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Dr. Michael Boroditsky with a nurse at a hospital in Jahun, Nigeria

By MYRON LOVE Like his father (Richard Boroditsky) before him, Dr. Michael Boroditsky chose to pursue a career as an obstetrician and gynecologist.


“I always wanted to be a physician,” he says. “I was inspired by my father’s passion for gynecology. What I like about my field of practice is that obstetrics and gynecology combines a variety of medical skills with the opportunity to be an advocate for my patients and women’s health issues.”
This past spring, Boroditsky, you might say, raised the ante as far as his professional experience is concerned. What he witnessed and experienced over five weeks in March and April as a doctor in northern Nigeria for the medical organization, Doctors Without Borders (Medicins Sans Frontieres) went far beyond any challenges he has ever faced before.
Now, Nigeria was not the Winnipeg gynecologist’s first overseas mission. IN 2015, he recalls, just after the major earthquake in Nepal (a small, poor mountainous country in the Himalaya Mountains on India’s northern border), Boroditsky responded to an appeal from the International Red Cross, the organization that was leading the relief efforts.
“A colleague of mine told me that the Red Cross was looking for an obstetrician to help the relief efforts in Nepal,” he says. “I heard from my friend on a Friday and was in a position where I could leave the following Monday.”
The arduous journey, he recounts, took 33 hours, capped off by a 100KM drive from Katmandu (Nepal’s Capital City) to the affected area – a drive that took almost seven hours because of the damage.
“The Red Cross had set up a makeshift hospital for outpatient care and children’s and maternal health,” he says.
He was in Nepal for about four weeks delivering outpatient care. The people, he remembers, were poor but very friendly and the country was beautiful,” he says.
His experience in Nepal whetted his appetite for overseas missions. “I had felt the urge to help women in need in other parts of the world and have some different experiences,” he comments.
To that end, he sought out Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). For more than 40 years, the Nobel Prize-winning organization has been providing medical assistance to people affected by armed conflicts, natural disasters, disease epidemics, malnutrition crises and other emergencies. MSF, Boroditsky reports, has more than 30,000 staff members worldwide.
What he experienced in Jahun in distant northern Nigeria was far different than his experiences in Nepal and certainly different  from what the cases he comes across in his Winnipeg practice.
Jahun, he reports, is a mainly Muslim area is a region where kidnapping is rife and Islamic extremist violence (think Boko Haram) is not that far away.
One of the many challenges that he faced was the heat – 40-50 degrees Celsius. “It was so hot that his surgical glasses tended to fog over,” he says. “I had to drink at least ten times a day and supplement that with electrolytes to avoid excessive heat loss. I was showering four or five times a day. At least the mornings – when the temperature was around 25 – weren’t bad – but you couldn’t go out in the middle of the day.”
In Musim northern Nigeria, men often have more than one wife – and women – often while still teenagers – have babies. Boroditsky notes that where Winnipeg hospitals deliver 5,500-5.800 babies a year, the hospital he was working in at Jahun records 9,000 deliveries annually.
And, the level of need at the hospital is such that women having babies have to share beds in the wards.
“There is just one obstetrician in the area,” Boroditsky reports, “and the infant mortality rate is about 800 per 100,000 as compared to seven per 100,000 in Canada.
“The number of still births is around 15%. In Canada, there is one stillbirth for every 1,000 babies born.
“And a large number of the young women I saw were suffering from malnutrition and anemia.”
He notes that the large number of sick and dying patients took getting used to. “I am not trained to treat conditions such as congestive heart failure or sepsis,” he says. And you don’t have a medical team to support you as I would have in Winnipeg. You just do the best you can.”
Despite the many challenges – including 80-90 hour work weeks – in Jahun, Boroditsky found the experience to be rewarding. “You get to use every facet of your training,” he says. “In some ways, in a place like Jahun, it is easier to make medical decisions. There is no second guessing or second opinions. There are no other doctors or hospitals as options.
“You just have to do the best you can.”
Now, from other interviews this writer has done with (or books that I have read about) people who have had similar experiences to Boroditsky where life and death decisions are constant, coming home to their regular “First World” lives can be a tough adjustment. Doctors Without Borders, Boroditsky notes, does provide psychiatric and psychological counseling.
“I was okay,” he says. “It helped that I was writing daily letters and emails to family putting down my thoughts. We also kept in touch regularly by Skype.”
The biggest issue for Boroditsky on his return, he reports, was exhaustion.
“I took four additional days off work when I got back to catch up on sleep,” he says.
Boroditsky describes Doctors Without Borders as an excellent organization and, he says, he is prepared to tackle further missions for them – maybe every couple of years.