Interplast Australia is a Rotary initiative supported by AIDAB (Australian International development Assistance Bureau) which provides Plastic Surgery training and expertise to South Pacific islands. Now in its eleventh year of operation, volunteer Interplast teams have performed 6,022 Plastic Surgery operations during the first ten years. It was my pleasure to participate in one of these teams, to Labasa on the island of Vanua Levu in Fiji between 9 and 27 March 1991.
The team members were Alan McLeod (Melbourne Plastic Surgeon), Ken Robson (Adelaide Plastic Surgeon), Andrew Hardy (Adelaide Anaesthetist – now a member of the Rotary Club of Coromandel Valley) and Wendy Nowacki (Melbourne Theatre Sister).
When the team set off ripples of war half the world away were felt, when security wanted to know what was in our bags and did we pack them ourselves. One look at our jam-packed bags, a weakening of resolve and our innocence was presumed. At check-in our contacts ensured that here, as everywhere, our gear was carried free.
Meanwhile, a storm at Nadi and an Air New Zealand plane bogged down on the taxi way were conspiring to keep the team mushroomed in the limbo of the Departure Lounge (a disgrace to the nation) at Tullamarine. Unbowed, the teamed encamped at the Park Royal long enough to steal the soap before the second attempt at down – via Sydney and more delay. On arrival at Nadi, immigration and customs formalities were expedited and our flight luggage was held for us. It would have been perfect had the luggage been somewhere near the front of the hold. The Arrivals Hall was almost empty before we were ready to go. Tired, hungry and smelly, we arrived in Labasa an hour and a half late. Things were about to get better. Rajesh Chandra and a half Labasa Rotary Club met us and in a flurry of introductions, we set off in convoy to the Grand Eastern Hotel.
The Grand Eastern it wasn’t, but it was clean, the staff, geckos and frogs were friendly. Evenings on the veranda as the fruit bats flew over were welcome respite from the day. As Somerset Maugham said there is no more pleasant sound than the tinkling of ice in a glass at sunset (but don’t rely on the fridge in 104 degrees for the cubes).
Rajesh Chandra and the Labasa Rotary Club were excellent and generous hosts, and the theatre staff were excellent – Sister Salote, Drs Turalba and Jiminez from the Philippines; Drs Ying Hong and Yong Bai from China; Dr James from Burma; and the locals “Tina” and Paul Rokosawa.
As it was only a few months since the last visit, there weren’t as many people to see as usual. About 40 were seen on the first day, with enough operating to fill the rest of the week. A steady trickle filled the second week. Overall, there were 64 consultancies and 32 operations.
In general, the instruments and equipment were satisfactory. The osteotomes needed sharpening and guarded nasal chisel (Frenchay pattern) would have been useful. Stronger needles on the 6-0 nylon, and 4-0 Prolene or Ethibond for tendon sutures would have been useful, as would more Betadine and more gloves.
I undertook to look at the possibility of the Morialta Club providing a simple operating microscope, designed by Professor Douglas Coster at Flinders.
The anaesthetic equipment performed satisfactorily although there were problems with paediatric circuits, the absence of the neonatal/infant resuscitation bag of the Laerdale type, and damage to the pulse oximeter. Drug supplies were adequate but antistaphylococcal cover was noticeably absent. Smaller vials of antibiotics for the children, two bottles of halothane, a few single vials of thiopentone and a lot of sterile water and saline would be useful. The hospital was, however, well stocked with local anaesthetics.
President 1994 – 1995
Page 111 of A Ten Year History 1984-1994