Every day is a school day!

Having come over from the UK and Ireland a few weeks ago, arriving in Phnom Penh was a bit of a shock to my system. First, the weather was hot and humid, and the traffic was crazy – tuk-tuks, motorcycles, and cars abound on the same streets as bicycles. Arriving on 31 July 2023 and starting work on 1 August didn’t leave me much time to acclimate. At the end of the day, I already felt like I had been there a year. After five years with the NHS, I expected change, but not such a wild experience.

On day one, the CSC staff was friendly and helpful, and the Khmer people were patient and accommodating. Jumping in feet first gave me a flavour of what was to come: daily trauma meetings, operating time, and a variety of surgical challenges that one would never or rarely see in the Western world. These activities were interspersed with ward rounds, clinics, and grateful patients from all over the country. Access to quality care remains problematic, particularly for poor rural Cambodians. A lot of the patients work in low-wage jobs and earn very little - healthcare is a privilege rather than a right. If most can’t afford it, they often do without it. Healthcare in Cambodia is not free, patients must pay for care be it a public or private hospital or clinic.

CSC is a charity organisation that treats operative patients as needed, whether they can pay a small amount or nothing at all.  CSC sees patients of all ages with Ophthalmic, Ear Nose and Throat, Reconstructive, and Orthopaedic pathologies. Most of the equipment is donated, and the staff battles challenging circumstances daily to offer the best outcome possible to these patients. It is common to see the long-term effects of unhealed fractures, dislocations, and tumours. Despite their history and hardships, these gentle souls demonstrate the positivity in humankind. This is reflected in the staff and patients at CSC - the grateful attitudes of the patients, despite months to years with an infected or poorly healed fracture. The institution operates under the motto of providing free or low-cost treatment to all Cambodians in need.

Despite being a small charity hospital, new collaborations with other local charity organisations are undertaken daily despite the threat of loss of their land and building and possible relocation. CSC relies on generous donors, in-kind donations, and visiting specialists to teach and advise on rare diseases and pathologies. However, training local Khmer specialists is crucial to CSC’s mission of providing sustainable healthcare. Post-COVID, charity organisations the world over are struggling. We would like to maintain this avenue to help bring the best outcomes for the Cambodian people, therefore we would be most grateful for any donations no matter how small to continue this very worthy endeavor. Just visit the website and look for "DONATE." I am very grateful for this medical opportunity - I will never forget it - as it demonstrates our genuine sincerity to help the more unfortunate in this world.

Author: Ellen Interlandi

Ellen, a registered nurse, and her husband Brian, an anesthesiologist, have been active volunteers at CSC since 2008. Ellen has undergraduate degrees in both Nursing and Spanish Literature, and a graduate degree in Health Management. Since 2020, Ellen has volunteered in the role of Stakeholder Relations, connecting with our generous supporters, interacting with visiting surgeons and students, and disseminating updates on Children's Surgical Centre.

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