Monday, December 4, 2017

Stepping Away from the Routine

Below is my monthly message for the December 2017 edition of the MHRI newsletter, Focus. You can view Focus online at MedStarResearch.org/FOCUS.


Friends and Colleagues,

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and you are now getting into the end-of-year holiday spirit.

Along with the holiday celebrations, the season is a wonderful reprieve from the routine. It’s a chance to take a breath and relax. It is also a chance to reflect and appreciate.
I recently took a BIG step away from the routine, which gave me an unprecedented chance to reflect and appreciate. It has been a long-time desire of mine to do volunteer work in a medically underserved area. I wanted to be able to use my experience in cardiac ultrasound to make a difference. After realizing that I could keep putting this off forever, I finally decided to do it.

Last month I went to Africa to volunteer with Team Heart. Team Heart is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to medical care in Rwanda. In a country with only two cardiologists (yes, only two in the entire country!) where rheumatic heart disease (a consequence of untreated strep throat) remains rampant, there is a big need for volunteers with cardiac expertise. My job was to help train the nurses, doctors and staff physicians how to use cardiac ultrasound to identify rheumatic heart disease and other disorders of the heart. With support from the Rwanda Ministry of Health, our volunteer team brought new, laptop-sized cardiac ultrasound machines to four hospitals.

Having worked in healthcare for over 30 years and seen many clinical situations, I was amazed by the clinical staff’s level of dedication, creativity, and resourcefulness. They did whatever was needed to care for their patients. Despite knowing what was possible in places with modern healthcare (because of online textbooks and other tools), they never got discouraged. This is often despite not having basic things we take for granted all the time—and I am not only referring to materials like antibiotics, ECG leads or IV saline. Basic things we never think of, like electricity, would routinely go out each day for a few minutes! Nonetheless, each patient, every day was approached with a ‘can do’ attitude utilizing whatever was available. On top of it all, everyone I met was so incredibly nice and grateful for what they had. It is true: when you have little, you really appreciate the things you do have so much more.

While they were appreciative of our time and expertise, I feel that I received far more than I gave. It’s just like tonight’s supermoon (when the moon appears larger-than-usual), using the time to reflect as you step away from the routine showed me things in my life “larger-than-usual”.
The 2016 supermoon
by David Zvonař on Unsplash
Let me take this end-of-year opportunity to also thank you – thank you for taking the time to read this monthly column and for your frequent comments. It’s great when a message resonates or touches someone else. Thank you also for the privilege of working with you each day on our meaningful work here at MedStar.

If you want to see some pictures from Rwanda, they are posted on my blog, Notes from Neil.

Very best wishes for a joyful and healthy (and reflective) holiday season! I look forward to working with you in 2018 to advance health for our community today and tomorrow.  Enjoy this month’s FOCUS e-Newsletter below.

Neil

Read Focus at MedStarResearch.org/FOCUS.

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