Our first day of surgery in Bahir Dar – and despite many challenges, a success! Thirteen patients had surgery; many more are booked into next week. Forty-eight patients have been assessed. Not all are candidates for surgery. Most present with cleft lip or palates but we are seeing several children with severe burns and contractures to their hands – they fall in open cooking fires. One young woman had been shot in the neck about 1 month ago. She has bone fragments from her jaw lodged in her neck. This is causing severe infection and ulcerations. She is slated for surgery. Apparently, the shooting was intentional. Another young mother brought in her very handicapped 5 year old. After many questions through the interpreter, the child was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The mother then admitted that she had been told that by a local doctor but hoped for some better diagnosis from our western team. Very sad to send her home with no hope.

The local Rotoract and Rotary members were again our life savers, making miracles happen when we needed supplies or help. They are providing all our interpretation – at admission, assessment, surgery, recovery and home. Our work would be impossible without them. The local families are also an inspiration. Many travel, often by foot, for 50, 100, 150 or more kms to be seen. They are waiting on our door step in the morning when we arrive at 7am. They often camp for several nights waiting to be seen or for surgery. They come with so much trust in our abilities. It is difficult when we can’t fulfill these hopes.

We have experienced many challenges. After arriving in Addis on Sunday night, with almost 40 boxes of medical supplies and equipment, customs held back all the boxes. It took major negotiations until 8 pm Monday (a day and a half) by Sandra and Brian to get the boxes released and on their way to Bahir Dar – a 9 hour drive. They finally arrived during the night on Monday ready for our set-up Tuesday morning. Our accommodations have been difficult to adjust to, as well. We are in a very run-down guest house – showers not working, screens missing (malaria endemic here), towels and toilet paper difficult to get, food almost inedible, etc. We are learning to cope but it is difficult when we are putting in 12-14 hour days. Much of the equipment is malfunctioning as well – lots of technical glitches that eat up precious time. Gas tanks required and the anaesthetic machines we have don’t have compatible fittings. One of Rotoractors (a young dentist) came to rescue. He, along with our intrepid and creative anaesthetists, got 2 machines running; a third OR table operated using local anaesthetic.

Tomorrow we have 10 cases slated, many 2-3 hours long. We have a great team, everyone is generous with their time and help.

It is now 8 pm, the final patient is just coming out of surgery. Some of us will wait until they come out of recovery. Local nurses will watch over them through the night. The bus will be at our compound at 6:30 am to start again.

Wonder what’s for supper!