Shades of beauty.

11 December 2016

I’m back on the ship after ten wonderful days away; one of the projects I’m responsible for is our safe surgical checklist project (read more about it here) and the team has been on the road for five weeks straight, up in the north of the country, in remote regions where running water is rare and hospitals seldom get outside training opportunities.  I joined them on the road a week ago Thursday, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to help out and be reminded of how much I love this project, this country, these people, and this incredible calling on my life. 

It’s hot up there, about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but so dry you don’t even really sweat, a completely different experience to down here in Cotonou where you step outside and it feels like you are drowning in the air, it’s so humid.  The air up there is full of dust and smoke; dry season, dusty roads, bush fires, and the start of the Harmattan which brings dust from the Sahara into the atmosphere makes for hazy skies and tickled throats; but the beauty of the terrain, the delicious food (igname pilee, peanut sauce, fromage peuhl, all the most wonderful eats in Benin), and the calm open spaces were a beautiful respite from the crazy, loud, busy fullness of the streets in Cotonou.

The doctors and nurses tell us they sometimes feel forgotten up there; they eagerly welcomed us into their hospitals and their practice, and received the teaching we offered with excitement and gratitude.  I so love the Checklist project; it’s such a simple thing that can so dramatically change the surgical services and outcomes in these hospitals, and I love to hear their feedback on the training.  Things like we will always have respect in my operating room  and  I’m so happy to be able to have a voice, to speak on behalf of the patient make every early morning rooster crow and bucket shower very, very worth it. 

In one hospital we helped walk them through the Checklist in a real surgical case; a cesarean section, with a team eager to put their new skills into practice.  Teamwork, communication, and encouragement; when a healthy, crying baby boy was presented a round of applause through the operating room put a smile on everyone’s faces.  What a beautiful thing to be a part of.

So I’m back on the ship now, more relaxed that I have been since summer break; I finished a very grueling research module for grad school the day before I left to go up north, and now don’t restart classes until January.  I haven’t had a break from school for more than a few days since I started eighteen months ago, and I don’t think I even realized how much pressure is on my shoulders, always in the background of whatever I happen to be doing, the knowledge that I really need to be reading more or writing a paper or studying something or preparing for a big project.  This last module was particularly difficult; I did a whole small-scale research project on malaria while also writing and editing my dissertation (thesis) proposal.  I really enjoyed it but am glad there is a light at the end of the tunnel; one more ‘class’ module that starts in January and then my thesis module!  Phew.

Now I’m focusing on finishing up loose ends and packing up for the next adventure; flying back to the States next weekend for the holidays for the first time in years.  I might just freeze to death, as it’s about a hundred degrees colder there than it is here, but to see a white Christmas through the eyes of my three-and-a-half year old niece and family will be worth it!  I’ll then hit Seattle for about a week and then speak at a conference in southern California mid-January before heading back over here to the other side of the sea. 

If you’re a friend on Facebook you probably saw my post about money; I’ve lost about 75% of my regular monthly funding in the last few weeks.  Nothing personal, times are tough and I’m so grateful for the consistent support I’ve received for the last four years…  but it does rather leave me in a tough space financially, with no alternative sources of income.  Maybe you could help fill in the gap?  There’s a button to the right of this pane that says donate with an arrow, and then the next page has a green Donate Now button; just click on it and you can join me in making surgery safer across Benin! Thank you to everyone who has made this possible, it’s such an honor to be able to serve and love these incredible people in this place where every day brings forth a new shade of beauty. 
An awesome photo captured by Amy Jones; me with my Beninese sister Faridah

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