Category Archives: Surgical Safety

Plans and propellers

President Dwight Eisenhower once observed that he had always found that plans are worthless, but planning is everything.’

A few weeks ago, my plan for this particular moment involved flying out from Heathrow to join the hospital crew on board the Africa Mercy. However while the ship was docked in South Africa for routine maintenance, they discovered an issue with the port propeller shaft. Presumably, a massive ship with unilateral propulsion problems would end up doing the nautical equivalent of chasing it’s own tail! So there has been a necessary delay in the ship returning to Madagascar while this is all being sorted out.

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My new departure date of 26th August should coincide with the ship’s planned arrival in Madagascar, and although there probably won’t be time to join the operating team in theatres on board (at least for now), our team should be right on schedule to start the national surgical safety improvement project.

So plans may have changed, but the planning continues! In fact, in the last few days I have had the opportunity to meet up and plan with the other UK member of our travelling team – Ali Herbert, an Anaesthetic Nurse who has served with Mercy Ships many times before. I seem to have accidentally given her the impression that I will be going running with her at 5.30 in the mornings. This alarms me. I have bought new trainers.

It has also given me time to reflect on the principle expressed at the beginning of this post. In many ways, anaesthetic training encourages you to plan meticulously for unlikely eventualities. Ideally, in the very process of this planning, you equip yourself to acknowledge and deal with a constantly evolving situation, and prepare yourself to quickly abandon your ‘plan A’ if necessary.

Even if a plan may eventually be abandoned, the process of planning is valuable in itself, and the effort is often not wasted.

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On a personal level however, it can be challenging to hold lightly to expectations, and not become disappointed or anxious if things don’t go as you expect. It is also not always straightforward to navigate the narrow boundary between prudently planning (which can help you focus, prepare, and clarify) and worrying fruitlessly about things beyond our ability to control. Worrying, rather than helping you move forward, leaves you going in circles like the dog after it’s tail, wearing ourselves out without actually getting anywhere.

‘Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?’ – Luke 12:25

‘If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it is not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.’ – Dalai Lama XIV.

I have a feeling that plans will need to be changed many times in the course of the next 6 months, especially with the amount of travel we will be doing on roads that are intermittently impassable in bad weather! But that is for another day. ‘Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength – carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of it’s sorrow, it empties today of it’s strength.’ Thanks, Corrie ten Boom. For now, I will take today as it comes, and continue with planning, packing, and enjoying the unexpected gift of a bonus few days with family!