You know the saying. “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, feed him for life.”
I’ve always been a little hesitant when it comes to fishing. I think it all goes back to my first fishing experience, when I went to a trout farm as a young boy. I was told that we were guaranteed to catch a fish every 5 minutes. 3 hours later, nothing. While everyone else was reeling them in, I didn’t even have a single nibble. I think a little teaching could have gone a long way.
This year, I’ve had the privilege in Cameroon to do some teaching with our Medical Capacity Building (MCB) program. The goal of this program is to increase the capacity of the medical systems of the countries we serve. In other words, teaching people to fish.
When we first decided to join Mercy Ships, I admit that MCB was not the reason. I wanted to be a part of the amazing surgeries. After all, aren’t we all drawn to those stunning before and after photos?
Now I’m not dismissing the importance of the surgeries we do on the ship. They truly are life-saving and transformative for the patients we serve, but they are the giving of fish. With MCB, we have the opportunity to come alongside our African colleagues and empower them to use their God-given talents.
Our MCB programs have been growing each year. We train surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurse anesthetists, OR nurses, PACU nurses, ward nurses, ICU nurses, sterilizers, biomedical technicians, physical therapists, and even farmers. Why farmers? By improving agricultural practices, we can improve nutrition, which leads to better health.
Anyone who has seen my gardening skills knows that I am in no position to teach about farming, but I do know a little about anesthesia. This year, we trained 6 Cameroonian anesthesiologists and 12 nurse anesthetists on the ship. I am so thankful to our short-term anesthesiologists that put in the extra effort to pour into our local doctors and nurses.
In addition to our usual anesthesia mentoring, I was also able to do some extensive teaching in ultrasound-guided regional anesthesia. This is a type of anesthesia that uses ultrasound to inject medicine around nerves in order to make a part of the body numb. These injections may be used to decrease post-operative pain, but can also be used as the sole anesthetic in certain situations. It can be an extremely valuable tool in high-resource settings, but also in low-resource settings when the ability to give general anesthesia or pain control may be limited.
I trained several local anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists through a series of lectures and hands-on workshops where they practiced on both artificial and live models. They also performed nerve blocks on some of our patients on the ship.
The most exciting part for me was to spend several days with our course participants at their local hospitals in order to help them start regional anesthesia programs and reinforce the training that we did earlier. Thanks to generous donors around the world, Mercy Ships was able to donate an ultrasound machine to each of their hospitals. These machines each cost several thousand dollars, but are invaluable when it comes to regional anesthesia.
This was the first time I was able to spend a significant amount of time teaching in local hospitals. Let me tell you that it has brought a different kind of satisfaction to my work with Mercy Ships. I’ve always loved the feeling of taking a person’s pain away and easing their suffering. Seeing someone else do this, someone that I taught, was incredible! Not only seeing their patient’s pain melt away, but also seeing the passion for regional anesthesia come alive. And when I say passion, I’m not only talking about the anesthesia personnel. The surgeons got on board (pardon the pun) quickly as did the OR nurses.
At one hospital, the Chief Medical Officer, an orthopedic surgeon, thanked me many times for the training that was provided. He said, “You have changed the culture of our OR. We now know what is possible.”
At another hospital, an OR nurse was asked what the best part of the MCB program was. She could have said any of the dozens of programs we offered. I would have thought she would have said surgeon or nurse mentoring. Or perhaps biomedical or sterilizing mentoring. Instead she said, “Regional anesthesia. It is cheaper for the patients and the hospital. It is safer, and the patients are also much more comfortable after surgery.”
It’s always sad leaving a country at the end of a field service, but I do feel that because of the MCB program, of which regional anesthesia was only a tiny part, we have left Cameroon a better place and their medical professionals better equipped to use their talents to continue the healing long after we are gone.
I truly thank God for this chance to teach regional anesthesia and the friends I made along the way. And also that He didn’t ask me to teach actual fishing.
Lecturing the medical staff at a local hospital
David and Philemon, 2 nurse anesthetists that attended the Regional Anesthesia Course and even 2 of their surgeons! Also shoutout to my friend Kennedy, translator extrodinaire!
Dr. Hentchoya and Dr. Tocko.
Dr. Tocko performing an ultrasound-guided nerve block at her hospital with her ultrasound!
Chest x-ray at a local hospital of a man who had multiple crushed ribs from a traffic accident. He was having a lot of pain with breathing and as a result was at high risk for pneumonia and needing a ventilator. Dr. Tocko did a block and took all his pain away!
Just so you know I have actually caught a fish. Might need to zoom in to be able to see it!