In 2012, MSF started a program in Yangon in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, which continued this year, treating 58 patients with MDR-TB.
I have prepared for this trip for months, and yet somehow, my brain wasn’t ready. It is only then, as I closed the car door, that it clicks and the sight of my parents driving off – I am leaving. I am excited for the adventure, nervous to be leaving my home, apprehensive about the unknown waiting for me in Yangon.
Months ago, I blocked my patient panel at the hospital where I work in Los Angeles. I have been warning my patients that I won’t be available for six weeks. The staff at my clinic have been approaching me to chat, smiling and curious, supportive of my plan to work with MSF, yet maybe a little wondering if I am crazy. Some of them ask me if I will be safe. I reassure them that I will be fine.
Everyone - the clinic staff, my friends, my Facebook friends, the residents I work with, my family, my boyfriend – commend me for doing this. They are proud and happy that I am doing something good for the world. I am too, and I appreciate their support, but I also feel a little funny when they congratulate me. I think it’s because I’m not doing MSF to be altruistic. In fact, my motives are a lot more selfish than it would seem.
Sure, I’m volunteering to make sacrifices to work and live in difficult conditions. And it’s true that not everyone would want to do it. And MSF is a truly good organization, one that I have been consistently been dreaming to work with.
But why am I doing this? I am doing it because I feel as if before this point, I had been living my life in black and white, and suddenly everything is in color. The work will be difficult and challenging, but so much more exciting.
When I do a c-section, I really do save a life. Even a patient with a simple urinary tract infection was immensely grateful for my care, because they have so few options. The patients are so much sicker than they are at home, and I reveled in the challenge of using my wits to fix the problem without all the tools I normally have.
As I looked around in the plane, I took a deep breath and sat back. This is really real. In 22 hours, I’ll be in Yangon, getting briefed by the Operational Centre there and trying out the little I learned in a crash course I took over the last two weeks, made sure I learned the 4 words I need: pain, blood, baby and push).
While I really enjoy the connection I have with my patients in clinic, I hold the excitement of working abroad. To operate, to work on very sick patients, to bring them back from the brink of death. To be scared, to be challenged, even to be frustrated. For me, this isn’t a sacrifice; it’s a pleasure.