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Uganda 2018 – An Epiphany

It’s all a blur at this point. Sitting by the pool at Chobe, listening to the birds singing above and all around me, seeing flashes of green and red and yellow as they speed by with their mysterious agendas… it all makes it difficult to recall specifics. Hundreds of emails, hours of meetings and months of planning and it’s over in a flash.


But heaven knows it was worth it.


Interactions with the people here are by necessity quick and direct. We speak to most of the patients through a translator and receive only the basics: what hurts and for how long. Perhaps a small fact about their lives. This isn’t the Ugandan way though. Here things are built on relationships. On family. Conversations are slower, more formal but also more personal. Soft voices are used.


Taking a moment to look the patient, student, or server in the eye, to coax a smile, to shake a hand — taking a deep cleansing breath periodically in order to refocus on the present — it’s not much but it’s critical in this setting.


It was Thursday. The intern in my room had been watching me all week. I had performed something like thirty two TURPs by then. Transurethral resection of the prostate to relieve obstruction, allowing men to urinate better. There is a camera attached to the scope so he saw everything I did. I pointed out landmarks. He wrote a post op note in every patient’s chart. He asked questions and I answered them. So honestly I felt like he had a good handle on what was going on.


And yet after this particular surgery he said, “So if a man has this surgery, he will no longer require a catheter?”


“Yes, that’s correct.”


He paused and thought a few seconds, his face lighting up and a smile forming before he said, “That would be life changing.”


And that’s the moment I remember.


His epiphany took time. It took repetition. Certainly I’m at fault for not realizing he didn’t understand. But the language, the prior experience, it’s a process. And it’s one of the reasons I keep coming back.


We’ll never be finished here. We’ll always have more to learn. More to teach.


A meticulous six-hour surgery to repair a burned contracted hand — or to remove a gigantic neck mass. Or a week with an intern or a translator or a nursing student. Or a five-minute conversation with a patient. Or a smile and a handshake for a child.


Every interaction has the potential to bring more peace into this fragmented world. More love. Lives are changed here.


Especially mine.