Tim Cowan

I am the Sterilizer for the mission and my day starts at the hospital when I enter a restricted area and go into a male change area to don my hospital scrubs, mask and gloves and cover my head.

The scrub nurse will bring the instruments used in the surgery and place them into a decontamination bucket.  The bucket has a 20% bleach solution and they soak for 10 minutes.  They are then scrubbed with a  brush to remove any blood and flesh or bone that may remain from surgery. Following the scrubbing, the instruments are washed in a soapy solution and finally rinsed. The whole process requires special eye protection and the wearing of heavy gloves. There is a real potential for infection from blood-borne diseases, when handling very sharp instruments. From here the instruments are taken to the sterilization room, sorted into various surgical kits for sterilization.

There are basically two types of autoclaves used for sterilization.  The large main autoclave has a turnaround time of 11/2 hours to 2 hours.  The smaller autoclave has a turnaround time of about 37 minutes.

instruments are not the only items that need to be sterilized. Almost anything that will be used in surgery must go through sterilization including towels, sheets, gowns, caps, sponges and other items.

The process can be best described as doing dishes and laundry with periods of  intense steaming activity followed by long periods of waiting.

I have been partnered with a sterilization specialist employed by the hospital who earns 8 birr/hour ($.40/hr).  Her name is Mesir and is quiet and gentle and can read english and has a basic understanding of the spoken word.  We have got along well and I have enjoyed working with her.


Tim at work preparing some equipment for sterilization.


This a a closeup view of the flash sterilizer that Rotaplast Canada purchased and sent to the hospital before we arrived.


Tim’s partner is scrubbing the instruments used in a previous surgery, in preparation for sterilization.

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