Uganda Healthcare Expedition Part IV

After a fun couple of days of vegetarian home cooking (burgers and lasagne!), I had a few days off work and so set off to London. I was a little lazy at home but at the same time, hung out in the high street and enjoyed the summer sales!

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The view from the top floor of the bus, the best seat in my opinion!

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My sales items, totaling £62.75

It was also a good opportunity to meet up with a family friend, one who I’ve known for almost 25 years.

It was on the day that I met up with her, that I had an appointment with the dental hygienist in the morning. Just a typical appointment which I had booked the day before…or was it?

Everything was going pretty normal. My teeth were being inspected and the dental hygienist was doing a ‘deep clean’ on them, when his phone rang and he answered accordingly.

‘Oh I’m very sorry but I had to take the phone call’

‘That’s ok’ I replied.

‘Yeah it’s from Uganda’

‘Oh really?’

It was at this point that my voice changed to one of excitement. Of course I let him finish off the session, and then we talked about all-things-Uganda. We spoke about my trip there last year, his origins there and what we were both hoping to do. I told him about what I was setting up and interestingly, he told me about his plans to improve the dental hygiene there. We exchanged contact details and I left soon after. The very next day, I received an email from him.

He alerted me of the Uganda-UK Investment Convention which is scheduled for this year. I don’t know if I would have even be aware of it, if it wasn’t for the dental hygienist! Did I sign up for it? Well of course I did. I considered it a sign that he was there! Interestingly, I was contacted by two key organisations soon after-The Ministry of Health in Uganda that day, and the RCOG the next day.

So yes, things are still going. My next steps are:

  • Look into fundraising and obtaining the medical equipment.
  • Once this is done, we can set up the services for the cervical cancer screening programme and look into keeping it sustainable.
  • Make plans to go to Uganda towards the beginning of next year.

I wanted to end this post by sharing a Youtube link, because of the impact it has on me every time I watch it. I find it very inspirational, focusing the importance of creating change and making a difference in people’s lives. This is what I want to do.

Gary Vaynerchuk in Ghana, a country I have been to previously and love dearly. The ending of this vlog almost always gets to me. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did 🙂

Sweet Child O’ Mine

Over the past year or so, I’ve had my fair share of conversations with taxi drivers. The majority of them tend to start off in the same way…

‘You off to work?’

‘Yeah’.

‘Oh what do you do?’

‘I’m a doctor’.

Yes, at times it can get boring. It’s the same responses and especially when I’m tired, I prefer to keep my answers brief and read a book instead. However over the past couple of weeks, there have been two chat encounters which I wanted to reflect on, both of which have a recurring theme-the drivers were parents, and they wanted their children to be doctors.

The first conversation involved an driver, who told me that his son had graduated from medical school one year ago, and is now working as a doctor. I congratulated him.

‘So you must be very proud of him. How is he finding it so far?’ I asked.

‘Oh he doesn’t like it, he hates being a doctor’.

It turns out that the driver has always dreamed of his son becoming a doctor, so he saved up to put him through medical school. He paid for his accommodation, travel expenses, petrol, everything. His son, however never wanted to become one. He wanted to study economics. And now he hates his dad for his new found career. I was curious and asked the driver what he would like his son to specialise in…

‘Surgery, I want him to be a surgeon’.

The second conversation involved a driver, who inquired about what type of high school I went to, where I studied medicine and what I specialise in. He then went on to speak about his 3 year old daughter. He explained that he wants her to be a doctor, and has made several attempts to get her interested in science.

‘She can tell you all the planets. We also bought her one of those books about the human body…oh what’s it called?’

‘Anatomy?’ I replied

‘Yes, an anatomy book!’.

I then started to think about how I got into medicine. Did my parents want me to become a doctor? Deep down yes. I think the difference though, was that they didn’t pressure me into becoming one. They didn’t force me to attend medical school, nor did they thrust anatomy books upon me as a 3 year old.

I don’t think I had any real external influences to become a doctor. We don’t have any in my family apart from my grandfather, who passed away long before I was born. But a part of me always knew I wanted to be one, and I couldn’t see myself becoming anything else. I think in the end it comes down to the individual, and there is no point in resenting others for a choice they made. If your parents really want you to become something which you don’t believe is you, why would you go down that path? After all it’s your life you’re living, not somebody else’s.

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.

Handbags and Gladrags

Having worked in this psychiatry post for almost a month now (seriously, where does the time go?), I realised that I’m still trying to adapt to the things and to the people around me. I’m very slowly getting used to the idea that in this job,  you run your own diary, and your own show. As sad as this sounds, I got very excited when I created my own list of patients(!). This maybe the first time in four years, that I feel like a ‘grown up’ doctor.

I tried to think why it is that all of a sudden, I feel this grown up. Two ideas came to mind:-

-Working in a community orientated environment does mean you’re basically in charge. In previous hospital jobs, particularly A&E and stroke, you’re definitely not in charge.

-I’m surrounded by older psychiatrists!

So now that I realised this, I pictured myself amongst the others. I definitely didn’t look grown up. I noticed that my colleagues owned things I didn’t have, such as:-

  1. A diary (not your personal day-to-day diary, but one for home visits etc)
  2. A flask  (there’s a lot of tea drinking!)
  3. A bag

In point 3. I actually mean a proper work bag, one that makes you feel mature  and sophisticated. I’m afraid my rucksack doesn’t quite cut it..I look like a twelve year old with it!

I therefore decided to do a little shopping. In addition to my weekly grocery shopping, I also purchased these extra things. Funnily enough, when I treat myself to something (which is rather rare!), I subconsciously tend to spend less on my other shopping. Halfway through purchasing however, I thought to myself-am I doing the thing that I told myself not to do, am I conforming to the others’ expectations?  I couldn’t tell which was worse, conforming or realising that I might just be getting a little bit older.

The Edutainer

This maybe my first time uploading a post, in tribute of somebody I admire. I recently found out that one of my heroes passed away. His name was Hans Rosling, and he was a Swedish doctor, statistician and public speaker in international health. He was also the chairman of Gapminder and did several TED talks.

One of my favourite TED talks from Hans Rosling, the ‘Edutainer’

I first came across Dr Rosling whilst studying public health at university. I found his presentations mindblowing, and this was most probably where my interest in public health first developed. Just over a year ago, I decided to make the bold step of trying to get in touch with him. I managed to get in touch with his assistant at Gapminder (which for me was a massive breakthrough!), but despite this I couldn’t reach him. He was naturally busy and on his travels, and I was just about to start my A&E job.

I can’t help but think to myself that I missed a golden opportunity. I regret not trying harder, sending more emails, maybe writing letters etc. I’ll never get to hear his comical lectures again, and there’s no chance now that I’ll meet him, that makes me sad. All I can do is learn from all this. Life’s too short, and I’ll never miss an opportunity like this again.