Two doctors, one nurse, and me – a volunteer. Nineteen days, and one chance to review as many of our patients from previous Complex Missions as possible, to see what progress they have made post-surgery, and the impact that the surgery has made to their lives. None of us entirely sure what to expect, and how many patients we will end up seeing.
I had been on two Complex Surgical Missions, and as soon as I heard about the Review Mission I offered to go as a volunteer. The chance to return to Ethiopia and see some of our old patients was just too great an opportunity to miss, even though I understood that we would be travelling through some really remote and rural areas. We would have the opportunity not just to review the patients, but also to visit some of their villages, see how they live, and see the journey that they themselves have to make to get to us in Addis Ababa for the Complex Mission.
We could not waste a single day, and needed to hit the ground running. Upon arrival in Addis Ababa we flew straight to Dire Dawa, to continue on to Harar. This beautiful, ancient, walled city is the foundation of the charity and where it all began. This would be our base for the next couple of days. Amongst others, we saw Project Harar’s first ever patients from 2002, Jamal and Fami, which was incredible. Jamal is now working, is married and has two children.
Travelling from Harar into East Harage was a real eye-opener on the second day. Leaving the city of Harar and travelling through villages, seeing people at their day to day lives. Donkeys, people, trucks, buses , busy markets, horse and cart all sharing dusty roads. Everywhere we travelled, kids waved as they played in the street.
I started out on this not entirely sure what my role would be. I’m not a doctor, I’m not a nurse, and this is a question I often get asked: “What do you actually do?” My role developed pretty quickly with those first initial patients. I would clerk the patients firstly. Name, age, town, district, language, and photographic consent. Next all patients were measured and weighed, and then the circumference of their upper arm measured (MUAC). This I learnt gives a good indication of how well-nourished the patient is – or isn’t.
As a team, we all found our roles very quickly those first initial days, working through an interpreter, and finding out from the patients how they had been since their surgery. Had they had any problems since their surgery, how had their recovery been, what were their personal circumstances, did they work or go to school, how did they feel their lives had changed with their family and in their communities. Each story was so personal to each patient, and very interesting to hear. It’s not just about the physical change this surgery has made to them but also the emotional and social change. Patients like Hajera Umer, who since her surgery in 2015 is now married, working, and happy to go out and about socially in her community, something she had never done prior to surgery.
Over the next five days we would travel through villages in East Harage, back to Harar and then onto West Harage – travelling on very basic roads, through incredible scenery to some quite inaccessible villages high up in the mountains. The eyeopener of this is that this is the journey our patients have to make just to reach Harar, never mind Addis, which is over 500 kilometres further.
In the second week we travelled south to the SNNPR region – five hours by road - where we would see our patients in Hawassa. It was amazing to see the wonderfully smiley 11-year-old Lemlem who is happily back in school, and wants to be a journalist when she grows up.
And then our final stop: Addis. We were given a wonderfully warm reception at Yekatit 12, the government hospital where the Complex Mission operations take place. It was brilliant to see the theatre nurses again, and our final review patients.
All in all it was a wonderful, emotional nineteen days, filled with a lot of hard work but also smiles and so much happiness. We reviewed 83 past patients, and even found 16 potential new patients to see next year. I wouldn’t have missed this trip for the world.
Huge thanks to Vinny, Raj, Calum, and Biniyam for working so hard and for sharing this amazing experience with me.
If you would like to donate and contribute to the costs of the Review Mission, please click here.
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