“Back home they have this thing – if you’re going to surgery, you’re going to die.”

Evelyn is a senior staff nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital. She was born in The Gambia, and trained in the U.K.

Why did you train as a nurse?

My grandma was a midwife, my mum was a nurse – it’s part of me. When I grew up my dad said – and you listed to your parents! – nursing doesn’t pay here, you need to study something else. So I trained as a secretary, I was working with the UN in The Gambia.

But when I moved to the U.K. I saw technology was changing – you don’t really need a secretary, you’ve got a computer. So I’m going to do what I love to do, what I wanted to do when I was a child.

Tell me about access to surgery in The Gambia.

In The Gambia, healthcare is the biggest issue. People are just dying from things that they shouldn’t, and women are suffering the most. They don’t have the right equipment, they don’t get emergency obstetric care. I know of a cousin who just died giving birth back home. They couldn’t stop the bleeding.

So where do you go if you need surgery?

I have an uncle who nearly died – he had fluid on his lungs, but he was rushed to Senegal, because they couldn’t diagnose him in The Gambia. Half an hour flight away – but he would have died if he’d stayed; he would have died if he wasn’t working for a bank which paid for him to go.

When people have money they can rush to Senegal. But when they don’t – you have lost your life.

Do people worry about unsafe surgery?

Back home they have this thing – if you’re going to surgery, you’re going to die. Take medication, go to the doctor – that’s fine. But if they’re putting you to sleep?

It’s because they haven’t seen successful surgery. People aren’t diagnosed soon enough, so the surgery is much more complicated. My dad – we lost him – when you’d talk about an operation he’d say “oh no, no – I don’t want anybody to cut my body.”

My mum, too, was diagnosed wrongly. She’d had the problem ten years, and by the time we were able to get her to America she only had two weeks. They used to give her cough mixture, but her heart was gone. The doctors couldn’t believe she had traveled so far.

How does this change?

People need to be educated. They need to be informed that surgery will help. For me, since I’ve been here, I’ve really changed my perspective. We were never taught that surgery could do that.

Both my parents gone because they couldn’t get diagnosed properly; they couldn’t get treated in time.

So many people visit Gambia, they can see all this. But it’s a tourist place for them. They go for the holiday and everything else is just put aside.

 You have so many difficult stories. I’m sorry to make you go through them all again.

I enjoy caring for people; I enjoy it so much. That’s why I’m in this field. I like helping people and I like education. I do health checks at my local church, and I always encourage women to take care of their health.

It’s ok. If telling stories can help to let people know what’s happening – if it can make a difference – then I want to share them.