Rwanda 2019: The Final Days

The last day in the hospital in Gitwe was certainly the most challenging in terms of surgeries. The team had four complex ones to start the day, with the last surgery turning out to be much more difficult and vascular than the surgeons had anticipated, taking a total of nearly five hours to complete. While Drs. Dhingra and Sebelick and DeBiase worked together on that patient, Dr. Chandra finished up remaining cases, and the rest of the team not in the operating room worked on packing up all our medical equipment in preparation for leaving the next day. We left an emergency surgery kit in case of any overnight issues that could arise, but apart from that packed up everything we had brought, only planning on coming back to the hospital very briefly the next day to discharge remaining patients. The night ended with a dinner at Dr. Zachary’s (the medical superintendent of Gitwe hospital) house, which was a lovely end to what had been a long week. The team then headed back home to pack up and prepare for leaving the next day.

Goiter removed on the last day of surgery

Our PAC-U nurse, Courtenay, discharging patients

This morning, we gathered for one final breakfast at Gerard and Justine’s (our hosts) house before walking to the hospital in the Rwandan mist. We arrived to see yet another line of women outside the doors, but this time they were composed of already operated on patients, whose necks no longer were obstructed by large goiters. It was a beautiful way to end the trip, with smiles and laughter and even some singing as the doctors discharged our remaining patients.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the incredible team that represented MMFC on this mission. The team of nurses, comprised of our scrub nurses Adriane, Liz, Julie, as well as our post-anesthesia care unit nurse, Courtenay were at the heart of keeping every day running smoothly and efficiently. The anesthesiologist team, led by Kyle and Cale and Tim, with residents Britta and Stephanie and CRNA Jeff, maintained an extremely high level of care for every individual patient, talking them through their anesthesia and constantly making sure they were safe before, during, and after their operation. Our administrator, Michelle, was the much-needed organizational heart of the mission, and our budding surgeon/pre-medical student Shelby was a constant positive and enthusiastic presence throughout. The surgeons themselves, Drs. Dhingra and Sebelik and Chandra and fourth-year resident Dr. DeBiase, worked unbelievably hard to get through all thirty-two surgeries and never once showed the fatigue they must have been feeling throughout the whole trip. Their skills as surgeons are un-contestable, but they were also incredible teachers and team members for everyone involved. We were joined by some incredible staff at the Gitwe hospital, along with medical students from the local school, who were all extremely enthusiastic to learn and help.

I think I speak for myself as well as the whole team when I say that the trip to Gitwe this year has been a truly incredible experience. The hospitality and kindness of the people here is unparalleled, and getting to give people access to medicine that they do not have otherwise was a true honor for us. Gerard, one of our hosts, put it quite beautifully, thanking us this morning at breakfast and ending by saying, “the people from America and Rwanda, we are brothers”. It is a sentiment not often echoed in this day and age, and certainly rang true for all of us after spending a week here. Even as we leave Rwanda today to head back home, there will certainly be a lingering feeling of homesickness for this beautiful country and its people, along with a desire to continue the work we have begun next year.

~Ananya Mahalingam-Dhingra