the hospital is your second home. On our first day of work, Dr. Matchecane took me to another clinic he consulted at in a beaten down Chevy sedan from the late nineties. He told me about how a few months prior he had lost his father, a famous surgeon who also worked at Maputo Central Hospital and his inspiration for pursuing medicine. Driving the car around was his way of remembering his father. I greatly respected Dr. Matchecane’s gesture and instantly felt a strong kinship with Dr. Matchecane, for my father had been my first supporter toward medicine.

We had many conversations in our downtime between surgeries and research. I remember a particular morning in June where we had exited a patient’s room after completing their post-operative care for an achalasia repair. Dr. Matchecane told me most patients could not tell the difference between a competent physician and one who was not; they could only notice the one that spent an extra five minutes to speak with them and the one that rushed out of the room. I noticed how Dr. Matchecane would constantly put this postulate into practice. His patients would constantly greet him in the hallways of the hospital, and, without any hesitation, he would stop whatever he was doing and address them with an attentive and amiable presence.

On the morning of my birthday, Dr. Matchecane took me out to breakfast at a small café where we had a beautiful conversation. We discussed his career and the many places he had traveled. Over a strong cup of espresso, I heard Dr. Matchecane’s stories about everywhere from Pyongyang to Lisbon and the friendships he made, the lessons he learned, and the adventures he had. He talked about the many hats he had worn through the years: advising on policy work for the ministry of health, managing the COVID-19 response during the worst parts of the pandemic, and directing the response to Tropical Cyclone Idai, one of the worst storms to hit Africa. Hearing about his different journeys, I realized the power of serendipity. He had the opportunity to affect so many lives in a positive way because of his adaptable attitude, willingness to lead, and commitment to putting in the work. His mentorship is one that I will never forget, and I look forward to the day that I will hopefully scrub in next to him in the operating room.

Dr. Clotilde Nhatave is an internal medicine physician at MCH who was one of our main collaborators at the hospital. I felt like I got to know her the best one blazing hot afternoon on the balcony of her office in the internal medicine ward. She told me of the start to her career in global health and how competitive she found applying to grants in the US and Europe. Despite the immense need of her community, it was an uphill battle against many other communities in Africa to secure funding: a sad truth for me to understand. Dr. Clotilde told me about her first project in the hospital, and how incepting it was equally exciting and frustrating. Her project centered around taking blood samples for culture from emergency room patients. Though it was a relatively simple project in pretty much any hospital in the United States, she faced obstacle after obstacle in her pursuit of research. Dr. Clotilde said it was her commitment to improving her home that lit a fire of resiliency that enabled her to trailblaze and complete her work. I’m honored to continue to work with Dr. Clotilde on her efforts to promote Antibiotic Stewardship at her hospital, for it is only led by individuals like her that global health will grow in the time to come.

Dr. Sebastiao Jeronimomoises was a thoracic surgery resident who was my main collaborator. He was married with an adorable two-year old girl at home who he loved very much. Dr. Sebastiao loved to go to the gym and wanted to pursue cardiac surgery in the latter years of his training. He worked hard and supported the project more than I could’ve ever asked of him. However, what I admired most about Dr. Sebastiao was his approach to each day. Even after those endless OR days, he would exit the room cracking jokes, smiling, and looking brighten everyone else’s days. I also never saw him say no to any request from any other staff member; he always looked to support and uplift those around him. I don’t think there is anyone else I’d want more on my team than Dr. Sebastiao, and I hope to one day be half the resident he was at MCH.

I had to leave Maputo early due to the increased COVID-19 burden from the delta variant. I did not get a chance to properly say my good-byes. I think the most valuable part of the trip were the stories and moments I shared with my colleagues at Maputo Central Hospital. I am grateful to them for accepting me with open arms, teaching me, and granting me permission to be present in their hospital. I am also grateful to my mentors at UCSD for all their support and guidance navigating this experience.  Muito Obrigado.

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