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Catriona and Stephen Bennett link letter no.7 June 2018

Dear friends,

Greetings from the UK!

For those for whom this is the first of our link letters you have read, Steve is a consultant general surgeon and Catriona is a consultant anaesthetist. We now work at Gahini Hospital where our mission is to provide a surgical and anaesthetic service, develop the hospital’s facilities and train local healthcare staff.

News from Gahini

Since our last letter, the surgical service at Gahini has continued to operate at a pace. There has been no let up in the number of people requiring surgery, both elective and emergency. Steve has continued to see and treat many patients, operating about 25-30 cases a week. Catriona took this as an opportunity to maximize teaching and training for the non-physician anaesthestists, given our impending home leave, and so it was full steam ahead until the very last day.

The Easter weekend was particularly busy and despite not working, Steve found himself going in to the hospital most days to do a ward round and undertook a few emergency cases in theatre. Anyone who knows about NHS healthcare knows that four-day bank holiday weekends are a challenge in terms of the desire to maintain a good standard of care for all patients. Unsurprisingly, this is also true in Rwanda and hence Steve decided to keep a fairly close eye on the ward. This is one of the challenges of being the sole surgeon – how to achieve a work-life balance.

On this occasion, Steve very much felt investing a couple of hours each day into maintaining good care for the patients was preferable to allowing the patients to remain untreated over the weekend. It also didn’t impact too much on our otherwise fairly quiet weekend at home.

With a patient

One of the patients we were able to help was a lady with a large benign tumour on her abdominal wall. She had originally come to see Steve some months back and he had recommended a scan and a biopsy which had to be performed in Kigali. She went to get these done, which took some months, but the tumour had increased in size from that of a tennis ball to that of a melon while also developing a distinct odour that was socially stigmatizing. Two weeks before we were due to leave, and the day after she had received the results in Kigali, she came to Gahini to find Steve and once again asked him to operate. Given the rapid growth of the tumour, he felt that it could not wait until after our home leave and so she became one of the “extra” patients we had to slot in in our last few weeks. She was delighted with the results and is now back home.

Swimming in Lake Muhazi, a long thin shallow lake in the east of Rwanda

Following much intensive training of the non-physician anaesthetists, Catriona started to realise that she was not required for every paediatric case. With a combination of hands on teaching, small group tutorials looking at theory, and self-directed reading, all of the non-physician anaesthestists had worked really hard to improve their knowledge and skills surrounding paediatric anaesthesia. And so in the last few weeks, Catriona gradually became less “hands on” and more “around” for paediatric cases. Two of the non-physician anaesthetists have really risen to this challenge and by the time our home leave came, Catriona felt confident in their abilities to continue paediatric practice during her absence. This is fantastic for our visiting orthopaedic surgeon who needs to operate on many children, and great for their personal and professional development.

During the last few months in Gahini, we were also blessed with many visitors. It was fantastic to catch up with both friends and family and to be able to welcome people to our new home. Living at Gahini is quite socially isolating and so having visitors from time to time is a pleasant change. We found it particularly helpful to be visited by a family who we know well from Steve’s Uganda hospital work. We were able to discuss some of the challenges we face and our ideas for the future, gaining valuable insights from similar situations that they experienced during their time as missionaries.

Home leave

It sounds weak to say it but after eight months at Gahini we were very tired and glad that our home leave was upon us! It very much falls under the title “a change is as good as a rest”, as it has been far from quiet but we have been enjoying being in the UK for the past six weeks.

Thirty-six hours after arriving in Edinburgh, we travelled to Spring Harvest in Minehead. This was our first Spring Harvest experience and it was thoroughly worthwhile for spiritual nourishment. It was themed “Only the Brave” and the main Bible study sessions unpacked the Book of James. We really appreciated the opportunity to worship with other Christians in a familiar format but also found the talks personally challenging. Hannah encountered and eventually conquered playing with others in a room filled with toys as she was well looked after by the children’s groups – a novel experience for her but the staff were very helpful in settling her in. Steve’s parents helped us out with some babysitting so that we could attend some of the evening events. One of the highlights of the week were some parenting seminars run by Care for the Family. We both found these hilariously funny, very apt and extremely helpful in thinking about how to parent a 20 month old going on 20 year old!

At Spring Harvest

Following this, we have been able to visit and speak at many of our supporting churches. This has taken us on a tour of the UK from Plymouth to Scotland, back down to Suffolk and then off to Chester, and now we are back in Scotland. It has been fantastic to be so warmly welcomed, and to feel increasingly part of your church communities. We are hugely grateful for your ongoing support both in prayer and finance, and it is lovely to be able to come and share with you something of what we are up to. So many thanks to all who have hosted us during this home leave. Please do continue to be in touch once we are back in Rwanda.

As well as speaking and spiritual nourishment, we have needed to gain some CPD (continuing professional development) points. CPD is a very important part of staying up to date while practising as a doctor. The Rwandan medical council counts your CPD in terms of hours spent updating yourself and attending conferences. So we have taken the opportunity to attend a couple of medical conferences while we are here in the UK. Steve had a thoroughly interesting surgical conference last week with the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland and came away inspired and challenged in his practice. Catriona will be heading to Liverpool this week for a paediatric anaesthestic conference which she hopes will be similarly stimulating.

At a medical education conference

Finally, we have all enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with friends and family. We have been extremely blessed with beautiful weather and Hannah has enjoyed playing on the beach with grandparents and cousins. She has discovered a love of soft play areas and she has been given numerous opportunities to endulge her passion for climbing in local parks and the stairs in people’s houses! Grandparents have also provided some much needed rest and relaxation for us both, away from full time childcare duties.

Having fun on the beach...

Only the Brave

As we mentioned earlier in this letter, this was the theme of Spring Harvest this year. No problem! It’s thoroughly worthwhile to dig a bit deeper into the Book of James and come away challenged about how you can take this forward within your Christian faith. We’re sure each one of us can think of areas in our lives where we could be braver for God. But what do you do when you then go to your church the next Sunday and the minister stands at the front and says: “Today’s theme is about being bold, starting with B for bravery”? And the following week you are visiting another church and their minister starts preaching on the theme of boldness!

We don’t quite know why we have sat through so many sermons on bravery and boldness this home leave. What does God have for us? Is it for us or for someone else? The small voice inside us says isn’t living in Rwanda brave compared to living in the UK? But the reality is that God isn’t interested in comparisons between us and the next person. He is interested in us being brave for him in our circumstances and in us maximising our capacity to share his good news.

So as we prepare to return to Rwanda, we don’t know what lies ahead in the next year. But we do know that we have a loving Father who will walk with us and help us to step out bravely in faith. So once again we want to thank you for joining us in this journey and we look forward to updating you on our progress once we are back in Rwanda.

Wishing you every blessing,

Catriona,Stephen and Hannah


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