Friday, 31 August 2007

Lata Hospital

So we've been here the best part of a week and a half and we've settled in quite well now. The food situation is good although we've yet to come up with any good ideas for breakfast other than rice pudding. The best thing is the fish, you can get a freshly caught fish (tuna, red snapper, and barracuda) for about 60p (and I mean a BIG fish).

My time at the hospital is fairly easy going. I usually start at around 8am, (after a 20 minute walk from our house) depending on the day the first thing is usually a ward round where we go around each ward (which is basically just a small room, each with 8 beds.) There are 4 wards, male, female, children and maternity. At the moment the hospital is about half full. The doctor is really good and talks me through and asks me questions about most cases. The common things include scrub typhus, abscesses and new baby checks. The ward round usually takes about an hour to an hour and half (everything is pretty slow as it goes Solomon time.) After the ward round is the 10am coffee break, which the Doctor adheres to very strictly, I usually just drink some water and scoff some biscuits.

After coffee a few different things can happen. Mondays and Tuesdays we just float around and see any acute patients who need more than nurse care. Wednesday there is an ante-natal clinic which I went to yesterday, it is pretty busy and they are making full use of the fetal heart doppler I brought with me. Yesterday I spent the morning helping out there. Most of Thursday morning is taken up with surgery which is usually excision of abscesses or sterilisation procedures. For me this is the most interesting part, mainly because I like surgery, it is so different to the UK in that everything is very basic. I've been taking the role of the anesthetist and giving ketamine to put people to sleep. This morning I assisted in a TL (sterlisation) on a lady, it was really interesting as I got to get quite stuck in and was able to do more than I'd ever be able to do in the UK. The doctor is away next week but when he gets back hopefully i'll get to do a lot more of that. In one of this morning's procedures there was a power cut and the operation had to continue by torch light until the power was restored!

The most interesting thing so far has been an emergency cesarean section last Saturday evening. It was pretty intense as they are done very rarely here, most of the regular staff were not here so we all had to scrub in and help out. Things didn't go exactly to plan but everything worked out well and mother and baby are fine.

Fridays involve either checking the acute patients coming in or catching up on the surgical list. There is also supposed to be a seminar every morning where all the staff come together and someone gives a talk on something (I'm supposed to be doing one sometime) although the last 2 Fridays this has been cancelled due to "stakka other things" ( ß pigeon ).

The afternoons are very flexible, It is up to me basically, I can go to one of the clinics (ante/post-natal or whatever else is on), I can stay and see the new patients coming in or I can louge around and see what else is going on. If all else fails I can walk home via the wharf, get a fish and sit by the sea at our guesthouse. So the timetable here is very relaxed and easy going but because of the 1-1 teaching I've already learnt so much. (more than I've learnt in the last 2 years in hospitals probably) It is really interesting; especially the surgery and hopefully I'll get to do a few more things in the next few weeks. The doctor is away for a week now so again it is up to me to find what I want to do, there is plenty going on, hopefully I'll get to do/see some deliveries as there are 1 or 2 babies born each day. That is my main project for next week.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

I Passionately Hate Boats!

Ever since I was about 8 years old I've always been really scared of boats and so have avoided them like the plague when possible. This fear began when I went on a lifeboat in Whitby, I remember the sea being rather choppy. I cried so much they turned the boat around just to take me back to land. Anyway, that left me emotionally scarred. I knew that if I came here there would be some boat action involved, but I hadn't worried too much. That was until I actually saw the boat! I suppose its about the same size as a car. We were to go on a trip around the island to visit some small clinics with a 1 night stay on the other side of the Island. Obviosuly since i'm writing this we returned alive but it was the most terrifying experience of my life.

The outward journey began ok, I was even enjoying riding the waves surfer style. As we got furthur round the island and a bit further away from land the sea began to get rougher and we began to bounce around a bit, I began to cling on. It continued to get rougher until all around us were huge waves. I was holding on for dear life. (I was sweating like never before and my hands went numb from clasping the rails.) The other 4 seasoned boat riders were ok, even joking around and fishing at the back. Joking cries of "mefella no lookim" in response to massive waves striking the front of the boat made me feel even worse. The waves got so big that at times they came right over the top of the hood of the boat. I was sure we were going to capsize. (I didn't know it at the time but there weren't even any lifejackets aboard.) By now darkness was setting in and we were as far away from land as we'd been. Somehow we made it through to a shaltered lagoon and from immintent disaster and death, the sea was as smooth as icing (mmmm, icing. mmmmm, cake!) The last 10 minutes of our outward journey were fun, zipping around the lagoon through tunnels of trees and we finally made it to our destination. \

Upon arriving we were summoned to inspect some remains to decipher if they were human or "bigfish". Only after deciding that they probably weren't human (but he was by no means sure) did the doctor tell missbliss and I further details about the waters we'd just travelled. Apparently they are "full of sharks" and have "plenty of crocodiles" FUCK ME! Not only that, 2 weeks previously, 1 particlar boat had capsized and of the 6 fishermen aboard, 3 had managed to swim to shore (although the coral reefs make that virtually impossible) the other 3? Who knows, shark dinner? crocodile snack? either way, the uncertainty around these remains became rather more important.

The trip itself was really interesting, it was an amzing experience to see traditional island living which makes where we are staying look modern. These places are in the middle of nowhere, have very little water, basic shelters, few (if any) medical provisions and have to be almost entirely self-sufficient. I don't know how they can live like that.

Perhaps more on the trip itself in the future because there is still the return journey to consider. It took all of my courage to get back on the boat (especially knowing of the crocodiles and sharks), but it was the only way to get home. The journey home began in a similar fashion to the previous journey in that it was ok, but it soon became rougher until we were bouncing all over the place. The waves were not as bad as the day before but it was still terrifying. I held the rail as hard as I could for about 2 hours (the time it took for us to get home) Every second I was wishing we were on land. I've never wanted something as much as then, time seemed to crawl at a snails pace, every minute I checked my watch. Fortunately the sea was too rough for us to make a final stop and we were able to go all the way home in one go! It was SUCH a relief to finally touch my feet back on land. Never before have I been as scared as those boat journeys and I can say with 100% certainty that I won't be going near that boat again in the next 5 weeks! My thoughts about boats have been confirmed, they are not for me, I like my feet on land thank you very much!

To make things even worse it was my birthday, what a way to turn 22. Although we did make it to the "resort" (hut/bar thing) in the evening for beer and chicken, omg yes chicken!!! so tasty!

Other than that the trip is going well, no computer for the next week or so so expect an update after that. In the meantime a trip to the wharf to get some fish is in order. Hopefully we can match the wonderful, freshly caught (literally just out of the water) whole red snapper we had the other day for a grand total of 60p. Loviningly beheaded and filleted by missbliss.

Monday, 27 August 2007

We've made it! (Lata Hospital, Santa Cruz Island)

So we made it to Lata Hospital, we were a few days late due to them cancelling our plane a couple of times. (Solomon Time), but eventually the plane (if you can even call it a plane it is so small) took off and a couple of hours later we arrived. The size of the plane made it a scary journey but the landings were good despite being on a field/dirt road.

We've been here for a good few days now and we're starting to get used to it. (Slowly) The climate is very hot and humid, it rains once most days (and it really really rains) which is refreshing and we're staying by the sea so there is a nice cool breeze. On arrival we were greeted with flower garlands which was really nice. A welcome lunch and hospital tour were next. The hospital is very basic with 4 small wards (8 beds) paeds, female, male and maternity. It isn't too busy at the moment. Other hospital facilities include x-ray machine (WOW!), malaria lab, small pharmacy, nurses station, office huts, hospital cat + kitten (which sadly hisses at you when you try and go near it) to keep away rats and a small operating room which has the occasional piece of equipment. All in all it is pretty good for what it is, ships only visit here every couple of weeks and there are only 2 small planes a week (at best).

The place we're staying is equally basic, unfortunately it is about 25 minutes walk away from the hospital which is a bit far, especially in the heat but it'll be good for us. Our house is right by the sea with its own private beach, bench and hammock. It is really beautiful. We have a gas stove, basic cooking equipment, a gas fridge that doesn't work (it might be working today I'm told), no electricity, a few solar lights, water from the roof stored in a tank and a bucket to wash with. We looked at another guesthouse place but the toilet there wasn't working which was enough to put us off, at least we have a nice working toilet. Not exactly what we're used to but we're getting used to it. (The fridge would make a big difference as we'd be able to store our fish rather than buy one most days). Things are really cheap here such as fish about 1 pound for a whole Tuna fish freshly caught from the wharf.

Missbliss is getting stuck into teaching at the school (which is a bit further from the house annoyingly) and I'm getting stuck in at the hospital. I've learnt loads already (much more than I've ever learnt in the UK). I'm the only student here so I get 1 on 1 with the only doctor here who does everything. Surgery has been the most interesting thing so far, it is totally different from the UK. There was an emergency c-section on Saturday (probably the only c-sec whilst I'm here), it was pretty scary at points but fortunately both mum and baby are ok. I get to assist in theatre which is always a plus and also will get the chance to do some minor procedures hopefully (I seem to have become the resident anesthetist, sorting out the I.V lines, putting up drips, giving the Ketamine (eek) etc etc.) It is a fairly relaxed timetable, with lots of flexibility and no real expectations.

When we first arrived I was a bit like what the hell am I doing here but we're settling in now and getting used to living third world style. There is no internet but email is just about ok so I'll keep my blog updated every so often.

Friday, 17 August 2007

"I Feel The Earth Move Under My Feet"

Hotel Shop

I was not expecting to update quite so soon but there is something important that I thought you might like to know.

Yesterday evening we were happily playing UNO in our room (living the high life, eh?) Suddenly the bed started to move. We both looked at each other, thinking the other one was annoyingly joggling but when we looked at each other we didn’t have to say anything at all. We were both scared and knew it wasn’t us. As we sat on the bed, the room started to shunt around, jolting the bed and rumbling ferociously. EARTHQUAKE!!!!

Missbliss said something like, “Do you think we’re having an earthquake?” The answer was rather obvious. We jumped up off the bed and, in the absence of a table, we decided to stand under the doorway of the room (all those years of watching American TV pay off at last). After what felt like 5 minutes (but was more like 15 seconds) the ground became steady again. We were both still shaking for about another 15 minutes, I’m sure there were some aftershocks in there too.

It turned out there were small aftershocks throughout the evening and night but they just felt like being on a wibbly water bed. We ventured out of the room and onto the balcony. The hotel is made up of lots of little wooden huts joined together with balconies and most of the guests had come out of their rooms in various states of undress. Several Aussies said it was a “decent” earthquake. Those also scared made us feel better, and the more seasoned earthquake survivors (as we are now) told us to expect more grumblings.

When we finally stopped shaking, we went down to the bar for a beer to calm ourselves down, and some chocolate cake too for being so brave. Everything just carried on as normal and the entertaining techno dancers had only stopped for a few minutes.

Turns out it was 6.7 on the Richter scale and the epicenter was only 35 miles from us. Jeepers.

We were amazed at how incredibly calm we were in the moment.

Rest assured everything is fine and nothing is damaged. We’re in the best place we can be in an earthquake – high on a hill and in a little wooden hut with minimal debris to fall (but it didn’t of course). Looking back now, it was all rather exciting.

In other news, walking down the street in Honiara is certainly an interesting experience. On our way to the internet café, we saw, among other things, a woman carrying an owl in a cage. Maybe she wants to be Harry Potter?!

Anyway, onto the hospital tomorrow hopefully (if the flight actually exists).

Thanks for all the comments, sorry I can’t reply but time is money, and the connection is so so so slow.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Honiara, Solomon Islands

So we've arrived in the Solomon Islands in once piece - just one more flight on to Lata and we'll have completed the mammoth journey.

The best internet offerings here in the capital comprise of a grubby little room with a grubby little keyboard and a connection like those we endured 10 years ago.

The flight to Honiara had been changed without anyone (STA Travel for example) notifying us, but luckily it was later and we'd had the brains to double check time flights. We have also been advised to check the flight to Lata because 1) they might have no fuel so no flight 2) not enough people might want to be going so it could be cancelled!

The flight involved stopping off at Vanuatu along the way but it was a great flight and we got to spread out lots. It took forever to get through immigration - everyone was recording things in ledgers and files (no computers, no swiping passport barcodes etc). Finally it was our turn and we realised just how different their "English" is to ours - practically incomprehensible! The man only gave us a 30 day visa and when we told him we'd be hundreds of miles away on a remote island he wafted his arm over his shoulder and told us to see immigration the next day (it was 4pm, they would be closed of course?!!). Slightly worried, but holding it together we got a taxi from the airport into Honiara. [It should be noted at this point that the airport is only open when there's a flight about to go].

There's something great about taxi drivers - they just tell you everything candidly. During this journey we had pointed out to us the hotel that was burnt down in last year's riot and a boat on the grass verge (a whopping great liner) that had got dumped there by a cyclone sometime - no one has moved it. During the ride we had people staring at us, waving, smiling, calling over at us. This was in a taxi in the capital - what will it be like walking around on a far out island?? We told the taxi driver where we were going (Temotu Province) and even he said "oh far far far far away". Quite a feat to have someone in the Solomons think you're going far away.

The hotel is lovely and cool and has a fernicular railway taking you to your rooms. We had dinner and watched what can only be described as a techno take on island dancing. It was fun though and very very energetic. We on the other hand are lethargic most of the time and having midday naps because they heat and humidity is high. I've never felt humidity like it, it's incredible.

This morning we went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1 min walk from the hotel luckily!) and went through security (bloke with no shoes sat by a gate) and into the office. I have never before seen an office without computers. It was quite incredible. Luck was on our side - they only dealt with visa extensions on Mondays and Wednesdays. In fact, they only talk to people at the counter on Mondays and Wednesdays. Every day has a different function: signing passports, making passports, other passport-related activities. It seems things are given an alloted day once (or twice a week if you're lucky) and if you miss it, tough. A woman padding about in the office with no shoes on shiftily asked us about our trip and inspected our return tickets before gladly stamping our passports with a visa lasting us the duration of our stay. PHEW!!

Lata here we come.....hopefully.

Sunday, 12 August 2007


Fiji is a strange little place. We arrived very late in the evening, having been a bit delayed. There was a driver waiting for us who took us to our resort. (he'd been waiting for about 4 hours - poor him) The drive was rather scary as the roads are not great, it was pitch black and we were going rather fast. (To be honest, i'm not really comfortable being driven by anyone else anymore. I'm too used to being in control.) The flight here was pretty bad for a number of reasons, in-fact, it was so bad, it required an emergency diary entry. It was a 747 but god knows how old it was, my seat disintegrated and the food was atrocious, not to mention the delay!

The first thing we noticed about Fiji was how amazing the stars were. There are SO MANY! There isn't a lot of light so it looks amazing. (I bet the Solomon Islands will be even better) For the first 3 days we stayed at a luxury resort by the sea. I wouldn't call it luxury but it is pretty nice, the weather is great, our 'bure' is ok with a sea view but it could do with a facelift. The whole resort is right on a coral cove, which is nice but the beach is rather sharp. I enjoyed walking in the lovely warm south pacific looking at fishes, starfishes and sea cucumbers among other things.

The resort is a bit too family orientated for our liking with a kids club etc, but there are plenty of activities. The pool is really nice, I've spent hours swimming and playing water volley-ball. I'm now burnt as a result sadly. (oops) I was led to believe it would be slightly more luxurious and not as full of children, the place is really nice but it is perhaps a bit expensive for what it is. We're not really doing much, just relaxing as we had a hectic time in Bangkok and Sydney, the relaxation is nice. One good thing about this place is the food, the breakfast is good and last night we had an amazing meal.

In a couple of days we finally head to the Solomon Islands, albeit, yet another nice hotel for a few days before flying on to our island. Scary stuff....

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Sydney, Australia

We've now been in Sydney for a good few days, and its our last day tomorrow. Time seems to be flying so quickly. Perhaps it'll slow down once we get to the Solomon Islands and have a lot less to do.

I formed my opinion on Sydney rather quickly. I love it, its AMAZING! My favourite city in the world so far, although Paris is nice too (We've still got a few places to go so you never know that might change.) On our last day in Thailand we went for a traditional Thai massage which was very, very relaxing (if a bit hard), this set us up for our flight to Aus which was again long, and this time we got very little sleep and arrived at 6:00am, we couldn't get into our hotel room so we went for some breakfast to a local cafe. Soon after we sat down, a group of people sat down next to us and began moaning about MTAS and the UK. A couple of them were doctors who've come over to Aus. I CAN'T ESCAPE!

Anyway, we caught up on some well deserved sleep and were ready for a wander by the early evening. We've packed a lot of wandering into our days in Sydney which has been really nice. It is rather cold at the moment obviously as its Aussie winter, although its still about as warm as some summer days in the UK. I like it.

I love how the birds here are so different, walking around the botanical gardens the noise is incredible. Mainly from the cockatoos who are just walking around being birds. That sounds silly but its just normal but for us its new and interesting. Then there are the parrots which are just floating around in the trees, as are the flying foxes which are HUGE and just hang from trees in the park. A walk in the park is like being in the zoo. We've also been to various places to sample other bits of the local wildlife such as kangaroos, koalas and crocs.

And then there is the Opera House, I suppose it is the typical aus tourist attraction but I love it. I can't really explain why. I know I'm just another tourist and one of millions to have taken photos of it (when I say photos I mean loads! But I've whittled them down). I think the city looks amazing at night (especially the Opera House!). The city is rather quiet but quite busy at the same time and it is so clean. It is like my favourite city in the UK but bigger and a lot lot cleaner. I definitely want to come back sometime in the future (even though its miles away!)

So yeah, we're having a great time so far. I enjoyed the atmosphere of Bangkok but Sydney is completely different and I love it.

Tomorrow we move on to Fiji, a final bit of relaxation before we head towards the Solomon Islands. I'm starting to get a touch nervous about all that but I'll be enjoying the rest of my holiday first of all.

Saturday, 4 August 2007


We've now been in Thailand for about 5 days, We spent 3
days in Bangkok and 2 days in a northern city called
Phitsonaluk. Bangkok is insane, the traffic is crazy and
there are stalls selling food lining the streets. I like
the atmosphere but the best bits are the secluded nice
bits such as a lovely leafy wooden shack where we sat on
the floor with our shoes off eating lovely food and
watching geckos.

We stayed in a hotel in Bangkok which was cheap but
amazing, it is very modern and swish. There is a swimming
pool on the 7th floor from which we watched a storm one
evening which was great. It is the wet season but it rains
only for a short time in the evening. It is very hot and
very humid but so far we are just about coping. We were
shown around Bangkok by some thai people which was
exceedingly useful. I can't get over how busy and chaotic
the city is.

We then went up north for a couple of days, very few
westerners come here and we tend to get stared at wherever
we go. I guess that is what it is like being famous. The
norhtern city is still very chaotic, and hot but with more
woden shacks than tower blocks of hotels. Unfortunately, there also more snakes and huge spiders, both of which we spotted today.

Everything is so cheap here, the food is good, and overall
I like Thailand. I'm glad we're not spending too much time
here but i've enjoyed it so far.

Next stop Sydney, Australia. Tomorrow evening we've
another 10 hour flight down to Sydney, i'm looking forward
to Syndey, the flight...not so much.

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