Saturday, 26 May 2012

Out of Africa

At the end of April our daughter Catherine returned from her mission to Ethiopia where she and thirteen other surgeons and nurses operated for 12 hours at a stretch on the maimed, diseased and ravaged faces of, in the main, children.

It was, quite obviously, a profound and moving experience; half way through her stint she managed to get a skype connection and we were able to see her and hear her news. I have never seen her so animated, so totally enchanted with the experience, despite that fact that it was both gruesome and gruelling.

Here are a few points from her conversation then and also from what she has since told me.

I have used a bullet point format as, really, the story is Catherine’s and I am sure that, one day soon, when she has drawn breath, she will wish to tell it in her own words.

  • The team all sacrificed a considerable amount of personal belongings when packing their cases, in order to make up the weight difference with drugs and equipment. Sadly, the Ethiopian customs officials seized it all and did not return these vital supplies until the last day. That meant that operations were carried out with the most basic of resources and patients had to recover from major surgery without the benefit of painkilling morphine.
  • Food and drink for the medical team was basic and only showed up sporadically. The diet was unvaried throughout.
  • The patients were not served food and drink by the Ethiopian medics as they had no containers or cups. The British team bought plastic bags (so that the curry slops could be poured in and then given to each patient) and then they bought bottled water and cut up the bottles to make cups for water.There is no system of food and drink provision unless you have relatives to bring it in for you.
  • The team was approached to help a nine year old boy whose face had been ripped off by hyenas. This is the story:-
A group was returning at night from a wedding celebration when they were attacked by a pack of hyenas. Two children were killed and the nine year old boy maimed before the group managed to get to safety. Apart from his horrendous facial injuries the boy was left with a large hole in his skull. The three plastic surgeons discussed the problem during the course of an evening and then announced that they would operate using a groundbreaking technique. Normally, such surgery would involve a flap of skin taken from the forearm being grafted over the gaping wound but, under the less than ideal conditions in Addis Ababa, this would certainly fail. Instead they left the flap attached to the boy’s forearm (ensuring a blood supply that would aid the healing process) but grafted it to his head so that his arm was firmly fixed to his forehead. He will remain like that for two weeks before they can be certain of success.
·             A young Ethiopian Catholic nun was assigned as a trainee to Catherine so that she could learn  
           western nursing practice.

I have omitted a large amount of detail in order not to prejudice the operational freedom of individuals or the aid organisations; there is much more to tell and most of it is horrific.
But, she wants to go back again next year.

Thank you to all who so very generously donated towards the mission, Project Harar.

You can read PH’s write up HERE


  1. How wonderful! You must be very proud of her, well done you!

  2. I echo Simon and shadowlands!

  3. I am a nurse (and a onetime midwife and theatre nurse) it is heartening to see Cavell's legacy living on. God Bless yuor daughter and those who were in her team
    I have a daughter Catherine who is passionate about people's well being-must go with the name.

  4. I'm speechless. Anything I would say would be trite in light of your daughter's mission and the suffering of her patients.

  5. Mathias - daughters are a great blessing. If your Catherine has Mary as a second name that would be too much of a coincidence.