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Thursday, 28 January 2010

Christopher - Day 1 The Call to Duty

It starts with the phone call and the first bump of excitement. You are completely in the control of the humanitarian organisation who have chosen you. They have a veritable team of young logisticians focusing on you, putting everything that you need in place, air line tickets, visas, equipment permits etc. You just sit in the canoe and enjoy the ride.

Of course there is lots that you have to remember too: travel light , don’t forget anything,like mini-screwdrivers to repair your spectacles. It is difficult to work out what equipment will be there and what will not, what is likely to be useful and what will just be a burden. Language has got to change too. This time it will be French.

The flight is a surreal experience in its own right. The book I am reading draws me into its crescendo of suspense and at the same time I am coming closer and closer to a place where a lot is going to expected of me but I am not sure what! Why on earth did I volunteer to do this? What on earth am I going to be able to do which will be of any use? Surgery in 3rd world areas and in disaster zones is always fraught with problems. The conditions are such that you would not normally agree to operate, but the patients have no choice and ‘anything may be better than nothing’. However that does not mean simply diving in.

You need to be strategic and try to work out how you can do the most good for the maximum number, and that may mean turning away heart-rending cases that you would love to try to help but should not. The team of logisticians trust you implicitly. They discuss amongst themselves what is best to do in their areas, but it is unusual for us specialists to have anyone to share our decisions with. When we do, they are usually from a different country, a different culture, and a different language.

I really ought to be getting used to it by now, leaving in a bit of a rush on a humanitarian mission.

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