Early this week, I learned the patient who suffered the devastating trauma from the chimpanzee attack had been stabilized and required a medical transport back to Canada. I was honored to be selected as her accompanying physician. On Tuesday morning, I set off for the 30,232 kilometer, five day medical transport.
The journey was filled with many “WOW!” moments:
WOW moment #1: The Canadian Embassy
When I originally arrived in Kigali, Karolina, a member of the Canadian Embassy in Rwanda, was standing in the rain outside of the hospital. She had notified the staff and physicians of our arrival and was waiting to escort our team to the emergency room. We were promptly seen and the patient was expeditiously admitted.
Over the following days, Karolina and her supervisor, Anna-Maria, visited with the patient multiple times per day and brought the comforts of home to the hospital. They did everything in their power to put the patient at ease.
The embassy also organized our trip home beautifully. We were driven by ambulance directly from the hospital to the airport runway and loaded on the commercial flight. Each stopover, we were greeted by helpful, friendly personnel and directed to our next destination. As we arrived in Canada, six officials met us at the airplane door, and assisted our disembarkation and clearance through immigration. The dedication, professionalism and kindness of the Canadian Embassy was astonishing.
WOW moment #2: The Flights
The patient was fairly ill, requiring medication administration, and needed to stay in the recumbent position. We were therefore scheduled for first class travel.
When we boarded the Flight from Brussels to Toronto, my mouth dropped. I felt as though we had just boarded Air Force One. We each had our own compartment with a chair reclining to a nice sized bed, flat screen TVs and a foot rest. Three course gourmet meals were served with white table clothes, silverware and service fitting for the French Laundry. I felt awkward.
It was unbelievable to see how some people live.
WOW moment #3: The emergency
Prior to boarding, I described to my patient a string of emergencies occurring to me in flight since last January. I told her stories of six overhead calls asking for “any doctor onboard”. My first response was for a one year-old patient with intractable bilious vomiting. I observed him until the completion of the flight. The second call was for a middle aged Japanese man who collapsed and was unresponsive. We gave oxygen and a large amount of fluids. The third was for a 3 year-old child with a significant tooth intrusion injury. He was running, fell and pushed his incisor in to the gums. He was bleeding and in significant pain. We monitored him and he was sent a dentist in Uganda. The fourth was a child with fever. He was fine. The fifth and sixth were adults and my internal medicine colleagues onboard took control. I was available for a helping hand.
Lo and behold, two hours in to the Brussels-Toronto flight, I was startled by a stressed call overhead stating “We need a doctor, please ring your call button”. I love responding to emergencies in the children’s hospital where ample equipment is available, but taking control on the plane is a bit different. My heart rate always jumps a bit as I envision the 95 year-old with crushing chest pain and shortness of breath. Yes, any physician should be able to manage a myocardial infarction, but it still makes my pediatric brain slightly cringe.
I responded quickly to the call and was relieved to find a four year-old patient. He was febrile with rigors and “lethargy”. He ultimately had an upper respiratory causing an elevated temperature and was tired. After Tylenol and a little rest, he was much better.
Although it seems plane emergencies are becoming a frequent occurrence, I am still surprised each time it happens.
WOW moment #4: The feelings
I have been in the DRC for only one month. Despite this short stint, I had a detached feeling the moment I left Africa. People on the plane were great and the locals in Edmonton were very nice, but I felt disconnected somehow.
I saw individuals living their lives in the same manner I did just one month ago and it didn’t make sense. How can we spend thousands of dollars on nice cars or break the bank for gourmet meals when children are dying from a lack of 20 dollars for antibiotics? Why do we spend an entire night in a bar watching football when we could be out helping someone in need?
I currently own a non-basic car, thoroughly enjoy sushi and filet mignon, and have always loved watching the NFL playoffs. I am a little surprised, but I am now questioning the importance of these aspects of my life.