I was pretty stoked to have the opportunity to visit Timor Leste again. I was last there over 10 years ago and was very intrigued to see how much this young country had (or had not) changed. But before jumping into the placement at Bairo Pite Clinic (BPC), TIME UQ had organised some invaluable readings and workshops to prep us for our four week elective. The workshops provided us with students (many whom had now finished their medical degrees) to give us first hand accounts of some of the stressors and/or highlights experienced during their previous time at BPC. Hence, the four of us arrived feeling much better prepared than we would of otherwise had.
I was lucky enough to have a mate working at the National Hospital in Dili. He was able to pick me up from the airport and orientate me around Dili. In 2006, when I was last in Dili, it was a skeleton of a city. Most of its Timorese inhabitants had fled to the mountain districts and infrastructure was lacking. Now there are busy sealed roads, traffic lights and even a Gloria Jeans and Burger King (not sure if that's a good thing!).
The numbers of malei (foreigners) working at the clinic fluctuates greatly throughout the year. Prior to our arrival, two med students had pretty much run the treatment room along with Timorese doctors looking after the outpatients and another doctor from the UK supervising. On our arrival there were another three doctors from Sweden and another Kiwi med student to work alongside the timorese medical staff.
Three timorese medical students arrived on our second week. We spent a heap of time learning/reviewing investigations such as ultrasound, ECGs and X-rays together. While it sounds quite obvious, the differentials list for most common presenting complaints can be somewhat different in Timor Leste. Non-pulmonary tuberculosis and typhoid being two of the more common pathologies to think about.
Over the next four weeks we rotated through paediatrics, TB wards, general medicine and the treatment room. Spending a week in each of these wards gave us enough time to get to know the timorese staff and follow through with the patients. There was always plenty to do. Whether it was helping out in the treatment room if things got busy or reading up on a patient's provisional diagnosis, keeping busy wasn't a problem.
During our days off we all managed to keep busy and see the sights that Timor Leste had to offer. On my first day off I borrowed a mates mountain bike and ventured off with a group of riders. The first 30mins or so we're ok, but turns out that was just to get to the start/meeting point. From there it was uphill for 2hrs (took the others a lot less than that!). Was an interesting way to acclimatise. Other days off were spent along the coast camping, fishing and snorkelling. We managed to squeeze in a trip south to Mau Bisse and a weekend on the beautiful Atora Island.
The end of the four weeks came out of nowhere and before I knew it I was saying my goodbyes. The people of Timor Leste truly are lovely. While I didn't feel as though I had contributed much at all, they were all so thankful that we had come. I can't wait for my next opportunity to visit and work in Timor Leste.