Eileen Goersdorf is an Operating Theatre nurse and worked in South Sudan, Gaza and Nigeria
Eileen Goersdorf is an Operating Theatre (OT) nurse based in Darwin. Eileen, originally from Germany, has a background in intensive care nursing in Europe and Australia. Her first placement with Médecins Sans Frontières was to Aweil in South Sudan, assisting primarily in gynaecological and obstetric surgery. The work was difficult and sometimes heartbreaking with many women presenting to hospital for caesarean section (the most common emergency surgery performed by Médecins Sans Frontières) extremely late, sometimes after first spending days at home in agony with a labour that was failing to progress. "A number of the foetuses were already dead. From talking to the women in South Sudan, it’s common to have about eight or ten children, but only end up keeping two of them. It was very sad to see, but our job was to help as many mothers as possible to keep their babies alive.’’ Part of Médecins Sans Frontières objectives in Aweil involves educating local women and traditional birth attendants about the importance of seeking medical attention earlier rather than later and showing the community that by giving birth in a health facility, attended by trained medical staff a woman’s life and that of her baby need not be put in extreme danger.
Also in Aweil, Eileen assisted in a number of paediatric surgeries. According to Eileen "Most of the children’s injuries were burns that happened inside their family’s huts". Previously, Eileen had little experience working with burns victims but she learnt quickly. "There was no burns unit in Aweil, so we couldn’t do skin grafts because at the time we didn’t have the instruments or the surgeon; we just had to dress the wounds to minimise infection and scarring." Eileen even found herself delivering physiotherapy to burns victims as part of their rehabilitation.
"From talking to the women in South Sudan, it’s common to have about eight or ten children, but only end up keeping two of them. It was very sad to see, but our job was to help as many mothers as possible to keep their babies alive.’’
After South Sudan, and a few months home in Darwin, Eileen accepted another Médecins Sans Frontières placement, this time to Jahun in Nigeria. Her role here was to assist in repairing obstetric fistulas, socially stigmatising injuries caused by obstructed labour. Essentially a hole forms between a woman’s vagina and her urethra or bowel, causing her to leak urine or faeces. "It is heartbreaking meeting [the patients] when they first come to the hospital, but then they realise they aren’t alone and slowly start to blossom. If we can fix their problem, social rehabilitation happens almost automatically." Sadly, not all fistulas are repairable; the best method of treatment is prevention which is possible when births are attended by skilled medical staff who know at what point it is necessary to intervene.
Eileen’s third placement was in Gaza, in the Palestinian Territories. She worked at the government run Khan Younes hospital, in an area where some locals have been refugees for over 64 years. Here, under a canvas hospital tent she aided in the provision of specialised reconstructive plastic and orthopaedic surgery. Eileen has many stories to tell of her time in Gaza, including that of Amna, a 33 year old mother of five, with a hand severely disfigured in an accident many years ago. "The team transferred one of her tendons and now she can move her hand. As a test, we made her hold on to a piece of paper, and she could. Her hand still hurts after not being used for five years and she has to do a lot of physio, but with five children, every hand comes in useful."