Life Lottery Win #1

I have a job that lets me travel. Sometimes to exciting places like Congo or Madagascar, but more often to places like Vancouver where I spent the last five days.

I have a job that lets me travel, not so often that it becomes a burden, but often enough that I’m comfortable and excited about it.

I have a job that lets me travel and allows me flexibility around those days, so I could could take Thursday and Friday off last week to see my friends and family, trail run in Lynn Valley, and eat tacos at a few different restaurants.

I have a job that occasionally requires me to work 20 hours overtime in one week, such as last week. And though I’m exhausted at the end of it, there wasn’t any point where it actually felt like work.

 

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Toronto

toronto

Last week I took a trip to Toronto. My first visit to the city in 12 years. When I flew in last Wednesday I was like Toronto is amazing. I need to move here asap. But by the time I left on Monday I was ready to come home to the clean air, the slow pace, and of course, my love. Here are some highlights and thoughts after five days in Canada’s city:

The food was unreal. Like, out of control good. My first night in town I ate at Lee and I’m still dreaming about Susur’s Signature Singaporean-style Slaw. If I was rich I would go back to Toronto just to eat that slaw. I had a board of directors dinner at The Chase. Also unreal. And on my last night in town I had the 9 course tasting menu at El Catrin to celebrate a successful trip. I couldn’t move, but oh my, it made me happy.

Work trips are work trips are work trips. Trying to make them into anything else will only cause stress. I don’t know why it’s taking me so long to learn this. If I want to explore or see friends or family or have time to myself, I have to add an extra day. Remind me of this next time, okay?

West coast Canadians are snobs. Maybe not absolutely, but definitely relative to anyone east of the Rockies. Here at home, strangers don’t talk to one another, they don’t say hi or strike up conversation. Not true in Toronto. People are just friendlier there. And apparently when Torontonians come out west and tell us where they’re from the most common response is a sympathetic “Oh, I’m sorry, that’s too bad.” Guys! That’s not cool! Let’s collectively be nicer.

Diversity if beautiful. I live in a devastatingly white city. It’s boring. And the standard of beauty here is all too often the petite, blond pseudo-hippie. Also boring. Toronto was an interesting and exciting breath of fresh air.

It’s the place to be for professionals. When I graduated university at 22 I was so ready to start the rest of my life in the city I wanted to be in: Victoria. And while I loved ever minute of it, I’m regretful I didn’t spend a few years in Toronto growing professionally and experiencing big city living. At this point I’m on track with my goals, but I can’t help but wonder what life would have looked like if I spent some time living in Toronto. Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Kalie. She lived across the hall from me in first year residence and we shared an apartment with 2 other great girls in fourth year. We hadn’t seen each other in probably 6 years, so catching up over dinner was such a pleasure. I’m so proud of her. Last year she was in Cats and currently she’s acting in a movie opposite Nic Cage. So, I pretty much am friends with a celeb.

And the absolute highlight: spending two days in a board room with our board of directors–retired diplomats, a VP at one of Canada’s largest banks, a senior partner at one of Canada’s largest law firms and others. Together we reviewed strategies and made plans and throughout it all all these established professionals listened to and respected what I had to say. I’ve never felt more grown up. Please, no one tell them my secrets.

 

It’s time to #EndFistula

On Friday, May 23 we mark the second annual International Day to End Obstetric Fistula.

Two million women live with obstetric fistula and 100,000 suffer the debilitating birth injury each year. But fistula is entirely preventable. This day to end obstetric fistula is the perfect moment for us to reflect on this preventable and treatable birth injury. We have made incredible progress towards ending obstetric fistula but there is more work to do.

Be part of the discussion – join our Twitter chat Friday 5/23 to raise awareness of the global commitment to end obstetric fistula. Follow #EndFistula on at 1pm ET!

We can’t end fistula in just one day, but our collective commitment to maternal health will inspire us daily to strive for a world where every mother gives birth safely.

The #EndFistula chat on Friday, May 23 at 1pm ET will let us spotlight the problem of obstetric fistula, share stories and solutions, and reflect on what we can do to realize a world without fistula.

Every voice matters – will you join us?

A week away: Congo

Look, I love my job and I’m pretty sure that they love me. But this needs to be said, their views are not the views of this blog.  K? K.

The other week I went to the Congo. Where to begin….

First of all, you should know there are two Congo’s. There is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which you frequently hear about in the news because of the atrocities, mostly. And there is the Republic of Congo, where I was, a small and oil rich country on the West Coast of Central Africa. There was no civil war anywhere near me and more wealth than anywhere else I’ve seen in Africa, aside from Nairobi. It wasn’t the Congo you’re probably thinking of.

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I spent my time in Pointe Noire, Congo aboard the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship. Let me tell you about this ship. It’s giant. It is home to a fully functioning hospital with 5 operating theatres and an 82 bed ward. This hospital ship goes into countries in West Africa for 10 months at a time with the honourable and humble goal of leaving the nation better than when they arrived. They do orthopaedic surgeries, remove tumours, repair cleft palates, vaginal fistulas, use plastic surgery to fix burn wounds and remove cataracts so people can see. Among other things. One of these other things being training local doctors, nurses and workers so the healing can continue for years to come. Cool, right?

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It’s also home to 450 volunteers from around the world. Did you ever live in residence at university? It’s like that, but the volunteers range in age from 18-75, plus the children of the families on board. Of those 450 volunteers, many are doctors and nurses, but many more are support workers. There are people who cook, clean, serve food, take photos, write stories, every tradesman there is, and even a hair stylist. Again, cool, right?

After nearly two years working as a fundraiser/story teller/Canadian advocate for this amazing organization, they finally sent me to the ship and see things first hand. Let me tell you, it was cool. Can I share some stories?

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Dr. Woodame is a ophthalmologist from Togo. I spent about an hour and a half watching him perform and supervise surgeries removing cataracts and ptergyium from people’s eyes. While they were awake. It was super gross/intense. Dr. Woodame used to do 400 surgeries a year. Then a few years ago he received advanced training when the ship was docked in Togo and now he’s doing 2000 a year. That’s 2000 more people that can now see  every year because of this man. Plus he has dedicated his life to training others and spends time every year volunteering on the ship.

Benjamine is the most beautiful girl you’ll ever see. When she was a seven, she fell in a fire in a pretty bad way. When her body healed it’s burns, as bodies do, she didn’t have the burn care she needed, so her arms “healed” themselves adhered them to her torso. And her chin “healed” itself and adhered itself to her neck and chest. And so was her life. She couldn’t use her arms or mouth. Imagine.  And then she got surgery. And she hasn’t stopped smiling since. For obvious legal reasons I can’t put pictures of patients on my personal blog, but you can get to know Benjamine a little better here. 

An unamed woman who I didn’t actually meet, but whose story touched me. She had a vescovaginal fistula.  When she went into labour she needed to have a caesarean, but it wasn’t available and complications arose. Her baby died and her uterus-vagina-colon-bladder completely tore and for the next 30 years of her life she leaked urine and faeces and became completely ostrased from her family and community. When she heard there was the chance she could receive a  surgery that would heal her and that it would be free, she did what she could to get to the coast. She worked odd jobs until could afford travel to the next town. Then she did it again. And then again. It took her 5 weeks what should have taken her 2 days, but she made it. And she got surgery and she no longer leaked. A volunteer on board asked her what she was most looking forward to when she returned to her home (the 2 day trip would be funded by my organization). Her response? Now people will sit beside me.

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When Love Is Literally Blind

If you have ever seen me present for work, you’ve probably heard this story. If you ever find yourself in the audience in the future, please don’t ruin the punch line for those around you. It’s the best part. Cool. Thanks. 

The NGO Global Charity I work for is led by an incredible volunteer team of doctors and nurses who provide life-saving and life-changing surgeries for people in dire need, mostly in West Africa. One of our major projects we call Mercy VISION. It centres around eye care, cataract surgery in particular. The number of people blind from treatable cataracts in the developing world is shocking, especially when you learn how quick and easy (for an eye surgeon) it is to treat them.
You can imagine that, within our organization, one of the most exciting places to be on any given day is in the recovery room from one of these surgeries. Witnessing people being able to see for the first time in years, even decades, well, that is the stuff viral videos are made of. There is a pretty great story that came out of one of these recovery rooms in recent years. We were able to reverse the blindness of two patients, an elderly couple who had been married over 50 years. He had been blind for more than 20 and her around 15. They remained married and in love and together throughout their blindness until one day our volunteers were able to make them not blind any more. When their bandages were removed and their eyes re-focused on one another for the first time in decades, every set of eyes in the room welled up with tears, including of course the husband. As he stared at his wife in disbelief, he was the first to break the silence, “oh my love, you are so beautiful” he half said, half sobbed. The wife stared back, also with in disbelief, until finally she replied, “And oh my love, you are so old”.

Why I Love Going to Work Every Day

Today is a big day for a lot of people in the Republic of the Congo. The NGO I work for runs the world’s largest hospital ship and provides medical attention to people who may not otherwise have the chance to see a doctor. Today is screening day and its outcomes will determine who will get care over the next 10 months. The last I heard there were over 7000 sick or suffering people waiting in line.  Every year we treat thousands of patients, but sadly, we also have to turn thousands away. While today will be a joyous one for so many, it will also be a devastating one for those who we cannot help. I do not envy our incredible volunteers who have to turn people away.

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One of the most beautiful stories I have ever heard happened at a screening in Togo many years ago. Over 6000 people were crushed into a stadium, just waiting for their chance to see one of our volunteer doctors. Among them was a 9-year-old girl named Edoh, with a facial tumour so large she struggled to breath. Her family had taken her to hospitals all over West Africa, but they were unable to find anyone who could help. Every single one of those 6000 people needed medical attention, but the large crowd collectively recognized that Edoh needed it more. She was picked up overhead and passed through the crowd (kicking and screaming) to the front of the line. She eventually had her surgery and it saved her life. Edoh_1
The work that our volunteers do every year is finite. Because Edoh got her surgery, it may have meant that someone in the crowd that held her up did not get theirs. And those people knew the risk, but that did not stop anyone from helping.
Stories like this one are why I love going to work every morning.