As the only surgeon in the project and even in the whole region where I was I needed to be on call 24/7 all the time once I started working. 24/7 means 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, and that means I needed to be on call all the time when I was in the project. When my replacement surgeon arrived, I had been in Bossangoa for 75 days and on call for 1,800 hours continuously.
Everyone knows you are on call, then you should be more alert than usual. With any noise in the radio handset or any talking in the compound, one gets alerted and feels like " is that for me?”. So in the field, it's difficult for me to fall asleep, not to mention the heat in Africa and the noise around you. Most of the teammates are very considerate but don't take it for granted, as some may shout loudly into his phone late at the night when you already fell asleep, so one must have great flexibility and tolerance. Also, I needed to do operations on 8 out of the 10 Sundays I had been here, so I really didn't have the luck for resting!
We did Bucket shower in this mission, it felt like going back to 50s or 60s in HK. Food was not so bad but don’t expect many varieties. The food was prepared and put on the sharing table, and if you arrive late, the food is already cold and can be contaminated already. Like me, sometimes I had my lunch at 3 or 4pm. In the last 6 missions, I was very careful and lucky, I got sick only once which was 2 years ago in South Sudan after I brushed my teeth with water that was contaminated by a dead eagle. But this time I got sick 4 times in 2 weeks, starting with running nose and tiredness, then vomiting after a Saturday dinner, but in Sunday morning, I needed to do a Caesarian section after my second vomiting and before my third. Then I started coughing followed with diarrhoea again. So after all these, it became very difficult for me to be fully recovered both physically and mentally.
It is always tough in the field, and near the end of mission, usually one may easily think of giving up. But being able to save lives and limbs, where the population there has no chance if MSF is not there, just gives you the spirit and will to join the next one after a few months of rest. So let's see where I will be after a few months of rest!