September 12, 2023

The Elephant That Cried

The poor elephant was in agony

Eric B. Hare
Photo by Bisakha Datta on Unsplash

This story originally appeared in the Adventist Review on March 24, 1983. It had been adapted from the book Dr. Rabbit, part of which first appeared in Guide, July and August 1969. In Dr. Rabbit Eric B. Hare writes about his work with the Karen tribe in Burma (now Myanmar). When this story happened, Hare (“Dr. Rabbit” to the Karens because of his name) was training a nurse, Harold Baird, who became known to the Karens as “Dr. Bear.”

One morning one of the schoolboys rushed into my office. “Dr. Rabbit! Dr. Rabbit!” he cried breathlessly. “Dr. Bear wants you at the dispensary quick! He says to tell you it’s a big lady patient. She’s so big he can’t get her through the front double door of the dispensary. Please hurry!”

I was instantly on my way. Whatever could it be? I thought to myself as I raced along. But very soon I understood, for there in front of the dispensary, with six jungle workmen standing around her, stood a huge female elephant! “Dr. Bear!” I said. “What can I do to help you with your big lady patient?”

“Look there!” he directed, pointing to her hip. “She was gored by a male elephant’s tusk, and now the wound is infected.”

I looked and saw a huge swelling as big as a five-gallon can. The poor elephant was in agony. She stamped her foot restlessly and tried to reach the sore place with her trunk.

“Tell the men to have the elephant lie down.” Dr. Bear got into action. “We’ve got to make that hole big enough to get the hose in so we can wash it out with some carbolic solution,” he explained.

It took a little time to cut a bigger hole in the elephant’s hide—it was an inch thick. Then I worked the pump while he directed the flow of the solution to all parts of the swelling. To finish up, he packed in several yards of gauze and said to the thankful owner, “Come again tomorrow.”

He did come again the next morning, and marvel of marvels, it took only one command from the owner, and the huge patient lay down for her treatment.

“She’s much better,” said the owner. “She’s not so nervous anymore.”

Dr. Bear gave the wound another good hosing out and said, “Come again tomorrow.”

While we were at breakfast the next morning the elephant owner came running up the stairs into the house. “Have you seen my elephant anywhere?” he cried. “We gave her her food last night at our camp three miles away. But this morning we can’t find her anywhere.”

“Surely no one would steal a sick elephant!” I said. “Did you look over at the dispensary?”

He ran off to look, and in a minute he was back with a big grin on his face. “She’s there, all right,” he said, “lying under the tree waiting for her treatment!”

You may have read that elephants have remarkable memories and are very intelligent. Take it from me, this is true. For six weeks after that, Mrs. Elephant came by herself to the dispensary every morning and lay down by herself and waited for her treatment. When the six weeks were up and the wound was healed, the owner mounted her head and said to her, “We’re going away now. Say Salaam to the doctors.” The big lady patient knelt down and saluted us with her trunk. I thought she deserved a going-away present, so I gave her a small loaf of bread. As she took it with her trunk and put it in her mouth (I know you won’t believe this, but it’s true!), tears ran out of her eyes and flowed down her cheeks! I think Dr. Bear had tears in his eyes too. I didn’t look. I was too busy blowing my own nose.