5 Highlights from Rwanda Day 5

This is beyond half way. Two days left of operating before the packing begins and the wagons move on to Tanzania. For the operative team things have hit a pretty steady pattern. Breakfast at the hotel and an amble down the hill, past the dancing security guard into the hospital. Yes, he protects the hospital with the power of dance.

This walk has actually felt routine since the first day of operating. Except that when you look up at a lamp post there isn’t a pigeon sitting and cocking an eye at the surrounds. There is a bird of prey who you can imagine is eyeing off your ears a little too eagerly.

Operating days have been extending out to 14 hours so some highlights come in handy to keep things going.

1. Operations 11, 12 and 13

3 more cases done.

Hands that say an operation might help.

Hands that say an operation might help.


This also means more kids out of intensive care and out on the ward. Speaking of which …

2. The Ward

I got to visit the ward properly for the first time in the evening. It’s an old style ward, a long room with beds lined up. The operating theatre is a place for adults. There is chat and machines that go bing and music in equal measures excellent and awful. We don’t hear kids much though.

The ward is full of kids who have had an operation on their heart within the last few days. There are also balloons and laughter and laughter at the clueless white guy who looks lost when spoken to. It is joy.

3. Indian

At the end of yesterday’s operating (which was a bit after most restaurants would take us), our colleagues brought us back Indian food to eat in the intensive care tea room. Who would think Rwanda would be where you would find some of the best Indian restaurant dining I’ve had?

Improved further by sharing the only version of Game of Thrones I’ve ever seen.

4. Quote from the Locals

The Open Heart International team can only do work because the locals at the hospital make it happen. We also know there are good people who will keep looking after these kids once we’re on the plane.

The team at the hospital coordinate getting the patients, help with the  assessment, arrange tests, obtain blood products if we need them and do all our interpreting. We couldn’t get anything done without them and we get the chance to slot into their system.

The local theatre team have a particular talent for straight talking and I haven’t been outside the hospital enough yet to know if that’s a national characteristic. At home if someone said

“I think this makes me look a bit fat.”

you might expect a stranger to enact social nicety training. Here the response is,

“Yes, it does.”

No malice or judgment. Unadorned honesty.

The local coordinating anaesthetist also came out with my favourite quote of the trip so far:

“You see, we are lucky enough here in Africa to have more than 24 hours in each day. So there is no rush. Let us sit.”

5. Can we put ourselves out of a job?
There might be more on this topic to come, but if you’re going on these sort of surgical aid trips the aim can’t just be to do a casual bit of operating. The aim has to be to help contribute to the system beyond the couple of weeks you are there. The best outcome is to become obsolete.

This means a key role for us is also education. The Open Heart International trips to Papua New Guinea are a good example. After many visits, they are at the point where local surgeons do a lot of the operative work.

We’re also particularly lucky to have with us a surgeon who has done some paediatric cardiac surgery training in Israel and who will be working long-term in Tanzania. Dr Godfrey Godwin has already been responsible for some of our work and it might just be that we can support him in setting up a service in Tanzania that makes us irrelevant. Definitely a highlight.

Dr G in action. Extra points for hanging out with the anaesthetists between cases.

Dr G in action. Extra points for hanging out with the anaesthetists between cases.

So it’s back to the ICU where I’m actually hoping there’s just the standard 24 hours in the African day …



3 thoughts on “5 Highlights from Rwanda Day 5

  1. I’m impressed your making time to post daily. It’s not like you’re on holiday there.
    A lovely post, Andy. But, I have to ask, is the security guards dance traditional or interpretive?
    Oh, and about the Indian food, I have a colleague recently from Kenya – born and raised there, but her family are from India, so I guess there is a larger population of Indians in African nations than most Australians may realise?

    • The security guard is dancing to whatever Top 40 thing is on his player I’d say. It’s not really an effort to do security of course.

      And I imagine there’s plenty but this was particularly excellent.

  2. Pingback: What can the world give you? | Songs or Stories

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