It is hard to put into words my experience as a first time volunteer at Egbe Hospital. I have had the privilege of knowing the Campion family for the past 8 years and I have watched as Austin Campion Smith has travelled back and forth from Nigeria with Don, Sueanne and Betsie Campion, each time returning with stories, pictures and full hearts. Since the very first time I learned about the Egbe Hospital Revitalization Project in 2011, I had one thought, “One day I will go and strive to make a difference when I am there.”

In October 2019 I had the great fortune of travelling with a team of hard working volunteers from all different walks of life. Our team was made up of medical practitioners including physicians, a pharmacist and a lab technician, as well as skilled tradespeople, an engineer, revitalization staff and other missionary volunteers. Together, we were able to tackle many different projects happening in the hospital and around the compound. It was amazing getting to know the other volunteers and incredible how quickly they felt like family.

From the moment we got off the bus after the long ride from Abuja it was hard to wipe the smile off of my face. We were received with many greetings of “You are welcome!” accompanied by song, dance and a special demonstration by the guards, which was quite impressive! We were given plentiful welcome gifts of eggs, live chickens, fruit and cold beverages. The thing that stood out to me the most during the duration of my trip was the incredible hospitality of the local people. We were truly made to feel at home during our stay.

Working as a physician assistant in Canada I was excited to hit the ground running and get started in the hospital wherever my skills were needed. My specialty is Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation so I was looking forward to being a part of the inpatient and outpatient management of common orthopedic and neurological conditions. Initially I was unsure where I would be of service, but it became apparent very quickly that there is a great need for both acute and chronic management for conditions such as stroke, amputations, fractures, knee pain, back pain etc.

Contrary to what I am used to in Canada, there were no specialists in Egbe during my time there. The staff physicians and residents are largely trained in internal medicine, family medicine and general surgery with little time to manage specific orthopedic complaints or rehabilitation efforts in the hospital. There is also currently no access to interdisciplinary healthcare professionals such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, social work etc. This challenged me to find innovative ways to provide care for the patients that were so in need of these services and also left me with a great appreciation for the vast resources we enjoy in Canada at my clinic.

Despite the lack of resources, what struck me was the work ethic of the hospital staff. Every staff member, including the registration clerks, emerge nurses, ward nurses, midwives, lab technicians, pharmacists, janitors and physicians – just to name a few – adopted the philosophy of “We will make it work.” I found that the staff was eager to learn and willing to implement change for the betterment of their patients. One particular example of this happened while I was working with two stroke patients on the ward. Every day I rounded on them and provided rehabilitation exercises to help improve strength with the goal of returning to independent living. For both patients I handwrote a list of exercises accompanied by my best attempt at drawing pictures to describe the different movements that I wanted them to do. Nursing staff kindly helped interpret my instructions to the patients and their families so they understood what I was asking of them. In both cases the nurses asked for a copy of the exercises and inquisitively asked “Can we use this for all of our patients like this?” I answered enthusiastically “YES!”

This is just one example of the many positive interactions I had with the Egbe hospital staff. It was interactions like this that gave me hope that my efforts in the hospital would be impactful and hopefully long lasting. I vividly remember each patient that I had the pleasure to treat and my experience left me yearning for more time to help. I think about the young six year-old girl who was hit by a motorcycle and suffered compound fractures of her leg and arm. We attempted multiple times to set the fractures as best we could; surgery was not an option at that time. I pray that she is walking with a smile on her face today surrounded by her caring family. I remember the young twins that were born extremely premature but were able to thrive in incubators until they were ready to go home due to the attentive care of the physicians and nurses. I remember the very sick man who required a below knee amputation due to a gangrenous foot and hope that his rehabilitation is going well.

After two weeks working in Egbe Hospital I returned to Canada humbled, inspired and extremely grateful for the opportunity to have served there. There continues to be an incredible need for rehabilitation services and allied health care workers to help improve the morbidity of patients in Egbe. I hope to return in the near future with more resources to help empower the Egbe hospital staff to implement rehabilitation endeavors for their patients. I know that given the opportunity they will not fail.

I will leave you with a quote from one of the operating room scrub nurses. One day I asked him, “How do you manage to do all that you do with so little resources?” He responded, “Whatever you lay your hands on, do it well.” This continues to resonate with me and has impacted the way I practice medicine today. I look forward to seeing him again on my next trip!  Written by Maggie Hitchon