Tuesday 7th October:
My last day in Ethiopia. We arrive on the ward to be greeted by a TV crew. The Ethiopian news have heard about Facing Africa and want to report on it. Chris welcomes the publicity, although they expect that tomorrow they will arrive to a queue of patients wanting surgery by these British surgeons! They take the chance and allow them to film. They interview the surgeons with the patients, asking them what they are going to do and find out more about Noma. Back at the hotel, a man turns up asking for Chris. He has heard that there are surgeons in town and begs them to operate on his wife who needs spinal surgery. Chris has to decline, they have to be strict about operating only on Noma. They cannot divert from what they are aiming to do.
There are two 10 hour operations today. Both are back for their second operation.
Dolek needs surgery to create a top lip and a septum. They are taking skin from his arm to create a lip, replacing the skin with a skin graft from his leg. The septum will be made from cartilage from his ear. Thuch needs a flap. This is when they take skin from the neck and twist it round to cover the cheek. This is usually highly successful due to the vessels remaining attached, so less likely that the flap will die.
The surgery amazes me, and I have many photos of how the surgery worked. This will change these people’s lives forever and the skills of the surgeons are amazing. The team work so well together, especially with the limited resources that they have. They made me feel so welcome.
I take the opportunity to ask some of the team why they attend the missions:
Grant, an Anaesthetist from Dundee is a White African who came to the UK to avoid army conscription when he was 16. His heart is in Africa and he would love to go back one day. In the meantime, he feels as though he is doing something for his country. He sees the value of working - what you can bring and also what you can take back – and the resourcefulness and leadership that is needed. He says that it has prolonged his career in the NHS by giving him more motivation when he returns to his job in the UK. He feels a lot of self gain, but wishes there was no noma-gap between the rich and the poor, a gap which Facing Africa alone can’t fill.
David, another Anaesthetist from Dundee wants to try to increase the amount of good in the world. He feels strongly that we have a duty to try and do something in our lives to relieve suffering, and extend our competencies into other environments. He finds it heartbreaking to see children dying from the most basic thing. It is hard, with lack of resources, to work without being demoralised. You know that in the UK the patients would survive. David believes he has 3 fundamental jobs: to do good, to give relief, and to respect the patient.
Fiona is a Ward Nurse and this is her fourth mission. She works in senior management (although she still practices clinically). She says that coming out here focuses her and reminds her that it's all about the patients, and not about waiting list and targets. She is inspired by the Facing Africa team – they are a great example of how a team that have never worked together and have limited resources can pull together and work brilliantly. She feels that is you are willing to be flexible and adaptable you can take your basic skills and transfer them anywhere.
Gro is an Anaesthetic Nurse from Norway. Facing Africa uses the ward of Dr Einer, a Burns Surgeon, who she was in Addis with 2 years ago. She met the Facing Africa team here when they came out to Addis, helped out and then joined the team. Having been initially invited to visit for 8 months, she has stayed for 2 years
Claire is a Nurse who saw the Facing Africa mission advertised in an RCN publication. She spends a lot of time working for organisations in war and disaster zones, but she wanted to work in a smaller project where you can see long term outcome. Reading about the forgotten and largely unpublicised nature of Noma as a disease inspired her to join the mission. She is full of praise for Chris and Terry Lawrence, who work so hard in running the missions and focusing on something that the Ethiopian government do not think about, even though it is a huge problem.
As I prepare to leave Addis, I reflect that this experience has been an amazing one. I feel so honoured to have been part of a life changing team. The surgeons and nurses give up 3 weeks each year to work long hours, doing something that physically drains you, to help these people to lead a normal life. All of their roles are crucial and the team bond is so strong.
Today Chris tried to extend my plane ticket as he wanted me to stay longer. They all made me feel so welcome and I have made some great friendships from my trip. Many are keeping me in the loop, and we are arranging to meet up once they’re back home.
I would like to thank Chris and Terry and Mölnlycke Health Care for this amazing opportunity.