This would be my first mission trip since graduating from medical school. We were going to the No (5) Military Hospital (300 Bedded) in Mawlamyine, Myanmar for a cleft mission trip. The mission group consisted of 3 surgeons, 2 anaesthetists, 2 scrub nurses, 1 ward nurse and myself. As a Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery Resident, I was excited to be able to see a different patient population compared to Singapore.
Mawlamyine is about a 6 hour bus ride from Yangon. We arrived; slightly weary from the long bus ride but it was no time to rest. Work began with triaging the patients who were waiting for us expectantly. One by one the patients were called up to be evaluated. I had come with some expectation that these patients would be older than the patients we see in Singapore due to limited access to medical care. Though I had prepared myself, it was still saddening to see a 9 year old boy with bilateral cleft lip and palate with unintelligible speech, a 42 year old lady with unilateral cleft lip who is unmarried because of her congenital deformity, and a 1 year old infant with severe burns contracture of the neck resulting in deforming lateral neck flexion. In the midst of this, the hospital suddenly turned dark. There was a power shortage. It appeared that this was not uncommon as the only people panicking were us, while the rest looked calm and started taking out flashlights. We continued and prayed that the power would return for operations to run smoothly.
The next day, we woke up early and prepared ourselves for the long day ahead. There were going to be 2 Operating Theatres for us. The patient list was divided and we began. Thankfully the day went by smoothly and there were no power shortages. On the second day in the midst of an operation, the power unfortunately went out again and we were left in the dark. Generators kicked in and the lights returned. We faced these blackouts several times during that day. Speaking to the local residents, this was a common occurrence. It made me think about how fortunate we were to be blessed with great infrastructure back home in Singapore and not to take these things for granted. If there was a power shortage in any of the public hospitals, it would have made top headlines in the news for sure.
Post-operative rounds usually begin at the start and end of the day. I had never seen such bright smiles on both the parents' and patients' faces. The children's laughter is infectious, and the immense gratitude is overwhelming. Despite the joy, there were a few that had to be turned away disappointed. They either had an upper respiratory tract infection and fever or required an operation too complex to be managed in this hospital. I could only try to imagine how they felt while seeing their downfallen faces.
I think all of us left humbled by this experience. This trip, we managed to help more than 20 patients. However there was a nagging thought at the back of my mind, knowing that there were probably many others who needed help as well that we did not manage to. I left feeling grateful and renewed in my passion which some of us perhaps lose along the arduous journey we embarked on since medical school. This will definitely not be the last mission trip I will go on.
"Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always" - Hippocrates
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