Just Another Day at the Office

The original focus and objective of this whole trip was to lend a hand when it came to the pro bono medical missions on the weekends.  As those trips are only Friday through Sunday, how I’m spending my time during the week is probably a mystery at this point, and certainly was for me as well.

Surgeons, Residents, Anesthesiologist, and Assistants

Each weekday, I wake up around 6am, scramble to make some breakfast, and leave the apartment at 6:30am with Andre, Kevin I, Kevin II.  Andre is currently hosting me in the spare room in his apartment because he is very generous and his wife also left Cameroon early for southern France, where the two share a home.  Andre and Kevin I both work at the American School of Yaounde (ASOY), Andre as a teacher and Kevin as a counselor.  Kevin II is a hired driver of Kevin I’s car, more about that in a later post.

Riding to ASOY from Bastos, the embassy district of Yaounde, is advantageous for me because the school is within walking distance of the Central Hospital of Yaounde, where Dr. Bwelle works during the week.  The drive is typically without hitch in the morning as the roads are free from the “yellow fever” as Andre calls it.  Documentation of yellow fever vaccine is required for entry into the country, but in this case Andre is referring to the overwhelming number of taxis  and the audacity of their drivers.

Typically we approach the gates of ASOY around 7am.  The entire school is surrounded by a foot thick, 8 foot high concrete wall, topped with spiral barbed wire.  At the entrance are two to three security guards who request that you turn off the engine of your car while they inspect the bottom of the vehicle for explosives.  ASOY is a high-profile school in these parts; many children of local and foreign diplomats attend.

From ASOY, I walk over to the Central Hospital of Yaounde (CHY) to meet Dr. Bwelle.  On Mondays and Wednesdays, we do consults with patients and on Tuesdays and Thursday we are in the operating room.  On average,  Dr. Bwelle sees about 25 patients a day during consult days and does between two and four operations on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Consult days are also grounds for small outpatient surgeries which are typically delegated to the residents.

In the gastro OR at the Central Hospital of Yaounde

The schedule lends itself to a welcome variety of tasks that keeps each day exciting. Consults are great because first of all, I don’t understand the African dialect of French very well, so I get to play a little guessing game.  Between hand gestures, facial expressions, and a few keywords, I’m starting to get pretty good at reading what exactly is going on with each patient.  The second puzzle I get to play is to figure out what exactly is causing each patient’s symptoms.  I take down a few notes on what exactly I think the problems and solutions are, wait until the patient leaves, and then ask Georges if I have a general idea.  I haven’t gotten to the treatment aspect yet, but all in due time.  Trying to listen to symptoms, diagnose, and treat all in a foreign language will probably make any consults in English seem like a cakewalk.

Surgery days are amazing in their own way.  I find that the routine becomes a little repetitive when it comes to preparing a patient for surgery: cleaning them, inserting catheters and central lines, washing the surgical area, scrubbing in, and preparing the surgical field.  It’s interesting the first couple times, by no means do I mean to downplay its importance, but once you’ve done it 10 times, you wish it could be done faster.  However, the surgeon doesn’t waste his time with that, they just call Dr. Bwelle in when the operation is ready to begin.


Fortunately for me, I get to do pretty much whatever I want which gives me much learning freedom.  The operating suite consists of four operating rooms, all of which have operations going on all the time.  If one room is prepping a patient, another is typically in the middle of the operation.  I personally like to rotate through all the rooms, getting the opportunity to see as many different surgeries as I can while providing the surgeons with basic assistance in the OR.  On a typical day, one operating room will belong to each of the following specialties: gastro-intestinal, orthopaedics, neurosurgery, and other.

I must say that after seeing the office setting that doctors have, I feel for those who sit in cubicles all day.  Not only that, but the work is different every day, every patient has a unique set of problems.  It’s never just another day at the office.

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