On The Road Again

It is Saturday morning and I’m sitting up in bed in a comfortable apartment in Amman, Jordan.  As usual, my current mission was not confirmed until days before my departure.  The disaster in Haiti threw another wrench in the works – but the combination of my embarrassing French and more extensive

It is Saturday morning and I’m sitting up in bed in a comfortable apartment in Amman, Jordan.  As usual, my current mission was not confirmed until days before my departure.  The disaster in Haiti threw another wrench in the works – but the combination of my embarrassing French and more extensive clinical experience and diplomatic skills (?) convinced Paris to send me to Amman and their Iraq Surgical Project.  MSF was forced to pull Expats out of most of Iraq in 2004 due to security risks despite injured civilians suffering from the weakened healthcare system and fleeing of many physicians out of Iraq.  Thus was born the idea of transporting patients who required complex surgical reconstruction and rehabilitation to the capital city of Jordan, where MSF has contracted an operating room, ward and clinic space from the Jordan Red Crescent Hospital.

And so on Monday, I left at about 10:30 a.m. for the Calgary International Airport, arriving well before the lines formed.  My only request to the T.O. office when booking my flights was to avoid Air Canada, if at all possible (I’m bored with their poor service, depressed & grumpy staff and inflexibility).  Unfortunately, Lufthansa’s airplane coming to Calgary was delayed due to snow and bitter cold in Europe, so I started my adventure with a five hour wait.  With the delay, my connection time in Frankfurt was too short, so they moved me onto a later flight to Paris, thus providing me with another three “free” hours in Frankfurt .  I dragged my butt into the MSF office in Paris Tuesday afternoon, 21 hours after leaving my house.  I did manage a few hours sleep on each flight (hamdu lillah – thank God – for Zopiclone and red wine) so I only felt HALF done in.

An advantage of the late arrival was a VERY efficient briefing schedule.  No-one wanted to hang around after 18:00, so I didn’t have any long waits.  I was out and on my way to the hotel in short order – I even had time to help the communications department with an English voice-over on a couple video clips from the emergency project in Haiti.  Wednesday morning I went straight back to Charles de Gaulle Airport for my noon flight to Amman on Royal Jordanian Airlines.  I planned lots of time to buy duty free (cheese, chocolate, magazines, etc.) for the team in Jordan.  Most everything is actually available in Amman, but the Paris office suggested real French cheese might go over well.

On arrival in Amman, it took me a little while to get through Passport control (since I had no clue the address or phone number of where I was staying – not to mention I still have TWO Yemeni visas in my passport), but once I thought to show the copy of my MSF Mission Order, all problems went away.  I was a little stunned with jet-lag and managed to tip the guy who insisted on helping me with my suitcase 5 Jordanian Dinar (nearly $10 Can) – I figure I made his day.  JD have Arabic writing on one side and English on the other - I’ll have to look a little closer from now on.  Since I’m still healing from my hernia repair on New Year’s Eve, I didn’t really mind him schlepping my 30kg suitcase up onto the X-ray belt leaving the airport.  It was dark by the time we left with our driver, so I didn’t get to see much of the city on the ride to our apartment.

Each MSF surgical mission can be radically different from the last.  In the short time I’ve worked with them, I’ve looked after acutely war wounded, obstetrical emergencies, delayed obstetrical complications and (most recently) delayed reconstructions from violence or burns.  As in Gaza, the patients I will look after here in Amman will be having (semi-) elective reconstruction of injuries – many of which were sustained years ago.  Their caseload includes complex maxillofacial reconstruction, orthopedics and plastic surgery.  They run two operating rooms with two Iraqi Anesthesiologists - my arrival provides them the opportunity for well-deserved vacations.  There are also two anesthesia assistants, so we have lots of hands available for procedures and monitoring.  Since many of the maxillofacial patients require awake fiberoptic intubation, the extra help will be welcomed.

My accommodations are, again, similar to those in Gaza.  We have an apartment in a residential area close to a large grocery store (Safeway!) and produce market.  There are no security risks so we are free to walk throughout the city and to travel around Jordan in our free time.

The Expat team is small and I only have two room-mates, our Psychiatrist and Pharmacist.  The apartment is some distance from the Hospital, so we commonly car-pool with Arielle (Field Coordinator) and Jorg (Medical Director).  Yesterday, the five of us spent the day starting with a huge breakfast at the landmark Books@Cafe on Al-Rainbow Street, followed by a walking tour of Citadel Hill (Jebel al-Qal'a) and surrounding shops.

Street names and addresses are a relatively new invention in Amman, and most people completely ignore them.  Instead, you have to ask the taxi to take you, “across from the Royal Jordanian Hotel,” or,Umayyad Palace “up the street from the King Abdullah Mosque.”  Taxis and food are relatively cheap:  the 20-minute ride from the hospital to the apartment runs ~ 1.5 JD and I stocked the fridge with milk, eggs, cheese, bread, cooking oil, spices and a litre of pop for 10 JD.


Hiking up and down the narrow streets and stairways helped with the guilt (and calories) associated with our 5-course breakfast – and allowed us to justify dessert and coffee at the end of the day across the street from the beautifully maintained/ restored Coliseum. All in all, a fascinating collection of old and new – Amman will be a lot of fun to explore.

Arriving home near dusk I had just enough energy for a few quick Emails before falling unconscious into bed at 9.

I finally had a drug-free sleep, waking a few minutes before the 04:30 call to prayers.  The voice, acoustics and speakers nearby are excellent, so it isn’t a bad way to wake up.  We have internet access (although I have been unable to get WiFi to work and have to sit out in the cold living-room…don’t cry too hard for me), so I will finish editing photos and start the Blog-posting clearance process ASAP.  Tomorrow we start the new week, but today I can be lazy and hedonistic (a new experience for me –LMAO) .