When FOF Sallie Buck lost her husband suddenly, she found a strength–and a sense of adventure–that she never knew she had.
[Editor’s note: The essay below, by FOF Sallie Buck, is part of a series of personal blogs from our readers. Have your own story to tell? Email your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
When I was in my early 50s, my husband, Graham, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and given just months to live. It came out of nowhere and changed our lives irrevocably. Graham and I had been married for thirty years. We had many similar interests such as music, walking and sailing, so we did a lot together but certainly weren’t glued at the hips. I remember when I went back to work part-time as a nurse practitioner, he was concerned that our children would suffer. They didn’t–but my responsibility most of my life was the children and home. Graham worked hard to provide us with a good standard of living. It was a fairly traditional marriage by British standards.
In Graham’s last few weeks alive, he wrote me a letter and told me only to open it after he passed away. He died ten months after his diagnosis, in September, 2003. It was then that I finally read his note. It said that I was a special person, not just to him, but to many others, and that I still had so much to offer.
He was right–I did still have so much to give. The letter gave me the confidence I needed. I had a good job, but our three children were grown, and I wanted a new challenge while I was still young and fit. I decided I would train in tropical nursing and help in the developing world.
While I was training, I met Joanna Hanks, founder of the Buburi Health Clinic in Kenya. In addition to high rates of malnutrition and HIV/AIDS, this part of Africa has the highest incidence of malaria in the world. More than 60 percent of the clinic’s patients are under five years old, and the majority of them have malaria. One in five will not reach their fifth birthday; many die from preventable conditions. When Joanna told me about the clinic, I decided to spend two months working there.
I became part of Buburi Clinic’s team of dedicated nurses, providing quality and affordable health care to those in need. I remember one Saturday morning, a 3-year-old girl was brought into the clinic by her father. I heard a high-pitched cry (indicative of brain irritation) from the waiting room. A malaria test came out positive–but we didn’t have any intramuscular sedatives. Instead, I had to dilute a tablet sedative and give her that. In a developed country I would call for an ambulance, but that is a luxury they don’t have. So, we called a motorbike rider to take her to a hospital. We had to give the driver money to take them and the father money for admission charges. The next day I saw the father in the village. He rushed up to thank me and tell me that his daughter had cerebral malaria but was improving. He said he was sure she would have died if we hadn’t been there.
I have since visited six times and became a trustee of the charity, Friends of Buburi. The village chief once told me, “It is wonderful that you keep coming back–it is another year our children won’t die of malaria.” It makes me realize how fortunate I am in my own life–to have had three healthy children and grandchildren. I don’t take this for granted anymore.
You really get to know yourself living and working in such primitive conditions. When my husband died, I had spent most of my life as a housewife. I didn’t know who I was. I have found strengths that I had no idea I had and would probably never have known about if he was still alive. I often wonder what he would think of me now.
Read more about Friends of Buburi and their incredible work in Kenya.