Emergency Surgery

Categories Medical, Niger

My hands are shaking as I try desperately to close the gap that has unexpectedly opened up. The operation has not gone well and the patient is in bad shape. Sweat drips down my forehead as I shoot a concerned glance at my assistant. She is shaking her head in dismay. “Have you got any ideas?” I ask. She suggests using a knife. I’ve already tried that option and it hasn’t worked well. She passes me the pliers as I watch yet another unidentified piece fall out. “Watch where that goes, we might need it later!”

I’ve brought my little laptop ultrasound home from work in an attempt to fix a busted hinge. On the way I visited the workshop crew, who helped with some wire and super glue. Unfortunately my enthusiasm to fix it has resulted in it ending up in multiple pieces on the dining table.


Despite the cheap design, this little ultrasound has been a great asset on the ward here at Galmi. It is a window into the uterus, and the pictures speak a thousand words. Is her baby alive? Where is the placenta? How many babies are inside? Is it a molar pregnancy that risks spreading to other parts of the body? Is the pregnancy growing inside the tube and ready to rupture and bleed?

So often I have found the answer is unexpected and sad. Today I met a woman who has had 8 pregnancies. She only has one living child – all the others were born too early to survive. This time she was in her eighth month. The baby hadn’t been moving much though and as I ran the scanner over her belly I felt a lump in my throat. There was no heartbeat.

Most days I have someone who needs to go to the operating theatre for some reason. When compared to my attempts with the ultrasound machine, the surgical team here at Galmi are a pit crew at a race track. If I didn’t have other work to do I would love to spend more time as a fly on the wall in the OR. The surgeons are skillful and tackle all sorts of real emergency surgery every day. Operations often happen in four theatres at the same time. There is a surgical training program with five residents from across Africa. The anaesthetists and surgical assistants are experienced and slick. Whenever I have had to take someone to theatre for a Caesarean section it’s been great to be part of the team.

The operation on the ultrasound ends up going well. It comes back together nicely and the new hinge seems strong enough. I hold my breath as I press the power button – and the familiar screen flickers back to life.

Later that evening Cathy sweeps up some miscellaneous screws. I hope they weren’t important…

Andy is a GP obstetrician living in remote Northern Territory, Australia. He is totally outnumbered by girls in his family - one wife, 3 daughters, 2 chooks.

6 thoughts on “Emergency Surgery

  1. Have just caught up with this, and thrilled that you were prepared, and able to go.
    You’ll all have lots to give, and working in yet another culture is always a challenging and enriching experience.
    Great job, and do keep up blogging!

    1. Thanks Ruth! Watching the kids exploring here and calling everyone “Auntie” or “Uncle” really reminds me of times growing up in Amp Pipal.

  2. I do enjoy exaggerating a bit! There are quite a few ultrasound machines here at Galmi, including a top notch one that belongs to Anne-Sophie (that I would not dare touch with a screwdriver!!) Just in case anyone thought I was destroying the only good ultrasound in the place.

  3. Words fail me Andy re the challenges you and the team face everyday. You are a gifted part of the team that are hands and feet of God, to do His work in that place, sharing God’s love through your knowledge and skills. What a joy-though a tough heart rendering one so say the least.
    Just think of the experience and skills you are further developing in Obs/medicine in service for Jesus. Praise God for that.
    To practice medicine or nursing there would be a life changing experience.

  4. Hi Andy, joy just sent us the link to your blog. I’m loving reading about your adventure and look forward to hearing more stories when you get back. Jeff says we can buy an ultrasound and I’m keen to learn. Any hints on what we should look at? I like the sound of one you can perform surgery on😀. I hope yours survived.

  5. Hey Andy and Cathy, Vicky here. Sue told me about your blog. I’m so excited to see you in your element- you were born for this stuff! Keep up the good work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *