Anaesthetist Deepa Kannadi went to South Sudan earlier this year for a short stint in an MSF hospital. Here’s her account of what it was like, in 5 images.
1. I had never travelled outside India, and I was going to a conflict zone for my first assignment. I had butterflies in my stomach. Many people asked why I was going. Some even told me I am not a good mother. But my family supported me throughout. I left three days after International Women’s Day, whose theme this year was ‘Be Bold for Change’. I wanted to bring that change in my life.
2. I am a practising anaesthetist in a multi-specialty hospital in Kozhikode, Kerala. It is an 800-bed hospital with advanced facilities. As an anaesthetist, you get everything you need. That’s not the case in a resource-limited setting like South Sudan. The ongoing conflict has made it very difficult for people to seek and provide healthcare.
I worked in an MSF field hospital inside a crowded camp for displaced persons where living conditions are pitiful. This hospital is the sole hope for more than 120,000 residents of the camp.
3. That’s me on the right!
As an anaesthetist, I saw mainly gunshot wounds, teenage pregnancies and burns. I also conducted trainings for staff and went on rounds with the surgeon to different wards. That was very nice because I don’t have an exposure to it nowadays. After becoming anaesthetists, we become bound to the operation theatre. We don’t go to the wards and see patients. So this was like going back to our MBBS days..
4. There was a lady who was in the hospital for the entire duration that I was there. She had gone to the forest to collect firewood with her eight-year-old daughter and had been shot in the leg by people who also abducted her daughter.
I performed my first spinal anaesthesia in South Sudan on her. Over time, we became friendly with each other. She once told me, “I like your bindi and earrings”. I looked at her ear and realised my earring would just pass through her ear piercings. I went back to my tent to get another pair of earrings. I had bought those in Kerala for my everyday use. She was very happy when I gave them to her. She said, “I lost my daughter in the bush, so you are my daughter now.”
5. My job title for the assignment was ‘skilled anaesthetist’. But I had to unlearn a lot of skills and know-how in order to work with limited resources. I am proud that we managed to do a lot with the little that we had.
After an intense month away, I am back at home now. My family says before leaving for South Sudan I was pale and scared. But I feel much more confident now and ready for my next assignment!