A new beginning…

Finding my feet in living for Jesus.

Archive for the ‘elective’ Category

How many languages?!

Posted by lauraoli on November 10, 2010

Going to Madagascar was terrifying for many reasons. The main one was the language barrier. I speak English, and not really anything else. As those of you who read my blog know, I went to Montpellier earlier this year to brush up on my French – the language of the more educated and of the missionaries out in Mandritsara. Once I arrived, I realised just how limited my French actually was, and how much Malagasy was spoken in and around the hospital.

As the weeks went on, my French improved quite dramatically – I managed to spend time with English speaking doctors in the hospital, but there was another girl there from Switzerland who didn’t speak English, so we had to talk to each other in French. This was great, she was very patient with me and I carried around a dictionary on my ipod, so we were able to communicate pretty well!

Also, once a week there were bible studies for the missionaries – again in French. We were working through 1 Samuel, and for the first couple of weeks I had absolutely no idea what was going on. By the end of my visit however, it was really noticeable how much more I could understand.

But the really big thing that struck me out there with all the different languages was that all these people had a relationship with the same God. He transcends all languages and all cultures, and this was something I’d never had an opportunity to realise firsthand before. During the bible studies, if we were asked to read a section of the passage, everyone did so in the language of their bible – English, Dutch, German, Malagasy and French were all used. Prayers were said in any of these languages too, so even though I didn’t understand some of what was going on, they were still talking to the same God that I talk to when I pray in English. That’s pretty cool!

On one Saturday, we were having a ‘jolly Samedi’ (food, worship, chat, games etc) and 2 ½ year old Keziah announced she wanted to sing ‘My God is so big, so strong and so mighty…’ So we did. In English, French and Malagasy!

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty there’s nothing that he cannot do! (x2) The rivers are his, the mountains are his, the stars are his handiwork too, My God is so big, so strong and so mighty there’s nothing that he cannot do!

Mon Dieu est si grand, si fort et si puissant, rien n’est impossible à mon Dieu! (x2) Les monts sont à lui, les lacs sont à lui, les cieux sont sa création. Mon Dieu est si grand, si fort et si puissant, rien n’est impossible à mon Dieu!

Andriamanitro, lehibe sy mahery, tsy misy tsy hainy atao! (x2) Ny ranomasina, ny tanety koa, ny lanitra azy avoko, Andriamanitro, lehibe sy mahery, tsy misy tsy hainy atao!

And just to finish – here’s a video I took at the children’s holiday bible club of the kids singing this song.


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All creatures great and small…

Posted by lauraoli on October 4, 2010

So, although I didn’t meet Alex the lion, Marty the zebra or Melman the giraffe in Madagascar, I did become acquainted with many of the creepy crawlies resident in and around the guesthouse that was my home during my time in Mandritsara. From the shock of seeing a gecko run across the wall in my bedroom on the first day, to having to step around a snake on the way to church and catching poisonous millipedes in my room (see photos below), my previous mega-phobia of all things that crawled (particularly spiders) was challenged, to say the least! My new best friend became my mosquito net – once I was safely in bed and the net was tucked in under my mattress, no creepy crawlies could penetrate my safe zone, and that became my haven. However, as much as I got used to the animals scurrying around, I still don’t like spiders.

The aforementioned millipede...

A really big spider

A chameleon!

The aforementioned snake...

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A lesson in God’s sovereignty

Posted by lauraoli on October 1, 2010

I survived! I have now been back in the UK for just over a week, after spending 7 weeks in Madagascar at a mission hospital in the rural north-eastern part of the country.

My original criteria for an elective placement:

  1. An English speaking country
  2. A developed country
  3. Somewhere that didn’t require a long journey
  4. A highly specialised hospital, preferably paediatric

HVM, Mandritsara, Madagascar:

  1. A Malagasy/ French speaking country
  2. A developing country
  3. Outbound journey required a total of 18 hours flying time and a 22 hour taxi journey over the course of 4 days
  4. A generalised mission hospital, serving the needs of the community in the best way it can

Laura the surgeon!

Just a few short months ago, the idea of going to somewhere like HVM for 7 weeks was a ridiculous idea. I have never had any inclination to spend any length of time in Africa and I have always imagined my future to be here, in the UK.

However, God has certainly taught me over the last year that he is most definitely in charge and that he knows best.

I had the absolute time of my life in Mandritsara. I did things I never thought I could (including spending a night in a remote village with the Community Health Team, with no running water, no electricity, no phone signal, no toilets and no English speaking person) and my whole world has sort of been turned upside down.

In third year of medicine, I did 8 weeks of surgery and I hated every minute. I was certain I never wanted to be a surgeon. In Madagascar, Dr. Mann, the surgeon, is the only qualified surgeon for an area equivalent to Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, Surrey and Greater London combined. Without him, people with acute surgical emergencies would simply die. The difference he makes on a daily basis is incredible, and opened up my eyes to the possibility of specialising in something that would be the most useful, rather than the most enjoyable. I spent a lot of my time in theatre, and I began to realise I actually could enjoy it – something that I wasn’t expecting at all! God has also opened my eyes to the possibility of doing some sort of mission work in the future. Seeing the difference the hospital makes in the lives of the local community was wonderful, and incredibly rewarding.

There were many things I learned whilst away, and I had some amazing experiences. This is just the first post of many to come!

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This is it!

Posted by lauraoli on August 2, 2010

So… in just a couple of hours I will be leaving home to go to Manchester airport to get the first of three flights. The first to London Heathrow, then overnight tonight to Johannesburg, then tomorrow mid-morning to Antananarivo (the capital of Madagascar). I will stay overnight in a hotel, before getting a ‘taxi-brousse’ to Mandritsara, which, if it goes well, should take a mere 20 hours!

I haven’t quite finished packing, almost everything is in the bag, and I am praying and hoping that I manage to stay within the 20kg weight limit. £35 per kilo charge per extra kilo isn’t really affordable!

This adventure up until now has been a huge learning curve, and I’m pretty sure that it’s only really starting. This trip is completely and utterly outside of my comfort zone, and although I’m very excited, I’m pretty apprehensive too.

I won’t be able to blog whilst in Madagascar, the internet is basically non- existent. Just before I go, I wanted to share this video – what a brilliant way to act in a crisis!

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God truly is omnipresent!

Posted by lauraoli on July 3, 2010


One (major) issue of going to Madagascar for my elective is that I need to be able to communicate in French. The last time I did any French was for my GCSE, 8 years ago (that makes me feel SO old!) and so I have been trying to brush up on my skills. For the past few weeks I have been listening to some ‘teach-yourself-French’ CDs that a friend from church lent me, but I knew I needed to do a lot more to be at a decent standard by August. So this last week I have spent the week in Montpellier, on the south coast of France at Accent Francais language school.

I was really nervous about going to Montpellier, not only because my French really isn’t so good, but because I was being hosted by a French family and I was worried about whether I would get on with them. I found the first couple of days incredibly lonely and baffling, was quite emotional and began to count down the days until I could leave.

It was on the second night when I was feeling very low, I got out my bible to read and had the realisation that however lonely I was, and even though I didn’t understand the language, God was with me. It was a truth that I had known, but the reality of it hit me in those solitary hours.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.                                                                                                                                                                   Deuteronomy 31:8

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.                                                                                                                                 Joshua 1:9

These verses and the truth that they hold will be very comforting in Madagascar I expect!

The rest of the week went really well, I made friends with some of the other students,  began to understand a lot more of what my host said to me, and was actually quite sad to leave today! God definitely gave me the strength to get through the week.

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Things that can go wrong on elective…

Posted by lauraoli on April 9, 2010

This is taken from a presentation given by my medical school in preparation for elective.

Things that can go wrong…

Adverse events occurring on medical electives in 2006 across 9 medical schools in the UK.

  • 7 Deaths
    • 2 cases due to road traffic accidents in Zambia and South Africa
    • 1 case in Sri Lanka due to drowning
    • 1 case in Australia – ‘circumstances unrelated to placement’
    • 1 case due to carbon monoxide poisoning in a shower in South Africa
    • 1 case due to climbing accident
    • 1 case of suicide on return from elective
  • Serious non-fatal accidents
    • 52 leading to spinal injuries
    • Road traffic accidents
      • 1 leading to amputation and renal failure
      • 2 whilst on holiday after placement
  • Crime related
    • 71 stabbings
    • 1 shooting
    • 3 muggings
    • 2 serious sexual assaults


  • Several reports of theft; numbers unknown
  • 11 needle-stick injuries in operating theatres
  • Infectious disease
    • 3 cases of malaria
    • 2 cases of schistosomiasis
    • 1 case of para-typhoid fever
    • 1 case of amoebic dysentry
  • 1 case of medical evaluation required
  • 3 serious episodes of psychiatric disorders
  • Political issues
    • 42 arrests in Israel
    • 2 cases of airlifting out of Ethiopia and Guyana due to civil disturbances

I’m not going to pretend that I’m not terrified now…

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Posted by lauraoli on April 6, 2010

At the beginning of 4th year medicine (next year), students at my medical school undertake an elective. This is a 6 week placement in any hospital anywhere in the world. The general advice from the med school is to start organising it about 18 months in advance. I, however, have only just got mine finalised (4 months before I go).  I’m not the most organised of people.

I avoided organising it for as long as possible, simply because I just didn’t know where I wanted to go. I finally decided on the US – it is a developed country, they speak English, I know someone in Seattle…. all in all it was a safe option. But that was exactly what it was. Safe. After several months of rejections and dead ends, I began to question my motives. I also spoke to many people at the CMF conference (see previous post ‘CRASH CALL’) and they all had really amazing stories of their time in developing nations. This made me change my mind, and try to challenge myself.

I am now going to a small mission hospital in a town called Mandritsara in the rural north of Madagascar. I am terrified. It’s possibly the complete opposite of what I had originally hoped for…. it’s a very poor nation, they speak French (I don’t) and I won’t know anyone. However, God has made it pretty clear to me that this is where I am supposed to be going. The number of ‘coincidences’ since sorting it has slightly freaked me out – from reading the first chapter of a book I’ve had for ages which turned out to be about a couple of medical missionaries who went to the same hospital, to speaking to someone I have babysat for for over 2 years and discovering that they went to Madagascar on their medical elective 20 years ago, before finally the person I have a one-to-one bible study with announcing that she knows the doctors that run the hospital. I think that I’ve had enough signs now, God. You’ve made your point!

On a small side note…. I actually haven’t seen the film ‘Madagascar’. I think I need to rectify this situation as soon as possible. People keep quoting it at me, and I have no idea what they are talking about.

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