• michaelsharpless

Fiji - The beginning

Updated: Mar 29, 2019

The idea for Surf-Aid first began in 2018 following a solo surf trip I organised in Fiji during my rostered holidays. A close mate of mine recommended Fiji as a great sport for a surf trip thats full of amazing waves. I organised to spend two weeks in Fiji, and thought it would be a great experience whilst there to check out one of the countries main hospitals. Through an Australian medical volunteering company called Doctours, I planned a 10 day placement at Latouka Hospital Emergency Department. The plan was to work during the week, and surf on the weekends.

Needless to say, the surf trip was absolutely amazing. I surfed some of the best waves of my life at breaks such as Wilkes, Namotu Left and Cloudbreak. I swam with manta rays, snorkelled pristine coral reef and enjoyed the local beers and food.

Surfing 5ft Wilkes Passage

Whilst the surf was pumping, what really blew me away was the hospital placement. I worked around 8 hour days, in a combination of morning and evening shifts, as one of three doctors in the emergency department. I was thrown well and truly into the deep end of a busy ED, given the responsibility of diagnosing and treating a variety of complex and critical patients with limited resources. The adrenaline and nerves from double overhead Wilkes didn't even come close to my experiences here! I was unprepared for how dispart the health care system was to that in Australia. First of all, the radiology department had burned down a fortnight before my arrival, which meant we had no access to x-rays. Patients had to be sent via bus on a 3 hour round trip to the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva for any diagnostic imaging. Secondly, there was a major shortage of consumable supplies that are vital for treatment, such as tourniquets, gloves, antiseptics, cannulas and syringes, so we had to be extremely careful in rationing of resources. Lastly, which was the most frightening, was the lack of access to medical information. There was one emergency text book, and one computer with slow internet access. As a result, I had to resorted to using my mobile phone for internet and downloaded medical texts, leaving me with a very expensive phone bill upon returning home.

Latouka Hospital, Fiji

My trip to Lautoka was a real eye opener, and whilst I was able to provide help for those 10 days, I wanted to provide aid with a longer lasting impact. Whilst I am unable to fix the radiology department or provide faster internet access, providing donations in the form of consumable supplies and medical texts was very achievable.

Over the course of 2018, upon returning to Brisbane, I managed to raise $2000 from friends and family, which I used to purchase 150 tourniquets, 100 kidney dishes and over 1000 alcohol swabs. I also received a generous donation of 10 Emergency Medicine Handbooks from my medical indemnity insurer Avant Mutual.

In 2019, I returned to Fiji, this time with a colleague. We donated the supplies to the hospital and worked in the emergency department for several days to ensure the the donations were being utilised correctly. The local hospital staff were so grateful for our assistance and to receive our donations. Whilst the contribution was only small, we felt what we provided was truly appreciated by the department and would help with the short term treatment of patients and long term education of the staff.

Surf-Aid was created as a simple way for both medical and non medical professionals to give back to these remote communities, whilst enjoying a surfing holiday. I strongly encourage anyone who has a passion for surfing world class waves and providing medical aid to join the Surf-Aid community and come with us on our next adventure.

A photo of me with several of the Latouka Emergency Department nurses and doctors, with the nurse on the left of the photo is holding the donated medical supplies.

#fiji #travel #emergency #medicine #surfing

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