The whole team arrived safely back to the U.S late Saturday night after a very long 36+ hours of travel. Have I mentioned yet that I still don't want to leave?
Our last two days in Goma and at the hospital were busy as always, but still exciting. On Thursday all the surgeons tackled two large cases. The first one was a woman with an ameloblastoma. An ameloblastoma is a benign tumor that forms in the inside of the mouth on the jaw. It was about the size of a baseball in this particular woman. My dad, Dr. Ekbom, and Dr. Luc worked to remove the tumor while almost everybody else--nurses, residents, and I--hovered over them watching. This was a difficult case with lots of blood and not great suction to remove the blood, but they ended up being able to remove the whole tumor. We saw the woman the next day and besides some swelling, she looked happy.
The second case, was the most incredible case of the whole trip. I had never seen anything like it, and neither had the doctors from the Congo. A man came with severe keloids on his face that had been growing for nine years. He's a medical student in a different city on the opposite side of the Congo, and took two planes to come and have the American doctors look at him and see if they could do anything. The major problem with keloids and removing them, is how to prevent them from coming back. Here in the U.S., keloids are treated very early with steroid injections and radiation, which usually prevents their return, but in the Congo, these resources are hard to come by. There are some steroids available, but the possibility of radiation right now is none. However, we figured we had to do something to help this man, and that removing them and facing the probability of them starting to grow back would be better than not doing anything at this point.
Oh my goodness. What an experience to see that procedure! My dad, Dr. Wilson, Dr. Ekbom, and Dr. Medard all scrubbed in to help. Dr. Medard and Dr. Wilson started on one side of the face and my dad and Dr. Ekbom started on the other. When they were finally removed, everybody in the room (so pretty much all the staff in the OR) clapped and cheered! After that, they took a skin graft from the man's thigh to use on his cheeks because it was too large of an area to close normally. We weighed the keloids and wow! Together they weighted 2.5 kg, so about 5.5 lbs!! Imagine walking around with an extra 5.5 lbs hanging off of your cheeks. I'm so glad the surgeons were able to help this man, and although it won't be perfect, it's so much better! We saw the man the next day and his whole self just seemed happier and relieved. It was great to see him smile!
Thursday night was our last night at Maji, and like every other night, we ate and spent time talking to the other visitors and each other about our days and these amazing cases.
Friday was our last day in the OR. My dad had one case--a cleft palate--and Dr. Wilson did a few cases also. Dr. Ekbom and I also went to the OR, but ended up spending a good chunk of the time at the bakery again indulging in another latte and this time a chocolate twist instead of croissant. I really went outside my comfort zone with that choice. We talked about PA school for a bit as we sat and enjoyed our last few hours in Goma. We went back to the OR and brought the doctors all lattes, and around 12:30pm headed back to Maji to finish packing up.
At 3:15pm we said our goodbyes to our friends and other visitors at Maji, loaded the cars with our luggage and headed out. We had to cross the boarder back into Rwanda again, which took so much longer than was necessary, but we eventually made it through. We still had a two hour drive to get to Kigali. About an hour into the trip, our van we were now riding in was going uphill as we drove through the forests when all of a sudden we heard a loud noise coming from the rear tires. It was now pitch black outside and we're parked on the side of a road with no street lights trying to figure out what just happened and why the van is not drivable. There was no flat tire. We all assumed this problem must have happened multiple times before though because the driver knew just what to do. He reached behind one of the rear wheels, did something (who knows what), and off we went again! It smelled like brake fluid so we're thinking the brakes locked or something…? I don't know enough about cars to actually have any idea what the problem was, but thankfully it was fixed quickly.
Around 8:45 we finally got to Kigali and went to Des Mille Colline Hotel for dinner. This is the hotel that sheltered more than one thousand people during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 and was the basis for the movie Hotel Rwanda. My tastebuds were going crazy from the cheeseburger I had. I was so full after. By the time we were done with dinner it was about 10:45pm and time to leave for the airport. We were picked up and taken to the Kigali airport, passed through multiple security checkpoints, and waited for our flight which left around 1:50am Saturday morning.
The flights back home were long and exhausting. Our first flight had a quick stop in Entebbe, Uganda, but we stayed on the plane because it was the same flight going to Istanbul. To Entebbe was about one hour and from Entebbe to Istanbul it was about another seven hours. In Istanbul we were supposed to have a short three hour layover, but after getting something to eat (and some very delicious Turkish coffee….get in my tummy!), we checked the departing gates and found our flight was three hours delayed. Uh. Not what we were hoping for, but we made the best of it. Some people sat and watched luggage, while others walked around the airport and did some shopping. Eventually the time came for us to board, and around 5:30pm (I think), after multiple more issues on the plane, we took off for our eleven hour flight back to Chicago, chasing the sunset the whole way. I was lucky enough to have an empty seat next to me and was able to lie down and sleep for part of the flight. We arrived back in Chicago around 9:30pm Chicago time, got through customs, and got our luggage, and were picked up by Dr. Erickson's wife.
It's now Wednesday night, five night after getting back, and I still can't believe the trip is over. It was truly the most special and meaningful trip I've taken to this day, and probably will be for years to come. I know that this is just the spark for a much greater plan God has for my future. I've always had the dream of combining medical work and missions, and this opportunity has definitely reaffirmed that desire in me and shown me that this is something I want to do. Honestly, it's something I need to do. God has given me such an ambition for traveling and helping those around the world who have so little compared to my cushy life here. I can't wait to see how God leads me. I couldn't be more thankful for the surgeons who not only included me in their tasks and took the time to teach me so many new things, but who also were incredible examples of what it looks like to follow and trust God's plan. I only hope that someday I'm able to make as much of a difference in someone's life as they have in mine.
Already missing Goma and all the people so much. My heart actually hurts thinking about it. At the same time, however, I couldn't be happier. Can't wait to go back someday! I'm ready!