Dr. Sherif Emil's dispatches from Rwanda: From the African Skies
Dispatch # 1
It has been 20 hours since I said goodbye to my wife and daughter at the airport. For the first time since moving to Montreal in 2008, I am back in Africa, the continent of my birth. And I am back exercising one of my passions, pediatric surgery in Africa. My trip is part of a McGill program to train surgical residents at the National University of Rwanda and the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Kigali. My partner and mentor, Jean-Martin Laberge, has already been to Rwanda twice. On my trip, I will see new patients, follow up on many patients he previously attended to, and continue to build a relationship with residents and staff surgeons at Rwanda’s main teaching hospital. It provides a satisfying sense of continuity, something that was missing on my prior African missions to Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia.
A list of children who need surgery was sent to me a few days ago – almost all extremely complex. I may perform that number of complex patients in Montreal over six months or a year. Now, I have to operate on as many as possible within a two-week period in a foreign operating room with meager resources. The thought is profoundly intimidating.
But at this point in time, my focus is on something completely different, the beautiful little African girl sitting one row ahead of me. She is just a little younger than my two-year old daughter. She keeps peeking in between the seats to make faces at me and smile – exactly as Gaby loves to do on plane trips, never leaving any passenger alone! Gaby clung so hard to me and would not let go at the airport – almost as if to say “Please don’t go. We finally have some time together.” It brought me to tears, and tears swell up again in my eyes as I write this. I already miss her so much. I can hear her asking her mom over and over, “Where Papa goes?” She is too young to understand why Papa is hardly ever home, and why he chooses to go half way around the world to do this. I hope that one day she does.
The little girl just looked at me again and giggled. If there was any doubt about my decision to return to Africa, it just disappeared.
Dr. Sherif Emil is a pediatric surgeon and Director of Pediatric Surgery at the Montreal Children's Hospital. His trip to Rwanda is part of a McGill program to train surgical residents at the National University of Rwanda and the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Kigali. His experience was featured in The Globe and Mail on April 5, 2014.
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