Dispatches from Benin #3: Teamwork

Today is Saturday, the first pause from operating since I arrived. At the end of my first week on the Africa Mercy, our team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurses was able to complete 25 operations on 16 patients, as several patients underwent more than one operation. All patients scheduled for surgery this week received their operations, except the baby with the massive sacrococcygeal teratoma. She had to be postponed due to an acute episode of malaria, and we replaced her with 5 patients. All the work was done calmly. We finished on time every day. Thankfully, our immediate outcomes have been good despite several major challenges.

How is that possible on a Ship whose Operating Room # 2 medical crew came to meet each other for the first time on the morning of the first operation? How was it possible to coordinate crew from Canada, the United States, Norway, France, Australia, and Northern Ireland working in a single operating theatre? The answer is one simple word: teamwork.

Every institution is obsessed, for good reason, with teamwork and team building. We speak about it. We write about it. We study it. We simulate it. We go on retreats to learn it. It has become a science of its own. On the Africa Mercy, I don’t observe all these complexities of teamwork. I just see it, in plain view, loud and clear, happening every minute of every day – in the operating room, on the hospital wards, in the galleys, in every corner of the Ship. Any team interested in seeing the best living example of teamwork should visit the Africa Mercy.

The ward team stands with Dr. Emil (left to right) Cori, Lydia, Dr. Emil, Catherine, Yasmine and Jane.What is the secret of the Africa Mercy? Two words – faith and purpose. The crew of the Africa Mercy live their faith through service. They all serve willingly, not making a single penny. All have left family and friends behind and came to serve a people whose language they may not understand and whose culture they may not be familiar with – the world’s forgotten poor. They see service as a privilege, not a sacrifice. They are united in a single purpose – to bring hope and healing to as many people as they can.

Last night, Catherine McCullough, my OR team leader for the past week, shares with us a story over dinner. It was a story of a man who came back to the Ship hemorrhaging from the neck a couple of weeks after resection of a giant neurofibroma. He had developed a wound infection that eroded through his carotid artery. He would have been dead in minutes had the crew not pulled together, mobilizing the emergency operating teams, applying their surgical skills, donating their own blood, and praying. He survived and walked out of the hospital a few days later. In fact, on my last mission in Madagascar, I learned that the Africa Mercy lost only one patient among thousands operated on during two missions in the country over 20 months. Given the patient population, that is a record any hospital anywhere in the world would be envious of.

How is it possible? Teamwork. 

Photo captions:

Photo 1: The OR team stands with Dr. Emil (left to right) Catherine, Dr. Emil, Darren, Heinz, Ann-Marie,Yasmine, and Rachel.

Photo 2: The ward team stands with Dr. Emil (left to right) Dr. Cori, Dr. Lydia, Dr. Emil, Catherine, Yasmine and Jane.

Dr. Sherif Emil is a pediatric surgeon and Director of the Division of Pediatric General and Thoracic Surgery at the Montreal Children's Hospital. Over the next 2 weeks, he will be part of the volunteer crew of the Africa Mercy, currently docked in Cotonou, Benin. The Africa Mercy is the world's largest civilian hospital ship dedicated to bringing hope and healing to tens of thousands of the world's impoverished populations.  

Read more:

Dispatches from Benin #1: Coming Home to a New Country

Dispatches from Benin #2: The Price of Neglect 

Dispatches from Benin #4: Make Good Decisions

Dispatches from Benin #5: If it were only for this one