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.

Life is a Highway

Today was a rather big day for me. Most people experience this day when they’re teenagers. I however had it today…I bought a car!

Having finally passed my driving test, we decided to head down to dealerships, in search of a ‘good, first car’. This was a big experience for me, because I had never bought anything like this before. I didn’t know the correct questions to ask or the best specifications to look into. Luckily, however, my boyfriend was there to help me with these. Going through the paperwork also felt like a nightmare. I completely felt out of my comfort zone with all the information they were giving me, there was just so much I didn’t know.

I even did a test drive. I’ll admit, this was something I didn’t even think about. I was a nervous wreck at first, as there were three other people with me (my boyfriend, the sales consultant and a junior salesman shadowing on his first day!). Except for my driving instructor, I had never driven anybody else in a car before, not even my boyfriend…and now there were 3 of them!

truelies_3

The famous test drive scene in True Lies..yes I’m a huge True Lies fan.

Today was a rather bittersweet moment for me. I grew up with my parents saying the classic thing… 

‘First study, then get a good job, then get a car, find a nice man and get married, and have children’. 

Having taken heed of this typical stepwise motion of life events, it felt like I completed another ‘life event’, and that was a little scary to me. I’m already a little apprehensive at the thought of driving out there on my own, but I know I’ll have to get used to it. I realised I probably won’t get the odd uber taxi so much anymore, and I even missed that a little bit..weird maybe? I suppose the most important thing to do in life is drive…

car

Maui and me 🙂

Let’s Dance

So I did. Back in June 2015, I went to Ghana (my first time in Africa), to join a medical volunteering expedition. On the fourth day of our trip, we went to a salsa bar, as a means to get to know the rest of the group. What you are about to see below was completely unplanned, without any practice and without a drink before hand. We both went with the flow, and I felt so free! I think it went well (aka I was still standing by the end of it 🙂 )

Stay Salsa, and have a good weekend!

An inspiration

It’s a funny thing when you’re not busy at your job. Your mind is at rest, it’s free for ideas and it’s open to inspiration. This is what I want for life!

I spent the majority of my week off seeking this inspiration. I have been reading a book by Tracey Kidder called Mountains beyond mountains. It’s a biography about a doctor who has a vision:to solve global health problems-my natural interest!

From Harvard he goes to Haiti, curing infectious diseases in the poor communities. This is where I am up to so far in the book, but from here he makes his way to Peru, Cuba and Russia.

This paragraph caught my eye: 

Yes I could have typed out this paragraph, but I thought it would be more real to have a photograph instead, taken by my phone!

It’s an excerpt of what the famous physician Virchow once said, and I tried to incorporate this into what I want to achieve. I want to be a “natural attorney” of the poor. That’s my inspiration. What’s yours?

Uganda Healthcare Expedition Part II

Since my last blog post, I have been in touch with various medical store companies who sell colposcopes and cryotherapy units. This was harder than I thought, as the stores I was recommended to try were either only liscenced to sell their products for UK use only, or just didn’t have the equipment. I did get in touch with one company which does look promising. They sell equipment for use abroad and I informed them of my plans. Fingers crossed I expect to hear from them early next week. Hopefully with some quotations in the purse, I will organise charitable fundraising for the equipment through:

-gynaecology clinics at the hospital here

-medical students (while they get to learn about women’s global health issues).

I have also been in regular correspondence with a gynaecology registrar at the hospital, who has put together a staff training course, as a way to improve the care of patients in low resource settings. If this gets the approval from the authorities, I will relay this course to Bwindi for their consideration. If the hospital agree with our proposal, we aim to get our two routes of support as mentioned above on board, in addition to matched funding in running the course.

A few days ago I got in touch with my first ever supervisor, the man who basically gave me my first job as a medic…I call him Dr Z. I have asked him for his help and guidance in organising a prevalence study on type 2 diabetes and hypertension in the Bwindi community. It appears that the disease pattern there is changing in the direction of non communicable diseases, so by identifying associated factors, we can enhance their community health programme.

Until next time folks…

Uganda Healthcare Expedition Part I

Question: Why have I decided to create a healthcare expedition?

Answer: Because I believe I can be of more value, to the people who need it.

According to UpToDate’s article on ‘Screening for cervical cancer in resource-limited settings’, cervical cancer is the most common malignancy among women in the developing world, where more than 85% of worldwide cervical cancer deaths occur.

I have been in regular contact with the community hospital in Bwindi, who have expressed wishes for some equipment…including:

-A colposcope-a special magnifying device used to look at the cervix. If part of the organ is found to be abnormal, a medical professional can take a tissue sample and send it for analysis

-and a cryotherapy machine, used to treat the early stages of cancer.

jcct-colposcopy-illustration-11-13cervix4

It would be fantastic to get this equipment for the hospital. It could really save so many lives, what more value can you provide? But I thought to myself, how on earth can I get it? I’m only a GP trainee and I don’t really have any connections with the gynaecology department, or any medical equipment stores. So I decided to take the first step…I needed to make the connections. I went on our hospital trust’s website, searched for the list of consultants, word searched ‘colposcop'(in the hope of finding either colposcopist/colposcopy/colposcope) and a list of 3 colposcopists appeared. I emailed them all, appealing to them for advice and direction, about how to get this equipment.

I didn’t hear anything for almost two weeks. And at the point of almost giving up on them, I came home from work and checked my emails, only this time to find a reply. And then two. And then a chain. My enquiry was passed onto other gynaecology colleagues and the general manager of the gynaecology department, all absolutely pointing me in the right direction(!)

My next steps are:

  1. To get in touch with the medical equipment stores for quotations.
  2. To organise fund-raising for the equipment

It just goes to show, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If people can, they will most probably go out of their way to help you. And if they can’t, what have you got to lose? You did your bit by asking.