March 2020, what a mission! This mission was very special as a couple of people could not make the departure and we had to cut the mission short, as we scrambled to get a plane to fly home.
It was planned that 10 people would go, but only 8 left on the morning of March 7th. Two people had to withdraw at the last minute. Our vice-president had to stay behind for health reasons and Dr. Erard, an infectologist had to withdraw in order to assist in the development of plans by the Fribourg Cantonal Hospital and the Cantonal authorities for the impending arrival of COVID-19.
Fortunately, the team was already well prepared. Dr. Laurence Grüber had participated in the previous orthopaedic mission and as before she was competently assisted by the scrub nurse Antonio Garcia.
The operating theatre once again benefited from the empathy and humour of the anaesthetists Dr. Ralph le Dinh (5th mission!) and the newcomer, Dr. Marina De Brito.
Surgery by itself is often not enough to achieve the best result; the surgical team’s work was completed by occupational therapist Emmanuelle Picot and physiotherapist Viviane Fluchard, a new recruit. During the mission, patients benefited from their expertise, in post-operative mobilisation, posture work or the use of splints. The details of their procedures were carefully monitored by the trainees, the local nursing staff.
And of course, what would a Samuel Grenier’s mission be this time? Ingenious, he always manages to overcome the shortcomings of the radiology equipment and to resolve other numerous little problems. His knowledge and skill are always in high demand.
During this mission Christine Kolly, the person responsible for our logistics, got first hand experience of daily life in Uganda and is now better equipped to understand the problems of transport to Bwindi. This will help her to manage her expectations and frustrations, particularly with regard to the time needed to do things in a country with social and communication habits that are sometimes markedly different from ours.
If this mission was special, it was because the threat of the imminent pandemic weighed on the minds of the team from the beginning of the second week. As a result of airport closures and the interruption of flights to Europe, their planned return flights were cancelled. The team had to leave the hospital in a hurry and get to Entebbe in order to board the first possible flight to Switzerland. Thanks to the efforts of the local Brussels Airlines staff the team managed to get back safely and on schedule. The luggage however took longer, it was 10 days before all of it arrived back safely, sometimes arriving via Zurich and sometimes via Geneva!
In spite of this shortened mission, a lot of good work was achieved. Dr. Grüber took advantage of the situation to delegate some post operative work to the local team, particularly to Asaph, whom we support in his training and who is benefiting from his first year of orthopaedic studies at Kampala University.
Twenty-five operations were performed whilst the Africomed team was on site. Instructions were left to finalise cases by additional operations after the team’s departure. Nine cases of bone or joint infections were treated following the protocol laid down in previous missions by Dr Boscacci. In spite of her busy schedule at the hospital in Fribourg, Dr. Erard made time to answer questions. Similarly, Dr. Kohut answered questions by SMS, so that Bwindi staff could benefit from his experience,
Physiotherapy took care of around 50 patients and occupational therapy of around 40, aids for re-adaption to walking, such as soles and shoes were provided, sometimes with the aide of a local shoemaker.
The radiology worked well despite some problems with the control desks. Our Moses, a nurse but also an apprentice technician, dreams of going to medical school to become a radiologist…. In the meantime we are benefiting from his frustration at being blocked in Bwindi by the pandemic, which is being very strictly managed in Uganda.
The icing on the cake was that the sterilizer was put into operation, thanks to the ongoing productive collaboration of Antonio and Samuel.
We also welcomed the participation in the mission, even if it was rather short, of two people whose advanced studies we sponsor, Asaph, the future orthopaedic surgeon, and Dianah, a physiotherapist in training.
If this mission was rather special, it let the management of Bwindi Hospital show its unfailing support to our volunteers. In addition it allowed our Mission 2020 team to show resourcefulness, unity and composure in a situation that we hope will never happen again.