Saturday, 22 September 2007

I'm A Medical Student GET ME OUT OF HERE!!

Is this a crocodile I see before me?
This morning we went for a pleasant morning stroll. The weather was warm but not too hot, the rain was nowhere to be seen and the scenery was very pretty. Wonderful you might say...well...not quite.

We failed to realise just how much of a psycho the Austrian doctor here is. I suppose we should have guessed by now: him being in the middle of nowhere at the other side of the world; the nightmare boat trips he just laughs off and a heart rate of 34. His manic fitness regime would probably kill a lesser man. Unfortunately he seems to have lost all concept of normal human physiology. He is a lovely guy and very friendly, just a bit of a lunatic when it comes to excursions.

So....back to our pleasant stroll. We left at about 10am and after a brief car journey were ready for what we thought would be a relatively brief and easy walk to a waterfall! Little did we know! After the first 5 minutes of walking through a rice field we were up to our knees in mud (literally) shoes became useless as with each step they were sucked into the mud with a wonderful slurrrrrp and farted out again apart from occasionally when you'd find yourself shoeless. By now we were in the jungle, what was supposed to be a track looked to me just like the rest of the jungle. The Solomon Islands are humid at the best of times but the Jungle was even worse, sweat was pouring off us for most of the trip. Anyway we trekked on, between huge trees and vines, over stumps and buttress roots, cascading down mud. After a brief descent which was more like a mud slide than a path we came to the river, the same river in which a giant saltwater crocodile was shot (with a bow and arrow) a couple of weeks ago. We crossed over, gone were the clear waters of the other rivers here, the murky depths could have held all sorts of beasts. It was decided that we should go back into the jungle rather than follow the meandering river. We made it across and I was thankful we hadn't been eaten, if only I'd known what was to come!

Another half an hour or so of up and down in the jungle with cries of "I think this might be the way" and "duck under these leaves or hundreds of biting ants will drop on you" from the crazy doctor, who was by now motoring ahead at his own pace leaving us almost lost, we were brought to another muddy, almost vertical slope which we had to clamber down (mostly sliding on our arses) after sliding 6 metres down missbliss joyfully informed us that she had mud in her knickers. At the bottom of this delightful deathslide was the crocodile river we'd crossed earlier. Now we were to trudge up the river (GREAT!), it was waist high on me and up to missbliss's chest. It was exceptionally uneven and huge holes in places almost swallowed us whole. Fortunately the holes where the only thing that almost swallowed us, I kept my eyes peeled for 'moving logs' or other crocodile shaped items. The doctor made light of the fact there were potentially crocs by constantly mentioning them, apart from when he was telling us to avoid the razor sharp snails (which were everywhere!)

After about 25 minutes of wading up the river that was becoming increasing shallow (thankfully) we reached our first destination, a quite magnificent waterfall. At this point it was suggested that we stay here whilst the doctor and another couple of guys went further up the river to a little pool for a swim. I didn't need much persuasion as I was more than happy to sit and relax for an hour or so! Me and missbliss spent an hour relaxing in the waterfall, it was nice to be able to wash some of the mud off. I was most disappointed to find that my stash of biscuits had been destroyed as my bag had spent most of its time underwater whist we waded through the river (I managed to just about rescue the camera and held it high) When the rest of the party returned it was a question of whether to go back the way we came (NO THANK YOU!) or scale the vertical waterfall (Bloody wonderful!) We took another leap of faith, not knowing how tall this waterfall was, and elected to go rock climbing in the middle of the jungle with ABSOLUTELY no safety equipment what so ever or way of contacting the outside world should anything happen (not that it'd have made much difference as there is nobody here to rescue us here anyway!)

Off we went, foot holes here, vines there, slippery and crumbling rocks in-between and water EVERYWHERE! The first bit wasn't too bad, there were good rocks (Still covered in razor sharp snails) and it was relatively easy. By now we had some idea of how tall this waterfall was - FUCKING HUGE! By now we could only go up as it would be impossible to go down. I can't overemphasise how sheer and vertical this waterfall was (when we have the ability we'll upload a picture.) It wasn't till we were about half way up that it suddenly hit me that if we slipped (on the slippery, snail ridden, crumbly rocks) we'd have gone down like dominos to a rocky, watery death! SHITTERS! By this time we'd been climbing for a good 25 minutes and were perhaps just past half way although the foot holes were getting fewer and those that were there were less secure. We must have been running purely on adrenaline and the will to survive! Missbliss (who was for some reason quite enjoying the climbing aspect) only has little legs so struggled at some of the mammoth leaps (her dad taught her well on Dartmoor but her mum is probably having a heart attack reading this). The Doctor did manage to help her up some of the tougher parts but I was left to clamber around on my own, occasionally pushing missbliss from behind to help her up.

The relief when we got to the top was indescribable, we'd spent no less than 45 minutes climbing the waterfall. We'll never know how high it is as it isn't on any maps but it was at least 75m but was probably more like 100m even though it felt like 1000m! We stopped (albeit VERY briefly) for a drink and pictures (fuck knows how I managed to keep the camera from falling, in fact, as a party we only lost a couple of pairs of sunglasses, a bottle of water and a handkerchief)

Now we just had the hour walk back to worry about to complete the circuit (easy peasy!) Sadly it wasn't quite so easy as a) even the Doctor had no idea where the fuck we were b) it was as muddy as ever and c) we were bloody knackered d) out of adrenaline and e) we were hungry. I didn't even have my biscuits if we were to be lost in the Jungle! The doctor was marching ahead, most of the time we couldn't even see him and had to take an educated guess at which way he'd gone. A casualty in the form of the doctor's shoe, which was sucked into the muddy depths, didn't even slow him down. "Shit, Shit, I just a snake!" was the next exclamation from the Doctor, by now I just about wanted to shoot him (although I wouldn't have been able to catch up with him to do so). Shortly afterwards came a "OUCH! I've just been bitten by a spider" from the man behind us. I think we'd all been bitten and attacked by ants, mosquitoes, thorns, snails and mud! It seemed like the jungle would never end and now we had snakes to look out for too. I've never sworn so much in my life, particularly as I fell down into deep mud going back across the river. The Doctor made another quip about crocodiles which was just about all we could take and caused an uproar from myself and missbliss (perhaps it wasn't the best idea to call my elective supervisor a twat.) There was another indescribable feeling of relief when eventually we got through and saw our truck. I took some quiet, alone time to calm down whilst missbliss squatted under a water tank to clean herself up.

By now it was 3:00pm but there was one last bit of walking to do, fortunately the destination was a beautiful fresh water pool/lagoon. I couldn't get in there soon enough, it was cold but wonderfully refreshing. After about 15 minutes swimming around and relaxing we both felt a million times better and I no longer wanted to throttle the doctor. A coconut replenished our now very depleted water stores whilst we took a truck back to the township.

On reflection, I think we're both glad we put ourselves through it and we thanked the doctor for not quite killing us. It has confirmed that the doctor is a total psycho, but a nice one at that. A reconciliatory game of UNO is in order this evening. If, like a cat, humans had nine lives, I think we'd be down to our last few by now on this trip! Apparently in the Solomon Islands you're either a bushfella or a salwaterfella, which means you're either a jungle or coastal person. I can safely say that me and missbliss are neither.

FUEL UPDATE: "onefella ship brought thisfella fuel this time" Unfortunately they only brought 5 barrels, 3 of which were used in a flight today. We are assured another boat is bringing more and should be here on Monday but we've been hearing that for the past 5 weeks!

WATERFALL PICTURES ADDED January 2008, courtesy of the doctor:

A natural shower

Can you climb it? Yes, apparently you can - it should be noted that this was the aformentioned easy bit and that the waterfall carried on for another 40 minutes of climbing after this

A perilous snap of one of the guys scaling the waterfall - do you see the razor backed snails??

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Solomon Time Flies...

Another week down, time is starting to fly (at least the weekdays are, weekends tend to go a bit slowly as there isn't a great deal to do.) It just seems to be weekend after weekend now, and we've got less than 3 weeks to go. There still isn't any fuel at the airport but apparently there are 20 barrels on a ship which has just arrived (3 or 4 weeks late) so hopefully we'll be able to get home!

Despite there being a huge lack of things to do we've not been too bored really. I think I've read more books in the last few weeks than I've read in years! I'm averaging one every 2 days at the moment. I've even managed some oxford handbook of clinical medicine revision! Although weekends tend to drag, the weekend just gone was really good. Saturday we watched Lata United lose at football to some other local team, the locals seem quite obsessed with football and pigs are frequently slaughtered for a feast if a result goes the right way. After that we went down to a bit of beach we've not visited before. It was beautiful, such white sand and clear Pacific water. We wandered around for a while and hunted for shells. Missbliss had made clear her desire for a huge shell although they're rather rare. Just as I was getting towards the end of the bay I noticed a shell to fit the bill ( >30cm in length) in the water, I picked it up and noticed something in it so threw it towards the beach – the shell's occupant turned out to be dead and with a bit of shaking out flopped a gooey, smelly mess. By now we'd amassed quite a crowd of locals, many of whom offered advice on how to clean it and stop it smelling. Walking back along the shore we bumped into a man who was most unimpressed that we'd stumbled across the shell – he had an identical one in his canoe but explained that he'd been diving off the reef all day to find it (and it wasn't as big or pretty either). He also offered us advice on the shell: specifically how to turn it into a horn to call people to important gatherings if we so desired. Missbliss was very pleased with the find (it's a "cone shell" or "Boo shell"). Hopefully it might make it back to England with us. If not, we have photos of us in various triumphant poses with it. Saturday was exceptionally hot, humid and sunny and we both got a bit burnt walking to and fro. On our way back we stopped at the house of another "whitefella" who is here doing things with solar panels. We had a lovely tropical fruit salad lunch (starfruit, bush lime, banana, pawpaw) before heading home for an afternoon nap.

Sunday was just as relaxed, most of the day was spent doing very little except reading and playing cards. We went for a beer (sadly we had to make do with a warm can of SB (SolBrew)) down by the sea to watch the arrival of the ship which seems to be something to celebrate as it happens so rarely and irregularly. How everyone knows when its going to turn up I have no idea, but most of the town had turned up for its arrival. We walked back up to the house only to find ourselves locked out. Having a ball with us, missbliss and I decided to play volleyball. After starting our very unsuccessful 1 on 1 game a crowd of local children soon assembled, as they always seem to when whitefellas are about. With a bit of encouragement most of them joined in and so we ended up with about 10 vs 10, most of them not much older than 10 years old and some even younger. We played for over an hour with no rules whatsoever, it was great fun. It was slowly getting dark so we said "5 more minutes", about 20 minutes later it was almost pitch black and I couldn't even see the ball, only then did we decide to call it a day.

The doctor has been away on a tour again for the last couple of days so I've been left to my own devices. When he is here I've been doing plenty of assisting in theatre. So much so that I could probably do my own open tubal ligation by now. Other activities include ward rounds, abscess bursting, seeing acute patients and attempting to use the x-ray machine whilst dodging the resident wasp. When I'm on my own I float about doing whatever I want, this mainly includes ward rounds and seeing acute patients although I've also prepared a wonderful (and basic) presentation on diabetes to give next Friday morning to the other staff.

I'm not really home-sick but I'm really starting to miss the modern life. Last Sunday I was dying for a Sunday Times. I've not heard any news all the time we've been here, anything could have happened. I started to compile a short list of things I really want:

1. Sunday Times

2. Access to BBC news website. (The internet is barely up to sending emails)

3. Banoffee pie

4. Beef – of any description (except tinned)

5. A warm shower (I don't mind cold showers but 4 weeks of cold bucket washes starts to get annoying)

6. Real pillows (rather than little triangular bits of foam stuffed into a pillowcase)

Once we get back to modern life its going to take for-ever to catch up with everything. Goodness knows how many emails there will be to sift through, news/sport to catch up on, comments to read (if there are any). Better avoid current affairs quizzes for a while. It doesn't help that I'll be coming back right into MTAS (for all I know it might not even be called MTAS this year). Anyway, few more weeks to kill before we have to worry about all that.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Another Natural Disaster and Some Doctoring

Last Sunday we had yet another Earthquake, another big one. (About 7 or so on the Richter scale) This time there was the added problem that we were living right by the sea. Shitters! We made for the hills (but then we decided to sit and watch the sea for any signs of impending death instead), apparently on the other side of the Island the tide went really far out and everyone legged it because they expected a Tsunami, thankfully nothing happened. Needless to say we were scared. Conveniently we were invited to move up to the Doctor's house whilst he was away. It is safe from the sea, much much closer to the hospital and school and has electricity! Hell yeah! So that's where we are now, and hopefully will be staying there. It isn't quite as pretty as being down by the sea with our own private beach but at least we won't die.

Anyway, the Doctor was away last week and so I was left on my own. I was effectively the most medically qualified person (apart from the nurses who are all very good) within about 200 miles. Shitters again! I had a relaxed week with different activities each morning. Child Health clinic, family planning clinic (one woman didn't quite understand that concept in that she turned up 3 months pregnant), ante-natal clinic (which I ended up running!) and the outpatients department. The OPD is basically the equivalent of A and E in England although it's basically just a room with a table, 2 nurses and some drugs. Everyone with a fever is checked and treated for malaria. On Friday, there was supposed to be a ward round but the senior nurse had gone on annual leave and neglected to tell anyone, after much waiting around it was decided that we'd do one anyway, which as all well and good until people started looking at me to make decisions about patients! Fortunately the nurses knew what they were doing most of the time anyways and all I had to do was agree and write things occasionally. It was all quite exciting really; I quite like being called Doctor. Let's hope I pass my exams so it can continue)

Finally, I promised a bit more about our trip around the island (you know, the one with the AWFUL boat journey). So, the idea was to visit some of the nurse-led clinics. These are just small, very basically equipped huts in the middle of nowhere. They do have radios however most of them seem to not be working. The faulty radios meant that we were not expected and so most of the places we visited didn't have any patients for us to see which meant the whole trip was a slight disaster in terms of medicalness. It was still very interesting though and we were able to drop off some supplies to the outposts.. It is virtually impossible for these nurse-led clinics to do very much at all other than basic first aid, family planning and vaccinations. Sadly, the day before we went on tour a young woman died of an acute severe asthma attack. Obviously nothing could have been done but it really makes you think about how these people live so remotely. The day after the woman's death, it was a strange and moving experience to see a group of wailing women in mourning and a room of about 100 people surrounding the body, as they had done all night in the local tradition. Death seems somewhat more prominent here. This was also the village where we had to inspect some remains that had washed up to see if they were human or fish.

This week, the doctor has returned so things are back to normal and it's been a morning in surgery. He's going away again next week on another tour, I think I'll be staying here and well away from that sodding boat. Anyway, now I'm more confident about what I'm doing and the problems here, it'll be good to get stuck in.