Day 4: A mixed bag

Today we continued operating and seeing follow up patients. The surgical cases were big ones, taking more time than expected. To complicate matters, one of the ventilators (used to breathe for the patient while she is asleep and paralyzed) broke. This meant that the anesthesiologist had to manually ventilate her (squeezing a balloon like bag) 10-15 times per minute. This was exhausting work for the anesthesiologist. Her hands tired so she squeezed between her arm and body. Then she squeezed the bag between her legs. The surgeons also had trouble trying to repair her very injured bladder.

The good news is, they got it done. Everyone here has a “let’s get it done” attitude. There is no complaining or whining (most of the time, when it matters).

I worked with an MD seeing follow up patients. Some of these women had previously been told they could not have surgery, but were hoping that things had changed. Some had been seen by previous missions but didn’t have surgery because they ran out of time. Some were follow ups after successful surgery and were back to make sure everything looked good. It was a mixed bag.

The patients that were dry after prior surgery were so thankful. The ones who had been told there is no surgery were very sad. The ones who had not yet been operated on due to lack of time were mad; we probably have too many cases already. I gave them all soap and my sincerest apology. I smiled and my heart was happy for the ones who were dry.

While working with these women, I have tried to pick up a few phrases, or at least gestures, to say hello and thank you. My mind is so full that I keep forgetting these words. And the gestures and facial expressions here are different. So for now, I stick with smiling and nodding my head hello. Sadly, the only phrases that stick with me are “move down on the bed” (for exams) and “relax and be patient” (for during the exam, when it hurts).

This is tough work and fatigue has set in for the whole team. It is hot (80s) and dirty. The operating room windows are open to the outside, but having to wear a gown and gloves and head cover means that you are soaked with sweat quickly. We did our best.

I have been eating lunch at the hospital, which is brought in by a hotel. It has tasted and looked good, and I am always hungry after a morning of work. Most of the team does not eat this lunch, out of fear of illness and some uncertainty about what the food is. I should have listened to them. I became very sick last night. I will spare you the details, but it was unpleasant. I am happy to say that I am feeling much better today and plan to head to the hospital around lunch time. To my family: don’t worry, I am fine.

One thought on “Day 4: A mixed bag

  1. Leah, I am so impressed with what you are doing. The compassion you have for these unfortunate women/girls is apparent in your tone and words. Thank you for caring for them. I can only imagine how wonderful it feels to see a successful repair surgery; but how terrible it feels to see those for whom no help is possible; or, at least, no help without flying them to the U S for care. I first heard of this particular women’s health issue reading the book, “Cutting for Stone.” You and your fellow healthcare professionals are heroic in taking your education, skills, and medical supplies to people who could/can not get help otherwise. Kudos and love, Phyllis


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