Dr.Stanley Aruyaru is the Medical Director Kiirua Mission Hospital and an associate Editor at Annals of African Surgery
How would you describe yourself in simple terms?
A surgeon who finds pleasure in writing, speaking, and many other things.
How has your educational journey been so far?
It is the epitome of grace. It was through grace that I made it to high school. The Harambee from my villagers and the bursaries from the ministry of education enabled me to attain secondary education.
It has also been a discovery journey. I learned what my interests would be. In primary school, I wanted to do anything that would see me become a 'big person in society. In secondary school, I wanted to do medicine and become a doctor. In medical school, I fell in love with surgery. In my postgraduate, I developed an interest in digestive hepatobiliary surgery. On the academic front, I am in the field of global surgery. It is an insatiable journey where reaching the peak of the hill just reveals another peak ahead.
Education has also been a source of trust in me. Every exam passed, and every entry gained reaffirmed in me that my future is independent of the past, given my present education endeavors.
How was your experience in high school and what high school did you attend?
I attended St Cyprian High School in Meru county. It was the first time I came face to face with people who did not speak my language (vernacular). There were numerous disturbances in the academic program ( student unrest and teacher strikes). Passing my KCSE reaffirmed that working hard pays.
What kind of student were you throughout school?
I placed academics above other things. I still think I could have enjoyed playing volleyball more but I could not dare spend all those hours per week in practice. I needed to spend more time with books. I shied from extracurricular activities because of this fact. Though I did engage in those that did not need a lot of team practice. I got to provincial levels in public speaking and science congress and got a national trophy in the law club’s dramatized choral verse speaking. Despite my reservations, I ended up being voted all-round student for two years.
I must say I got the admiration and approval of my teachers during the senior years of my schooling.
How would you simply describe your family background?
Humble. Socioeconomically we were humble. Getting school fees was not easy sometimes. Multiple times we would go without food during the rainy December period. However, I love the values of honesty and hard work that my family instilled in me. I would not be who I am today were it not for the enshrined values of working hard and gaining pride in individual success.
What is your greatest influence on getting into medical school?
Teachers. In primary school, my teacher Mrs. Baithambu cautioned my dad against 'denying the village its first ever doctor' after dad mentioned taking me to the village polytechnic. In secondary school, the teachers impressed us with how the school was yet to produce a doctor or a lawyer. We were invited to break that tradition. I obliged and became the first and only doctor to come from St Cyprian High School
How was your first day in medical school?
A lot of newnesses to get accustomed to. A new roommate of Cushitic origin forced me to polish my English, and new ways of doing things. I queued to register then went to town to get a padlock for my room and a few bedding.
What where are your coping mechanisms in medical school?
Coping with the workload, I had a discussion group. Coping with pressure for money to get supper when other students would drive in SUVs, I hurried into books.
What informed your decision to take up a masters in general surgery?
The awe in seeing someone’s disease expunged by the tip of a surgeon’s scalpel. It was amazing. It is amazing up to today. Especially throwing that slipped knot deep into the pool of bloody tissues and knowing that that single knot holds not just the critical blood vessel but the patient’s life. I invite everyone to watch ‘something the lord made. You will fall in love with surgery. Surgery is a higher level of medicine. It combines the art and science of investigation and prescription with the craft of one’s hands to offer therapy. I feel better fulfilled when I have made someone better through surgery than when I do that through prescribing injections or tablets.
What would you tell other medical doctors who are looking into getting into general surgery?
Utterly consuming but utterly rewarding. The training of surgery (whichever specialty) is among the most rigorous in postgraduate medicine. You put in the same hours for theory, patient clerkship, and research as any other specialty, then you put in twice as much in mastering the skills. The training will take you to the extremes of physical and emotional endurance. But then it will make you discover how powerful your mind is, how far your brain can be stretched.
How do you unwind after a long day at work?
Really? What is unwind? I can hardly settle down to relax because I am always thinking that I could be doing that other side gig. I guess I am biting more than I chew. But then again, until you stretch yourself, you will never know your elastic limit. Lately what I have done is dedicate one day to a TV-watching day. It is usually my theatre. After being exhausted physically and mentally, I dedicate that evening to watching a movie or a documentary, or random YouTube stuff. That way I don’t go to bed thinking I have wasted my evening. I also like to read.
For your family how does working as a surgeon affect them?
I wish I could be home every day but that will soon come to be. Being a very busy person squeezes the time I have for my family. But they understand and support me. And that is important to me.
Please describe to us what a typical day at work looks like for you.
Let me pick Tuesday for no reason at all. The alarm goes off at 5.30 AM (I snooze it several times, I'm sorry). I shower dress up and head out. I start with a meeting from 7.30 AM to 8.30 AM or there about. I dash to the ward and review the post-op patients and any new admissions. I then head to the surgical outpatient clinic. Some days I may head to the theatre for an urgent surgery in which case I shall call the clinic and ask them to explain to the clients that I shall be available shortly before noon. In between clinics, I get to dash to the office, reply to emails or hold a brief tea time meeting up to 30-45 minutes long. I take a brief lunch break in between 1-3 pm depending on how the queue at the clinic is going. Usually, the clinic ends around 4 pm. I do email and WhatsApp correspondence that is needed for the next day. Then I do an exit round for select patients (immediate post-op, new admissions, new consults in the wards, and pre-ops for my theatre operating day). I leave the station shortly after 5 pm. If it is the first or third Tuesday of the Month I drive to town for the toastmasters club meeting which runs up to 8 pm. On other Tuesdays, I steal an hour to briefly revise any major procedure I have scheduled for the day.
My supper often coincides with the evening news bulletin. I call my family (I work away from my family) to get a brief of how the day has been and any issues. By minutes to 11 pm, I am in bed. This is assuming there are no emergencies to distort that typical day. And the distortion can start as early as just before the alarm to as late as just before going to bed. I always look forward to my sleeping time as the moment to reset my rhythm in case of such, always pushing to secure 6 1/2 to 7 hours of sleep.
Have you ever had a patient at work heavily influenced your life?
Yes! Back in training I had a Caucasian couple in the emergency department. I walked in as the resident on call to review the lady. She had gallstones. I looked at the images of the scan, her labs and looked at her. It was around 2am in the morning.
"You can come to the surgical clinic on this date and we shall plan your surgery," I told them highlighting how they did not fit any criteria for emergency admission. The husband was calm with me. Ordinarily such patients will put you in your place with "who is your boss? Can I talk to them?" kind of rhetoric. But the gentleman just spoke to me about his house. It was cozier than the emergency department. There was no interest at all in visiting as a God forbidden place as the emergency department in the thick of the night.
I remember him mentioning something about emotional intelligence.
I admitted the lady and she had her surgery the next morning. That gave me a new addition to my criteria for admission. If you come to the hospital in the wee hours of the night, it must be something serious. I do not care about other criteria for admission. I find it easier to approach it that way.
Have your patients recognized you in malls and supermarkets?
Yes. And they always look different when not in the hospital gown.
To keep fit, do you work out?
Do I look unfit to you? I am 70.8Kg at 6ft 2". I always thought that I was fit by walking fast on the corridors and snubbing fast foods. But when I hit 40 I made a deliberate decision to create the habit of working out. I do light workouts (under an hour) twice a week. I am hoping to create a routine that becomes second nature then I can graduate it in frequency and intensity.
What kind of books do you like reading?
Autobiographies are my favorite. But I read all manner of books. This year I have been onto leadership and personal development books and books by medics. I am currently reading Sidharta Murkhaje's 'The Emperor of All Maladies' and Michael Mwachiro's'Reflections on Mentorship'. I have a pile of 9 I have bought that I am yet to start on. When driving I will listen to leadership and inspirational podcasts and audiobooks.
What is your favorite food?
Prawns. Imagine it's true.
What is your dream destination?
For now Santorini Greece, from the pictures. But I hope to visit a foreign city once a year at the minimum. That lines up so many for my tourism.
If you were not a surgeon, what would you be?
I would be a researcher, an academic, a writer, or a music conductor. But no one can tell with certainty, scientifically speaking.