Day 3: Surgeries begin

Another early start today as the operative team began the hard work of operating on 40-50 women in 9 days. In case you are not familiar with how things generally run in operating rooms (slow), I will tell you that is a LOT of surgeries. They can turn over the room between patients very quickly because there is much less attention to sterilizing every surface. The instruments are soaked in Cidex (a germicide) for 20-ish minutes, then rinsed and used on the next patient.

I did not spend much time in the OR as I had several other tasks: arrange an ultrasound for a patient waiting for surgery, arrange an X-ray test for another patient at different hospital (they do not do IVP at our hospital), discharge patients who didn’t need surgery, tell 6 more women they are not surgical candidates and there is no treatment for them, and see follow up patients from prior trips. I had a lot of help with these tasks–the Rwandan medical students find the patients, translate for me, and help me figure out how to get things done. I worked with several MDs on our team as well, which is more efficient than working alone.

One of the most satisfying moments of the day came when I was seeing patients who had surgery during one of the prior missions (IOWD comes in February, April and October). Rwandan women are, for the most part, very stoic. They laugh amongst their friends, but seem to hold their emotions close with outsiders. At the end of her exam, one of the patients told me (in Kinyarwandan, translated by the student) “Thank you, God bless you, and God bless your travels”.

This is why I came. We gave her a life back. Many of these women work in the fields or markets, and constant urinary leakage is disabling. I know I keep saying that, but it hit home today.

One of the women who was not a surgical candidate asked for a letter certifying that she was disabled by her leakage. This letter would allow her to get help paying for health insurance for her children (it costs about $2 per year per person) and allow her to get public assistance. I don’t know exactly what public assistance means here, but I can imagine that her life will be a little bit easier with this letter.

Another sweet moment came when two little girls, both with bandaged legs, waved sweetly at me as I walked by. They were sitting on a bench in the sun, just passing the time. They were so excited when I asked to take their picture (I showed them my cell phone). I posted the photo on Instagram, and you should be able to see it if you are reading this on a computer (not a phone).

And now I collapse and so I can do it all over again tomorrow. For anyone who wondered how I would find this experience, I hope my writing here helps to explain.