Uganda Healthcare Expedition Part III & Other Musings

It feels like the last couple of weeks have been a little ‘strange’ to me, since coming back to Leeds. There have been days where I was so driven to do things, but there have also been days where I haven’t been quite as motivated. For a while, it felt like time was going so slowly and I was feeling rather blah about things…and it’s only been two weeks!

The first weekend I spent since coming back to Leeds may have been a productive one. This is despite having many movies running on at home, probably too many to count. I was able to sit down and literally brain storm ideas on the whiteboard, for the cervical cancer screening programme I am organising in Bwindi-the objectives, statistics, equipment, screening and treatment options, current infrastructure, collaborators, funding organisations, questions to the hospital, the list is endless.

Despite taking a solid weekend, it felt like for the first time, I was able to create a vision in my head of what the programme should encompass. I have already sourced the equipment in Uganda instead of in the UK as I originally planned, and am looking into funding options for these. I have also been in touch with the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Manchester University and important charities who have expertise in this field of medicine. I’ll admit some responses have been slower or less helpful than others, but I do have some direction of focus. If there’s anything that I’ve learnt, it’s that you should keep going until they tell you no.  I’ll give you an example…

In my previous blog post on the expedition, I mentioned that I was in contact with a gynaecology registrar at the hospital. Unfortunately responses from him thinned out, to the point that I directly made contact with the Royal College itself for advice and about a potential staff training course for the healthcare workers. It was useful to know that this is a pilot, in which they require more information from the hospital. At least I knew this now and in my mind, this still wasn’t a no.

The beginning of last week was probably not one of the best ways to start the week off…my uncle passed away.  I received a flood of text messages from my family asking me to ring them back, and this was unusual for them. Though we weren’t very close, I was still upset. He was my uncle, and every time we made trips to Sri Lanka, he was always there.  I took a couple of days off work though weirdly enough, it felt like I wasn’t present most of the week. However we’re managing to carry on. I found it weird how every time my family asked if I was ok, I actually felt worse. I don’t know if that’s normal, maybe I just wanted some space for a bit.

This week almost feels like things are a little bit normal again. I’ve been trying to get on with things-marathon training (which I recommenced today), chasing jobs for the expedition, reading and establishing a routine again. Yes sometimes I like normal. Normal is trying to keep yourself busy and occupied with something, wanting to wake up in the morning to do it. Its important, it helps you get through the not so nice times, and it can help you feel a little less blah about yourself.

Live Your Life

As I head back to Leeds on the train again, I reflect on how I spent the last few days in my home city, London. I use train journeys as a golden opportunity to recollect the good memories we made at home. It’s always something I can come back to.

I hadn’t been at home in just over two months, and hadn’t seen my family since I did my exam. It was nice to actually spend a few days with them, not just a weekend. In addition to getting a hair cut, I took the opportunity to meet my cousins. A couple came over to see us and I met up with a close one in the city.

I always enjoy going to central London, and this trip was no different. I love the fact that it’s literally a 30 minute trip on the Underground to get there. I met my cousin at around 5pm in London Bridge, at a fresh Italian Pasta restaurant called Padella. Despite the early dinner and neither of us being particularly hungry, we somehow managed to consume 3 pasta dishes, a chocolate torte and a bottle of Prosecco between us! I hadn’t seen her since Christmas, so there was a lot of catching up to do.

After having our meal, we walked across the city centre. Starting at Borough Market, we made our way along the River Thames and passed many London landmarks-Shakespeare’s Globe, the Royal National Theatre, London television centre, the London Eye, Sea life London Aquarium, Dungeons and Dragons, skateboarding sites, the list was endless. Streaks of sunlight were seeping through the clouds still, yet nobody was cold. Everybody looked happy and was in a good mood. We said our goodbyes on London Bridge at around 8.30pm and we went home our separate ways. My understanding is that the London terrorist attacks took place two hours later.

The following morning, after waking up to numerous Whatsapp messages to check people were safe, I went to a barbeque my sister was organising for me and my parents. We were joined by one of my old family friends who I hadn’t seen in almost a year, and her American cousin who I briefly met at my sister’s wedding. I won’t lie, I thought I had felt a little awkwardness between us, maybe because I hadn’t seen her in a long time or maybe because they were guests. However I think it settled…my sister showed us wedding videos (some of them I knew I’d seen before) and we chatted again like old times.

After the barbeque, we drove to my friend’s house where she was staying with her parents, whilst she was back in England. Her house always reminded me of happy childhood memories and the days we used to hang out there. Her cousin was a medical student and talked about the medical school system. He also invited me to come to America. Yay! My first American friend! It was even more lovely seeing her parents again. Her father is a retired GP and I had the utmost respect for him. He had a very good work ethic which my mother always talked about when I was younger, and I’d like to think  that he was proud of me. Hilariously he exclaimed, “ahh Chitra, you look like a 10 year old!”, and we had an energetic conversation. We talked about the hospitals I worked in and he was happy that I can do LPs, (lumbar punctures), stating “yes, you’re a doctor”.

I definitely enjoyed my time in London, I always do. I love trying to make time to see old friends and family, because I want to be reminded of my roots when I tend to forget them. This trip back to London will probably stick to me more, because of what happened in London Bridge. Last time I met up with my cousin was around Christmas time last year. We met up later in the evening and I came home later. What if we decided to meet up at a similar time this year? It’s almost terrifying to think that, and I did lay awake that night thinking about what could have happened.

My mum mentioned that I should stop going to central London often (as if I go often!), and brought up many a time, how I encouraged her to take trips there that very evening, before we heard the news. But really, should something like this stop us from carrying on with normal life? According to her, it almost felt like she believed that. Yes maybe I’ll be a little cautious, but I won’t be living in fear. We have a life to live and we should live it.

We are Family

I managed to accomplish another task on my list of things to do this year.…I passed my first GP exam 🙂 Having kept a close eye on the website (might I add all day), the results came through this evening, as I was naturally happy. It was a hard exam and I didn’t know which way it could go.

I got home and spoke to my family back home in London. Unfortunately, I received some strange responses:

“So you’re almost there now, you can be a lazy GP”

 “You can write out prescriptions, send out x-ray requests and patients to hospital, while drinking tea”.

Was I hurt? Well no at first. I was still trying to let everything sink in.  However after hanging up, I reflected on that conversation…why were they being so negative? Why did no one stand up for me? I couldn’t tell if they were being ‘haters’. Yet these are the same people who are constantly calling me up for informal advice.

A few days later, I brought up this conversation with my family, and how I didn’t appreciate some of the things they said. They apologised, and expressed that they were supposed to be jokes. Maybe it’s me, I heard it too often, and it sticks with you. I did forgive them however and we moved on. I haven’t told them about what else I’m trying to achieve in my list (point 4 to be exact). They don’t even know what’s coming.


But probably not in the same way you’re thinking. I went back to London on Wednesday, where my family is and where I grew up. I hadn’t seen them in almost three months (which for me is a long time). When I travel abroad, I don’t usually go away for longer than a month, so this was definitely the longest I had been from home.

Because of work and other commitments I was trying to fulfill, I kept postponing my trip back to London. It however came to a point, that the only way to go home was to literally force myself to.  I forced myself to request some leave from my supervisor ,and to pack a suitcase the night before. As I had been in Leeds for much longer this time, my feelings were fluctuating worse so. A part of me wasn’t excited to be back at home and I wasn’t particularly keen on leaving. I was missing the people here terribly. It got so bad that as soon as I arrived in London, I wanted to leave again. Everything was looking so alien to me (the day I arrived in London was the day of the terrible terrorist attacks at Westminster) and it felt like for the first time, I didn’t come to the right place.

I knew that eventually these feelings would go away and I’d be ok again. They did and I was. I spent most of the day studying (maybe subconsciously, to feel like I was in Leeds again), and in the evening I’d go out-for example, the cinema with my cousins watching Beauty and the Beast(!) or dinner for Mother’s day. Things felt normal again.

When I travel back and forth, I always get mixed feelings about the opposite location (which I have actually blogged about in the past). As I type this post heading back to Leeds on the train, I listen to one of my favourite Sinhalese singers Pandit Amaradeva, but I know he’s songs aren’t ones I’d typically listen to in Leeds, because I associate them with London and family.  I know these are feelings I’ll have to overcome and get used to. I believe that where I am now is propelling me forward. I just have to keep going, and keep telling myself…

Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts-Oliver Wendall Holmes

Call of duty 

As I head back to London for my week off, I reflect on last weeks events. It’s been a weird, “set back” week, as I like to call it, where things haven’t turned out quite as I planned or hoped. Last week when I went back to Leeds, I was working on my laptop. Now going back to London again, I am unable to complete my work. My laptop was stolen in the robbery, and I’ve fallen behind.

On Saturday, we decided to head into town and invest in a couple of laptops. As soon as we parked the car in the mall car park, we came out of the car to hear people screaming ahead of us. From a distance I could see a tall looking guy looking down, and it looked like he was stamping hard on the ground. This happened in front of mothercare, and my heart feared the worst. I thought he was beating up a child.

We ran straight to the scene…my boyfriend way ahead of me. I was fearful as we approached, as we had no idea what was happening. All we could see was a gathering of people in front of the store, looking horrified. We got to the scene to find a teenager lying on the floor, unconscious, with his face covered in blood.

We approached him whilst the crowd watched us. I stabilised him whilst my boyfriend spoke to the paramedic down a passerby’s phone, who made the phone call before we arrived at the scene. More people were joining the crowd, who were almost telling us off-

“Do you know basic life support?”

“Don’t you have to put him in the recovery position?”.

It was quite obvious that they didn’t believe that we were doctors, we both spent 6 months in A&E and we knew what we were doing. My boyfriend had to intervene-

“Look, we’re both doctors, I’m on the phone with the paramedics, please give us some space”.

Then they finally listened to us and backed away. We stabilised this teenager and though confused, he slowly gained consciousness. He reeked of alcohol and had a head injury, we knew he needed a CT scan. The paramedics came who took over, followed by the police. We left the scene at the appropriate time and continued on.

Why did I tell you about this? Was it to add onto the misery of our week? Well that’s one reason. I like to blog about the good and the bad, and I find it helpful to just be open about life’s ups and downs. However the main reason why I wrote about this, was to reflect on how proud I was of my boyfriend. Not just because of how we stabilised this teenager as a team (anyone with ABCDE training could do this), not just how he addressed the crowd in a calm manner…but how he approached the scene in the first place. He ran at full speed and looked fearless. I, on the other hand, was afraid of what was ahead of me, and yes I was afraid that he was going to approach the attacker. I asked him if he was scared, to which he said no, he wasn’t, and I believe him. I hadn’t seen such bravery of this nature and I was so proud to be with him. This was our call of duty, and we could hold our heads up high together.

Three acts of kindness

Earlier this week, I faced my worst experience of the year…our house was burgled.

I received a phone call from my boyfriend at 6.30pm, during my “end of rotation” meeting with my supervisor. I thought it was a little strange that he was calling me at this time. “I’m sure I told him I was here?”, I said to myself. I very quickly picked up the phone (having apologised to my supervisor): 

 “Hey can I call you back? I’m just having my meeting..”

“No baby please don’t hang up, I think we’ve been robbed”.

For a few moments I didn’t say anything. I was trying to process in my mind what he had just said…I found it that hard to believe, that all I could say was “What?”many a time.

My supervisor heard this frantic conversation, realised this was for real and let me go early. I got home to find my boyfriend waiting for me in the car. He called the police and I sat in the car with him, heater on full (this happened to be the coldest day of the year). We hardly spoke, we just wanted to get into our home.

First act of kindness: Calling the consultant on call.

I knew I wouldn’t come into work the next day. Not only did we need time to get over the grief of what had just happened, but there was a lot of stuff we needed to sort out..talking to home insurance, getting a locksmith etc, stuff neither of us were familiar with. I therefore decided to call the consultant oncall (something we’re supposed to do if we know we can’t come into work) and told him that we’d been robbed. He reacted the same way I did when I got that phone call, he couldn’t believe it. But his tone completely changed in an instant: one minute he was my consultant, and the next minute he became my friend. In addition to giving me lots of advice down the phone, he sent me a message the next morning, asking if we both ok and offered his full support, for if we needed him in anyway. I found it so refreshing to see this other persona of him and was most grateful.

Second act of kindness: Letting my team know.

Normally I would have kept this to myself, I would have let my team find out the next day, the reason why I didn’t come into work. However we were already understaffed this week and I was feeling guilty-I thought I should let them know sooner rather than later. I sent them all a message on our group, and the support I received was immense. All sending their wishes and offers of help, I felt so much better, knowing that we had their support. From colleagues they were already my friends, but from friends they became family.

Third act of kindness: Speaking to my ward consultant.

I forced myself to go back to work today, to try to get back into normality again. In the morning handover (where the night doctor tells us about the patients they saw overnight), the team immediately asked how I was doing…and I told them what happened.

Later that day, I ran into one of my regular consultants, one I work closely with on the ward. He could see I was looking sad and upon enquiring, I told him what happened. He was so shocked to hear my story, and related to a similar story in his family. He later told me that if there was anything I needed, I could always call him. By the way, he wasn’t supposed to be in work today. He was offering his help, whilst he was off. No one has ever done that for me in my career so far.

Whilst I write this blog on my phone (they stole my laptop), I reflect on everything that happened. I’m grateful that we are safe and I’m grateful that they didn’t take our treasured things or memorabilia. I am thankful to my friends (and new found friends) for their support in this ordeal and I realised that people who know you, will go out of their way and help you, even if you don’t expect it. The night before my meeting I was restless, I was nervous about how my meeting would go. I never expected to get robbed that day. If there’s one thing I learnt, it’s that things in life are never what you expect them to be.

Reflections on a train

I am halfway through a train journey back to Leeds, after having just spent the weekend with my family. Because of the time it takes to get to London (up to 2 and a half hours on a good day…try hopping onto a train after an exhausting week of long hours!) and the cost of train tickets, I don’t always get to go home as much as I would like to. However when I do go, I really try to make the most of it. I use the time to be with my parents, relax in the house I grew up in and meet up with a select few friends I try hard to stay in touch with. I also use the time I have at home to refresh my mind and remind myself of my London roots again…for example topping up my Oyster card!

I reflect about the things I have been able to do, what I have achieved so far, and more importantly what more I have to do to achieve my goals. When I come home, it’s so easy to not want to go back to work again. Maybe I can do something similar down here, in the comfort of my own home and family and friends.

So why did I leave? Was it because of an appealing location? Well partly yes. Was it to be with my boyfriend, after working in separate locations for two years? Absolutely yes. But then I remember the real reason why I left. If I stayed, I would be too comfortable. I wouldn’t venture off and do things I would have only dreamed off. And yes if I was at home, I would only dream of the things I want to do. Don’t get more wrong, I did spend one year at home after my foundation training, which I spent to go to Peru, Ecuador and Ghana. So I know you can still travel and do things even if you live at home. But I knew that deep down, I would still get too comfortable. I would take home for granted, and I wouldn’t do more for myself, I wouldn’t challenge myself.

Not all my train journeys have been of reflection. Having been forced by my supervisor to return to work for literally one day during the Christmas holiday, I had the honour of meeting the one and only Jeremy Corbyn, whilst on our way home to celebrate New Years Eve!

As I make my way back to Leeds, I am constantly reminded of the fun I had this weekend with my parents, cousins and friends. I came down especially this time to celebrate Dhane, a Buddhist festival to remember the ones we lost. I’m not the most religious but when I am home, I do try extra hard to pray, make the most of it and make it meaningful. Those days when I was super home sick and I had to leave home, I would confide in my boyfriend that I was missing my family, missing home and whichever location I am in, my opinion of the opposite one goes a little sour. I think one of the wisest things he’s said that day (apart from his many other musings!), was that there was no need to be sad. I literally could go back to London anytime I wanted to, nobody is stopping me but myself. Wherever you are, you can always take home with you, each of these locations is providing me with happiness, joy and love. Then it clicked to me, home is wherever you want it to be.