From the field: UK Volunteer travels to Vietnam with the Flying Eye Hospital

October 2019

UK Consultant Anaesthetist, Dr. Michelle Le Cheminant, volunteered this summer in Vietnam aboard our Flying Eye Hospital. Hear first-hand her experience of sharing her skills with local anaesthetists in the country, and equipping them to fight avoidable blindness in their communities.

It was hot and humid when I arrived in Hue to join the Orbis team as part of a three-week Flying Eye Hospital programme in Vietnam. The long journey from the Channel Islands soon forgotten as I’m greeted by friends and colleagues from around the world, all with a shared enthusiasm for the weeks of training ahead.

It’s week one and whilst the surgical training focuses on oculoplastics, glaucoma and retina, I’m working with local anaesthetic doctors and nurses to teach skills in anaesthesia. For me it’s this team approach to training that makes Orbis unique and is the key to sustainability.

There’s a familiar face amongst the trainees, an anaesthetist from Binh Dinh province that I worked with on my first Orbis project. Two years have passed and it’s a pleasure to witness her development into a competent and confident clinician. It’s quite an emotional moment for me and only re-enforces the benefit of our long-term partnerships.

It’s a varied and busy week. We start off with anaesthetic pre-assessments in Hue Eye Hospital, ensuring each patient is fit for surgery. As always, it’s a seamless flow, with surgeons, anaesthetists and nurses all working together to ensure each patient is well informed and prepared for their operation. The next four days seem to pass by in an instant with my time split between training on the plane and in the local hospital.

I’m able to teach a variety of different anaesthetic techniques – from the local anaesthetic sub-tenon’s block to deep sedation and general anaesthesia. My trainees are committed and enthusiastic and with every successful case they grow in confidence. I feel certain that they will take on board the skills they’ve learnt and use them to help many more patients in the future.

The end of the week brings a new and exciting challenge for me - our first anaesthetic simulation symposium at a local hospital. Learning from the aviation industry, simulation has become a valuable training technique in anaesthesia because it provides an opportunity to practice uncommon emergency scenarios. A recent donation from the John Ramplin Charitable Trust in Guernsey meant we had a new addition to our training repertoire in the form of a fibre-optic intubation simulator – the ORSIM.

On the morning of the symposium we were met by 12 enthusiastic, anaesthetic trainees making their first foray into simulation training! Rotating around 6 different stations in small groups the trainees were able to gain hands on, practical experience in managing life-threatening problems. Everyone (including me!) soon became immersed in the scenarios. With fantastic feedback from the trainees, I can foresee anaesthetic simulation developing further in future Orbis programmes, adding another layer to the training opportunities available.

So finally it’s time for farewells and as always I’m sad to leave, but I’m proud of all we’ve achieved this week and already looking forward to my next Orbis programme.

Help support more volunteers like Dr. Le Cheminant to fight avoidable blindness around the world