Team One: Prologue
The Uganda Spine Surgery Mission 2016 kicked off yesterday with a 6-person crew of mostly veteran trip-members, coming from all over the globe to try and do some good for the people of Mbarara. I (Sean), the newbie neurosurgery resident from Houston, am lucky to have the guidance of an otherwise-veteran crew, including Dr. Hisey (from Dallas), Sherri (surgical tech – from Dallas via Nairobi), Brian (device rep/circulator/C-arm tech – from Florida), Kari (neuromonitoring tech – from D.C.), and Michelle (physical therapist – or “physiotherapist” as they are called in Africa – from South Africa via Madagascar).
Most of our team met initially in Dubai, where several of us had a nice meal at the Burj al Arab (a beautiful hotel in Dubai). On an interesting side note, Uber is widely available in Dubai. They even have an “Uber-chopper” option, although we were never ever to actually locate one of these choppers.
We met up with Sherri in Entebbe on July 3rd, where we were quite happy to find that all of our luggage had made it to Africa in one piece. After a quick group pic, we took a ride to Kampala in the spine-mobile (which is actually a hospital bus driven by our very capable driver, Hassan), where we shopped for some groceries before making the 4-hour drive to Mbarara.
The term “groceries” is used loosely in this case, as our loot actually consisted almost entirely of bottled water and “ground nuts”, a.k.a. “g-nuts”, which I had never heard of. According to the spine mission vets, though, these are the best nuts ever.
Team One: Day One
My first initial realization that I was not in the U.S. anymore probably came as I saw our driver (who was sitting on what would be the passenger side of an American car), pull out onto the highway into the left lane. Traffic on the highways in Uganda is something to behold – and to my untrained eye appears somewhat treacherous (with a massive number of motorcycle taxis – known as “boda bodas” – being only one of the many distractions on the road). Our driver, Hassan, however, proved to be ever vigilant as he carted us four hours along the dark highway to our hotel in Mbarara.
Much to our surprise, neither chopper nor car options were available through Uber in the Kampala/Mbarara area. Uber boda-bodas may be an untapped market here.
We made it to our hotel in Mbarara very early Sunday morning, and had a quick nap before heading out to Mbarara University Hospital, where a long day of unloading supplies and clinic were ahead of us.
The staff at Mbarara University Hospital proved to be most welcoming and accommodating (I think they unloaded more of the luggage from the bus than we did). With their help, we unloaded a huge number of supply cases from the bus, and began our day of clinic and set up.
Several trip traditions have arisen over the years, one of which is the “quote of the day”, wherein the most amusing words to come out of our delirious, sleep-deprived mouths is cataloged on a daily basis. The quote-of-the-day for the first leg of the trip came from Dr. Hisey:
“We need to get a dongle.”
Brian: “Such a great word.”
Indeed, the wi-fi within the hospital leaves a little something to be desired.
Brian, Kari and Sherri had the harrowing task of prepping all of our equipment and organizing our supplies into a usable O.R. within less than a day, which they completed with the efficiency and grace one would expect from a group of seasoned vets.
They even had time leftover to snag a few fresh avocados from a local farmer (for a total of about $0.40!) and peruse some of the interesting freshly-grilled meat options and spices for sale nearby.
Dr. Hisey, Michelle and myself took to the other end of the hospital facility where we saw over 50 patients in clinic with a wide variety of spinal pathologies, many of whom will likely be needing surgery in the coming 3 weeks of our mission.
Tomorrow we begin the surgical part of our mission with three operative cases. Hopefully we can give back to the Ugandan people some of the kindness and charity they have already begun to show our group.
– Sean Barber, M.D.