An Israeli gynecological oncologist took a trip to a Chinese village to share his knowledge and carry out vital surgeries.
With the aid of an interpreter and a smattering of improvised pantomime, a gynecological oncologist from Haifa in northern Israel spent three weeks in northeastern China working alongside local surgeons. Dr. Amnon Amit demonstrated advanced laparoscopic procedures while treating 18 women suffering from ovarian and uterine tumors.
When he arrived in Xinghua, a village of 120,000 residents, Amit expected to be met by the head surgeon and to work with him almost exclusively. But the medical staff of the basic, 1,200-bed facility greeted him with great fanfare and excitement. "I had an amazing reception," says Amit. "There was a big welcoming party."
Israeli oncologist Amnon Amit got an amazing welcome when he flew to Xinghua to work alongside local surgeons. (Photo courtesy Rambam Health Care Campus)
Amit discovered that although the Chinese hospital workers weren’t sure exactly where Israel is located, they had heard all about the country’s accomplishments. "They believe the Israeli people are very wise and successful since we have done amazing things in just 60 years. They went for many years without any connection to the Western world, and now they want to follow our example of quick success."
Operating with "no limitations"
Over the course of three weeks in August, the hospital’s staff not only worked with Amit but also invited him to dinner and to their own homes so he could get to know them on a personal as well as professional level. He even attended the wedding of one of the nurses, at her insistence.
Mostly, however, the encounters centered on the patients. "I came to work – not to have fun – so I made myself available to them any time they needed me," Amit recounts. "We operated with no limitations."
Amnon Amit and the staff from the hospital in Xinghua in China (Photo courtesy Rambam
Health Care Campus)
Both physicians and patients expressed warm gratitude to the Israeli doctor, who performed eight hysterectomies and removed tumors from 10 women. "The days were so long that the translator was exhausted and I sent her home at 6 or 7 each evening and managed to communicate with my hands and gestures," he says. "It was kind of an adventure."
Amit describes the Chinese hospital as overcrowded and rather primitive. It has neither air conditioning nor offices for doctors and administrators. "They had no Internet, no English – the primary language of all medical literature – and were simply isolated," he reports. "This was a beginning, though; we were able to expose them to modern medicine."
However, Amit stresses that the learning was not just one-directional. He was open to discovering Chinese treatment methodologies from his host physicians.
Best possible type of diplomacy
"I gained a different way of thinking about things. I would teach them a technique and they would ask why I did it that way, and I would explain that this was the way I was taught. And they would say, ‘Look, I think we can do it a different way,’ and you stop and think that maybe they’re right," says Amit. "There are always multiple ways to solve problems."
Rambam Health Care Campus ‘loaned’ Amit to the medical humanitarian mission, which was arranged through MATAT, a 16-year-old Israeli non-profit that sends experts in various fields to disadvantaged parts of the world upon request. The Chinese government paid for Amit’s flights and accommodation.
Amit hopes to return some day to see the new medical facility planned to better serve Xinghua’s growing population. In the meantime, he is in regular contact with the surgeons there to offer guidance as they practice the techniques he demonstrated. Plans are now underway to bring the Chinese team to Rambam, as well as for a return trip of Rambam personnel.
"I hope very much that this was just the start," says Amit, who is involved in facilitating a working relationship between the head of the Xinghua hospital and the head of RHCC with the aim of broadening their areas of cooperation beyond gynecological oncology.
Though the volunteer mission was hard work, Amit says he enjoyed his ‘ambassadorship’: "The people of Xinghua received much-needed medical attention. They also got to know a little about Israel, regarded us in a completely positive light, and were grateful for our services. Not only did this address a widespread medical need; it was the best possible type of diplomacy for Israel."