Jenny Tate, an ophthalmic nurse based at National Day Surgery-Sydney, recently travelled with fellow team member Catherine Perry on a medical mission to a remote Cambodian community. Jenny shares their experiences with us here.
Cambodia Vision is a non profit organisation. Their aim is to work in small provincial towns in Cambodia,focusing on blindness prevention and basic medical healthcare. Our mission travelled to Pursat, which is approximately 174kms from the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. We arrived at Sydney airport 22nd October at 5.30am along with the rest of the main team. The team had been asked to pack as light as possible so we could use our extra baggage allowance to transport critical medical supplies.
Catherine and I were really excited to be part of the Cambodia Vision team, which we had been approached to join when we attended a nursing conference in Australia.
After a 17 hour transit, our flight landed late Saturday evening in Phnom Penh where we all spent the night. Early next morning the team loaded onto a bus to Pursat, a rural community 4 ½ hours from the city.
We were amazed at the countryside during this trip, where we saw shanties mixed amongst majestic houses and mosques. Once in Pursat, we headed to the Provincial Hospital to prepare the final theatre set up (an advance team had left 2 days prior after completing much of the initial set-up). The operating theatres consisted of two rooms each with three beds. The anaesthetic bay consisted of four basic beds in the corridor leading to the theatres.
During this time Catherine and I had a tour of the hospital from one of the team members who spoke Khmer. The emergency ward consisted of an open deck where there was an array of patients suffering conditions including HIV, TB, pneumonia and dehydration from gastrointestinal illnesses.
While we were there a young woman was brought to the hospital suffering a snake bite, which she received while moving a sacred cow to drier pastures following torrential rain. The maternity ward made us laugh at the sight of so many babies all with mittens and woollen hats, despite the hot and humid conditions. As we walked through the maternity ward one proud father smiled and stuck up two fingers to tell us he had twins!
There was a wide variety of patients we operated on, from children to teens, to the elderly, monks, landmine victims with no legs, and tuberculosis sufferers.
The conditions tested our team members to their limits, as the weather was harsh, hot, humid and wet (though we did have reasonable air conditioning). We all worked long hours on patients almost blind from extremely dense cataracts, and although the equipment and supplies were basic and limited, the camaraderie of each and every team member was fantastic.
Following the last day of operating the locals hosted a dinner for us where we were each given a certificate of appreciation from the President of Cambodia. Once packed up, we returned to Phnom Penh. The next day we had a free day, and that evening we had the last team dinner with our sponsors along with a representative from the Australian Embassy.
All in all, we had a challenging but rewarding time, making new friends along the way, and knowing that we all played a part in impacting the lives of the people we met.
Jenny Tate, EEN.