After 3-4 months of planning and bureaucratic chaos, the day had finally arrived. I was going to Bole district hospital in Ghana on my first Operation Hernia mission, as the first Swedish surgeon ever! I must admit I was quite nervous and scared to go on such a mission without a team (as other volunteers usually do), but thanks to Dr Oppong who was kind enough to join me, it was finally time for the departure to Accra. After the overnight in Accra we took the internal flight to Tamale and from there 4 hours by car to the Bole District – a nice way to experience the beautiful nature and infrastructure of Ghana.
I was really thrilled to finally visit the Bole District hospital with the medical supplies that we both brought for the mission. We started on Monday morning together with our well experienced anaesthesiologist and met all the 18 patients that had come from long distance just for their operation. At first, we were a bit disorganized but as days passed by, we got better and more efficient with the routines. We tried to meet the patients at 06:30 instead of 07:30 and make a proper operation list for the day. I think I learned to say ”cough” in 10 different Ghanian languages! The hospital had two theatres and I was really happy to get the pink theatre with my own scrub team (wearing pink gowns of course!). As days continued, we had to deal with unbelievable cases that I personally haven’t seen in my entire surgical life as a trainee or as a consultant. It was a range of huge sliding scrotal hernias reaching the knees, huge hydroceles, recurrent inguinal hernias, incisional hernias and loads of female hernias. It was very impressive to do the surgeries under spinal anaesthesia or, if feasible, under local anaesthesia. In Sweden we usually do them under general anaesthesia, so it was quite educational to do them under local anaesthesia and see that it worked!
It really struck me to see so much poverty and misery among the patients and not being able to do more for them, because in Sweden we are so used to do the best for our patients despite their financial privileges. But at the same time, I am really impressed by how motivated, happy and efficient the staff were, despite their limited resources. They were all very humble and truly helpful in every way – always with a big smile and warmth. We were always welcomed with true Ghanian hospitality – from the staff, the director of the hospital and the minister of health in Bole.
Before this mission, I knew that the biggest lesson for me would be all the gained surgical experiences, but that’s nothing compared to what I learned about humanity. I’m now even more humble and grateful in my life and I have the amazing people in Bole and Dr Oppong to thank for all of that. I can’t wait to go for my next mission!!!