OnSafari: Dr. Frank

OnSafari: Dr. Frank

DrFrankFrom time to time people get sick on their vacation, I’m sure it’s happened to all of us. It happened to one of my clients today on safari.

It doesn’t happen often and today’s case is a classic example of when it does. Years ago I worried endlessly about the food and water, the cleanliness of the beds and so forth, but those worries ended long, long ago.

The lodges and camps on the safari circuit are probably more hygienic and germ-free than most lodging a person would find in an American city today, so that’s fortunately no longer my concern.

My concern is when we get into remote areas, medical care is limited and when it’s needed – for whatever reason – it’s expensive and time consuming to arrange. The larger upmarket properties like Crater Lodge or the Mt. Kenya Safari Club will have medical staff on duty, often a fully credentialed physician.

But upmarket camps, for example, are just too small to offer this. So remoteness is the key worry.

Our safari left the last vestige of civilization today, as we left the town of Karatu and headed into Ngorongoro Crater for the final week. The further we got from Karatu, the more difficult it would become to arrange adequate medical care.

No one comes on safari not knowing this. In fact it amuses me the numbers of people who presume this is the situation the moment they disembark their airplane in Nairobi or Kilimanjaro, areas with modern hospitals and medical care.

So I suspect most travelers have a very good handle on medical preparations and precautions. I think travel clinics within hospitals often over prescribe and are overly cautious, but from these I know that travelers are usually well prepared.

Proper insurance is also very helpful. It minimizes or completely eliminates the worries of expense that increase the more remote one gets. East Africa has a wonderful network of air medical services for very reliable and quick medivac.

So today as the group prepared to leave I get a knock on my door. The spouse conveys how ill her husband feels. We are at lovely Gibb’s Farm in Karatu. Spouses are usually – not always but usually – the best indication as to the seriousness of a situation.

In this case she seemed more concerned to me than she was letting on or was told to convey to me. So I persuaded the patient to go with me to the excellent FAME clinic at the outskirts of Karatu, and sent the rest of the group on its way as planned.

The clinic is run by a man famous in the area, Dr. Frank. His business card says no more than that, but he is an incredibly generous man, a former cardiac anesthesthesiologist in California. His wife, Susan, and he came on safari more than a decade ago and after a close to critical experience climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, fell so deeply in love with the area that they decided to radically change their lives.

And the lives of the people of Karatu.

Dr. Frank’s clinic is modern, exceptionally staffed and beautifully efficient. It serves all the people of Karatu with extraordinarily modern medicine. There is a prenatal clinic, an operating room, patient wards and well stocked pharmacy.

And tourists – and NGO expats – can … “break the queue” and this is because the exceptional treatment he has provided them is routinely returned exponentially. FAME clinic is privately funded mostly from the U.S. and mostly from small family foundations.

My client was seen, given a battery of tests and diagnosed by Dr. Frank with a very serious infection, probably in the lungs. He had brought the infection from home was part of the diagnosis and as often happens with those who get sick on vacation, the relaxation that accompanies a vacation is often the entree for the sickness to finally get the attention of the patient.

His infection had also led to dehydration, the illness I see most effecting travelers. So he was put on an IV for four hours and given massive doses of antibiotics and fluids, then released onto his safari with a box load of medications.

He looks better and feels better, but as Dr. Frank explained, it will take some time to fully recover, and Dr. Frank knows better than any physician at home that the safari lodging will be just fine for his rest and recuperation.

FAME clinic helps many, many more people locally than the occasional tourist like mine. But the relationship that’s built with the foreign tourist is what fuels the project.

So we caught up with our group which had climbed Olmoti Volcano today, and tomorrow we head into the crater for a game drive, thankful for the FAME Clinics and Dr. Franks of the world!