Team 4, the grand finale of our 10th year of spine mission Uganda assembled members from all over the world. Most were veterans with a few newbies to keep it interesting. As one of the resident members of the team, I (Eric Varley) was back for my second trip. I reviewed last years blog in preparation and reflected that there really is no way to completely prepare for this experience. As I made my way again to the exotic Detroit Metro Wayne airport, spent quality time waiting through international security, things seemed vaguely familiar – a theme that would resonate throughout this trip. I boarded my international flight to Amsterdam and luckily found myself 2 seats back from our team leader Dr. Selvon St Clair and sitting next to our other team leader Dr. Mark Kayanja. We met the most of the rest of the team: Lance (our multi-purpose rep back for his 2nd trip), Chris & Bognan (our versatile neuromonitors), Sharron (our tireless scrub tech) & David (her hardworking son), and Roman (a newbie 3rd year ortho resident to the team). We all hopped aboard our flight to Entebbe and tried to find sleep on our second leg of a 26+ hour voyage. We touched down in Entebbe (luckily all of our luggage joined us) and discovered our fearless anesthesiologist Nur was hung up still in London and would be joining us the next day. Of course our obligatory group arrival pic was snapped and we piled into our new-ish Mbarara University Bus for a 4-hour jaunt to Mbarara. While the ride was smoother than years past, between the blaring mid-90s American pop music and proximity of oncoming traffic made sleep elusive. We rolled into the hotel at 4:30 am with just enough time to rinse off and remind ourselves that sleep is over rated.
We met team 3 for breakfast at the hotel and after some catching up we headed out to the Hospital for rounds. Walking into the hospital was truly a surreal experience for me. You can’t helped but be jarred by the family members sleeping on floors in the waiting room or the odor of the wards, but there was something deeply familiar about it. These trips are truly life changing and you can’t help but be affected by re-entering into such an environment. As with last year, we were all impressed by the efforts of the previous teams and our team coalesced around making a worthy finish to this years mission. During rounds we met our dedicated Physiotherapist member of the team Michelle, a native of Swaziland and a bedrock member of all the previous teams this year. We finished rounds and headed off to clinic. Clinic consists of a room about the size of a small American bedroom with no air circulation and patients lined up out the door. We psyched ourselves up, pounded some water, and got down to it. The patients we saw represented a huge spectrum from a torn meniscus of the knee to a 9-year-old child with severe spinal deformity. Some patients with conditions that would cripple most people in first world countries limped in and listened with simply expressed gratitude for our care. As the day wore on the room temperature and smell progressively worsened. As I looked around the room at Dr. St Clair, Roman, and David I realized that I wasn’t the only one hanging onto alertness by my fingernails. Mercifully after a half dozen patients arrived at 5pm, we were done and headed back to the Lakeview Hotel for dinner. As we sat around the table our enthusiasm and lack of sleep made for a lot of laughs and rapid cohesion into a team. We were all excited and headed off to sleep ready to conclude this year’s mission.