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Uganda 2017 – Lean On Me

Monday is the most chaotic day. We finish setting up the operating rooms and somehow, magically, begin our first case by nine. Every year is different and the night prior all I had seen were elderly men with catheters who needed prostate surgery. So Monday we had eleven TURPs and one hydrocele scheduled.


Years ago I worked out how to have safe and effective irrigation for prostate surgery. It had to be isotonic, conduct electricity and be easy to carry. Of the choices, glycine requires the least volume by weight, so one 450 gram bottle will make thirty liters of irritant.


Glycine is relatively inexpensive and available at Natural Grocers although it usually raises a question when I buy it there. “Yeah, mainly for body building…” Six pounds is usually enough for the week. Right away we sent three camps showers and a bottle of glycine to the pharmacy to start mixing up the solution.


For the first time in five years I had all new helpers in the OR. These mission trips provide a microcosm of our personalities and how we form relationships. We meet, communicate, and try to understand each other very quickly. During surgeries we talk about our lives, getting to know each other. We learn each other’s quirks and triggers by doing surgery after surgery. And by the end of the day Kate, Lisa, Marlene and I had a much better feel of how to take one another, how to make it all work.


In between procedures, Kate and Lisa quickly hand washed instruments and with Ugandan theatre assistant Polly’s help, got ready for the next patient. It was hard work and yet they became so efficient by the end of the first day that I barely had time to screen patients.


Adding to the chaos of Monday is the need to continue to see new patients. The unflappable Nyana and Sophie kept complex and ever changing lists that had been pre-screened at Lacor and before long they were receiving people sent over by the clinic team.


One of them would be on the lookout for a doctor who was in between surgeries so they could be whisked away to see a few patients. In that way we filled our schedules, little by little. And by the end of the day most of the week had been filled.


The last case of the day everything came to the surface. Exhaustion, emotions, anxiety, and the chaos of Monday at Lacor. I walked into the operating room after screening to find my final patient asleep and prepped. Kate slipped the plastic apron over my head, Lisa handed me the assembled scope, 90’s music was already playing and I immediately began to have a panic attack.


At that point I froze, looking straight ahead for about fifteen seconds as I tried to slow my heart and get my eyes to focus. The room closed in on me until it was just me and my pounding pulse as I slowly and deeply breathed in and out, reminding myself that everything was fine. That we were all here in the OR together. That we had light and cautery and fresh air and the patient was safely asleep. That I could take my time until the feeling passed…. And then as quickly as it came the feeling retreated. Ten minutes later our surgery day was finished.


As we got the man to recovery I was able to reflect for a moment, sitting on the edge of the action. I could feel the incredible passion of the other volunteers. How they had traveled so far and were working so hard, spending their money and vacation time to help patients they had never met. I was so thankful for every one of them.


I have met very few people in my life willing to work that hard with that much love and dedication and energy and passion.


And yet here they were, surrounding me, inspiring me, and sometimes even carrying me.