A team of Beaumont urologists flew to Zambia last month on their seventh annual medical mission trip to provide specialty surgical care to African patients. Kenneth Peters, M.D., and Larry Sirls, M.D., headed the Beaumont team, which included surgical residents and nursing staff. Read Part One and Part Two of this blog series.
by Larry Sirls, M.D., Beaumont urologist
Several times during our trip we have lost power. We know this is the rainy season, but over the last many years we have had very few storms, occasional rains, but no big, classic storms. This year, we have had big storms every day. Huge black fronts cover half of the sky with lightning sprinkled in, coming toward us from the horizon. It’s beautiful, really. However, when the storm hits it’s raining sideways, the wind howls and there is a good chance we lose power. We lost power at least once every day, most days several times, sometimes for an hour or more.
Losing power when you are operating ranges from bad to very, very bad. If we are doing surgery with a scope that needs a light source and electrocautery, the surgery just stops right there because you can no longer see, the operating field is black. If you are doing an open surgery, you can use a battery-powered headlight and can often continue on.
We are in the southern hemisphere, it is our winter at home and I ask a local doctor if this is considered their summer. She says, “What is summer? I do not understand. We only have rain and no rain.” Well, we are in the rain, and it is hot. It is not steamy jungle hot (that you might think of as summertime Africa near the equator) because our location is on an elevated plateau, about 3,500 feet above sea level. Yet it is hot enough that when we have our surgical gowns on we sweat a lot. A lot.
Air conditioning? You’re kidding. This leads to another problem that happens when the power goes out, our little oscillating fan stops. That little fan is all we have to take the edge off of the heat, and when it stops, we really sweat. The OR staff then opens the double doors on an outside wall directly connecting the OR to the outside. The first time they opened the doors to the outside we were quite surprised until we realized they had an outside window open (no screens) all the time anyway. Interestingly, after the rain there is some breeze that is cooler, and this cooler air trickles into the OR through the doors and window and minimally cools things off. When the power comes back on, the doors are closed and the fan comes back on. A great sound, that fan.