In the Hollywood version of surgical scenes, a surgeon bursts into the operating room using his hip to push open swinging doors. His scrub cap and face mask are already in place, and his freshly scrubbed hands and forearms are held high in the air to keep them sterile. He enters a busy, equipped operating room, his patient ready on the operating table. We don’t see the intensive care unit until later in the episode, but it too is equipped and ready to receive the mended patient.
I guess it goes without saying—we don’t work in Hollywood.
Each country is a little different, but every time we arrive at a developing cardiac programme like the one in Libya, we arrive to virtually empty rooms. The largest equipment is in place, but there are no supplies at hand, and no stations ready for patients. Before we can see a single patient, we have to create the space.
The first day of every mission in Libya is filled with cleaning and unpacking, counting and inventory-taking, sterilizing and strategizing how to best use scarce supplies. There is equipment to be calibrated and tested, batteries to be replaced, and instruments to be repaired.
It’s not glamorous work, but it is essential for everything that comes after. When we finally have all of our supplies and medications at our fingertips, know what we have to work with, and know what must be carefully conserved, we are ready to begin surgeries.
Being fully prepared, and methodically assessing what we have at our disposal isn’t just for our own sake—it reinforces what we teach local staff: the importance of effective systems, of testing, creating functional stations, keeping careful tracking of tools and equipment, and of preventative maintenance.
Consistency sets the stage for everything else we do, and that starts from the very first day on site.