We wrapped up our time in Labasa just in time to endure two cyclones in one week. If you remember, our first week in Fiji was greeted with category 5 cyclone Gita, so it was only appropriate to leave with a bang. The extensive flooding from the back-to-back cyclones broke the dam to the main reservoir of Labasa and shut off water the entire town. Our neighborhood had a separate waterline break prior to the dam catastrophe, so our water source was scarce for more than one week. Luckily the heavy rains made for easy water collection in our host family’s reservoir, which was barely enough for drinking, cooking, and “bathing.” Justin and I never travel without our water filters, even if we are in a first world country. This situation was not the first time they provided crucial safety measures, but I can confidently say we will continue to pack them on every trip!
Arriving to the main island of Fiji was bizarre, relieving, and culture shocking. There were white tourists everywhere, plenty of well established restaurants, tour companies, air conditioned buildings, you name it. I felt a weird sense of disconnect, like, do the people here know what is happening in the rest of the country? It was the exact effect that happens when I settle into routine in the United States. The weight of catastrophe happening in other places goes dim, because I’m focused on my immediate environment.
We recharged over the weekend and amped up for a week with an Australian medical team I had connected with online. The team was lead by a hand surgeon (Dr Meyers) and his wife who is a certified hand therapist. I was giddy with excitement to be invited to join their team for the week and get a closer look at hand injuries in Fiji. This was the tenth year the team came to Fiji, and I was told that every year is different, as it depends on the current needs.
The week unfolded with a Monday clinic that brought in a blitz of patients. I sat next to Dr Meyers during the clinic to help with recording patient records, which was the best seat in the house to see each diagnosis. Dr Meyers is wholly committed to teaching and took the time to explain his reasoning and diagnosis of each patient, while explaining how to read complicated x-rays, differential diagnostic tests, and much more. The injuries that walked into the clinic were complex and shocking. Patients had either received poor care prior to their arrival, or no care. There were patients with bone fractures months or years post-injury with severe contractures. Osteomyelitis seemed to be the norm. There were some cases similar to those I saw in Labasa, but I never had a chance to see it from the doctor’s perspective when the patient is initially seen. Often times patients are not even referred to physiotherapy, which is insane in itself because the patient has no guided rehab. This is one reason healing outcomes are poor in Fiji, and infection rates are sky high. Sanitation measures are practically nil, which I witnessed in Labasa. But observing surgery in Lautoka brought a new perspective of how serious the issue is, because it is the beginning of the chain.
Dr Meyers in his element, while I'm trying to glean his wisdom and record patient intake at the same time.
I also got to use my OT skills for non-hand patients. The best part about this was feeling confident to incorporate yoga therapy techniques into interventions, which was well received by the patients.
I spent a lot of time under the wing of one of the physiotherapists with a specialty in hand therapy. He is brilliant with the rehab process and brought a slew of orthosis fabrication materials to use. The sight of thermoplastic had me jumping for joy, since this was not available in Labasa and I had been resorting to popsicle sticks and thick gauze for splints. A crowd of physiotherapy students joined the learning experience, which was a great benefit to the future of the Fiji healthcare system. Meanwhile, Dr Meyers always had a train of Fijian medical students following him along. Like I said, his team is dedicated to teaching the local students and practitioners while encouraging an interdisciplinary approach to healthcare. I had the chance to experience the surgical room, which had a handful of students huddled around Dr Meyers as he went through the procedure step-by-step, explaining the process.
One of my biggest takeaways from the experience was Dr Meyer’s reminder in the beginning of the week that we are taking away time from the local practitioners. Although advanced procedures that are sometimes life-saving are being performed, the time given to the Meyer’s team should not be taken for granted. Measures to give back to the community in every possible way were taken through medical care, education, and donated resources.
The experience with the Meyer’s team was rigorous and rewarding. It was the perfect way to cap off my residency while walking into a new chapter of my career. I have no doubt I will be back to Fiji to continue serving and working with a population that has grown near and dear to my heart.
This patient had a multiple traumatic injuries to the right side of his body and was using his (short) grandmother's crutch for walking. The Meyer's team brought a huge donation of crutches for the hospital, which made this patient very happy and comfortable.
Education! Teaching orthosis fabrication to the physiotherapy students.
There were multiple in-service lectures to the medical staff and physio students by Dr Meyers and the hand physio. This lecture I gave was on OT and global health.
Making my first ankle-foot orthosis for a plantar fasciitis patient- something an OT would probably not do in the United States because we largely focus on the upper extremity. Adding new tools to my back pocket!
Going into the surgical room!
Cast fabrication post-surgery. Eventually the cast will be removed and a lightweight thermoplast splint will be fabricated for the patient.
And that's a wrap! Huge thank you to the Lautoka Hospital and Meyers Hand team.
I am an outdoor and travel junkie who is currently completing my doctorate in occupational therapy overseas in rural Fiji. On Sweet World Travels you will find stories of my life with my husband, the communities we serve, and the many adventures we take.