Last month we had two teams of doctors and nurses for an orthopaedic ‘camp’ at the hospital. A team of around ten people came from Switzerland. Their team leader is a radiologist who has been coming to the hospital once or twice a year with colleagues for the past seven years. It sounds like she’s done some great work over the years, including raising money for a new x ray machine and ultrasound machines and doing lots of radiology teaching. The Swiss team usually come and do a general surgical camp but this year they brought an orthopaedic surgeon who hadn’t come to BCH before. They also came with a few anaesthetic nurses, a general surgeon, a man who was fixing the x ray machine and an infectious diseases specialist. A couple of days after they arrived an American couple came to join them; another orthopaedic surgeon and his wife who did lots of the logistics and planning. They’ve also been coming for many years but had never come at the same time as the Swiss team. So it was an interesting time of cross-cultural working between the Swiss, Americans, Ugandans and us British!
It was very interesting to see the preparation for the camp. The patients were registered for many months beforehand, usually just patients that had been seen in outpatients but there were also some radio announcements and the community team told the village health workers to spread the word. Both teams have a long relationship with the hospital so everyone wanted things to be organised and prepared before they came. This did happen a little more last minute than I would have expected but hopefully they didn’t notice the smell of fresh paint!
There were 70 patients signed up for the camp but after they had all been screened by the surgeons around 40 were operated on. We did worry a little that all these patients might not have anywhere to sleep as the adult ward was already full of medical patients and the paeds ward was pretty full. Fortunately a private ward has recently finished being built so we used those new rooms and some spare beds from maternity and put some patients in the space at the end of the paeds ward.
The good thing about orthopaedic surgery compared to medicine is that if you have the right equipment and skills an operation can often ‘fix’ the problem and make a real difference to someone’s quality of life. There were quite a few people who had fractures for some time and had either not got treatment or had been to a different hospital and had poor quality treatment e.g. nails in fractures that were too long and went into the knee or ankle joint meaning they had a lot of pain and couldn’t use that joint. Other patients had smaller operations such as extra digits being removed (polydactyly), which would still make a big difference to your life if it meant you could wear closed shoes for the first time. It’s great to see people’s lives changed in a relatively short period of time.
Luckily the camp was funded by WATSI, a crowd funding organisation that the hospital works with. I’ll explain more about WATSI in another blog post but it meant that patients didn’t have to pay for their treatment which was a massive help.
Sometimes short term trips to hospitals overseas can benefit the visiting team more than the hospital if not planned well but this was an example of how a short term trip can really benefit patients, the hospital and the staff, as well as giving the visiting teams a chance to live and work in a different country and culture for a short period of time. As well as their skills and expertise we also appreciated the Swiss sausage the Swiss team left us and the dance party the American team organised for the hospital!