On Saturday 11th November 2017, I returned to Ethiopia accompanying the Wings of Healing team; Onsy, our inspirational Consultant and two nurses – Charmaine and Chelsea. Also, joining us was Consultant Paediatrician, Dr Dayo.
My second trip a year on but for Onsy, his fifth in thirteen months. That is, his fifth returning to the University Referral Hospital in Aksum. During these missions, he has continued to be supported by his dedicated team of nurses, anaesthetists, therapists and any variation of persons whose hearts are filled with the spirit of love, kindness and considerate, caring concern for others.
This time for me, I felt less like a ‘rabbit caught in the headlights’ and the familiarity of being in Aksum again was warming to my soul. Much has changed in a year with an increase in unfinished, large buildings but the rudimentary existence of day to day living is little unchanged in this poor area of Ethiopia. The dust never goes away either.
On this mission, Onsy had committed himself and his team to complete as many surgical procedures as allowed, over the eleven days available to us. Once again, he pushed himself – often facing difficult, stressful obstacles – to eventually bring the successfully, completed figure to ninety-five. Together with the last mission in September, the total number of women having life-changing operations – a truthful fact, I cannot accentuate enough – is over two hundred and seventy!
Moreover, in this area alone and since October 2017, the mission has treated more than five hundred women with pelvic organ prolapse.
Life in the theatre, I came to observe, could be testing with the differing levels of skills of local medical personel. During the September trip, Onsy had six volunteers with him during the first ten days which dropped to just four in the last week. Accomplishing some one hundred and seventy-five procedures was a mind-blowing achievement. During that first period, Onsy had the support of an Ethiopian surgeon from Addis who, for several of these missions, has been supervised and trained by Onsy. Imparting his invaluable knowledge and skills is an important part of the Wings of Healings mission. Not just to go, do and leave but to teach the skills to other Ethiopian surgeons and nursing staff, that they might grow in their knowledge and understanding of these difficult procedures and post-operative care.
In November, Onsy had just the support of just two volunteers. I do not include myself in this number as I as was outside of a theatre role. Given a great accolade by Onsy, of the title, ‘Store room assistant manager’. That was until our irreplaceable local nurse – come negotiator, translator, hotel – flight agent, come wonder woman – Serki left after nine days and I was promoted to ‘Store room Manager’. However, after becoming so much more familiar with the pharmaceutical side of the store, I suggested that becoming a pharmacist might be a more attractive role!
Outside of my store room duties, I accompanied Serki on morning and often afternoon ward rounds. I was privileged to go into theatre and watch the master at work and I have much indebtedness to Onsy, Chelsea and Charmaine who kept me included and informed at every step.
Daily, I observed much of the day to day workings and management of the hospital. The attitude, skills and communication techniques of hospital staff. The running of the wards. Differing systems in training.
No doubt, there is much that can be improved on the general post-operative care, especially with communication techniques and the dignity that must be afforded to these women or any patient. For many reasons, it is currently a wholly different system to ours and culturally many things are unlike what we might expect to see in our own hospitals.
However, the Wings of Healing medical team continue to support the University Referral Hospital and partake their knowledge and expertise in the systems of managing a successful medical establishment. They have listened and we pray that at each return, little by little, progress towards change for the improved care of the sick at this special hospital will prosper.
To finish on a positive note, one of our joyous moments was to visit some three hundred orphaned children at their school. Onsy had arranged for us to take toothbrushes and toothpaste to them. Something they had requested. Such beautiful, little personalities. Wonderful smiles that will carry you through any day when you believe you little to feel happy for.
On our last day at the hospital, I walked back to the hotel with Onsy (in the midday sun I might add but nothing can be an obstacle for Onsy), when we met some of the smaller children from the school on their way home to their foster carers. Bubbly, excitable, they exclaimed. “Toothbrush”, motioning cleaning their teeth. Even after all the stress and exhaustion of our days there, Onsy thought running with the children would be a good idea! (Midday sun, I remind you) Lagging and without Onsy’s energy, one little girl slipped her hand caringly into mine and ran slowly with me. Priceless memories.
I too am left with the wonderful moments of my attempts of communication in speaking Amharic and Tigrinya. Two wonderful patients of Onsy’s will stay with me forever. Beautiful ladies who held out a hand of friendship. We laughed until we cried one evening at my fluency in a handful of words until I realised I was saying, “Stand up!” when I was sitting down and “Sit down!” when I was standing up. I’ll stick to my day job of store room manager!
The next mission is being planned as you might expect of Onsy. His biggest mission though is a task from our beautiful Serki: That Onsy, after six years learns Amharic! I believe she has a point…
We all pray for the success of this and all future missions and for the support of the volunteers who will once again give their time for this remarkable, inspiring charity: Wings of Healing.