In nursing school, I was one of the lucky students given an opportunity to rotate
through the NICU at Buffalo Children’s Hospital. I fell in love with the pace,
the technology and the families. I worked, returned to school, expanded my
practice and finally settled in as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Santa Barbara,
CA. Simultaneously I desperately wanted babies of my own and adopted 3 from
Colombia. I retired from Nursing to raise my children knowing that one day I
would return to nations like Colombia and would participate in volunteer nursing.
In the meantime, I began working on local philanthropy projects with both of
my daughters in our local area, with National Charity League. Now the day has
arrived, my children are grown and off to college and/or working and I can pursue
my dream to make a difference. I have started slowly, working with ONAAT as
the scholarship coordinator, since it is exactly ONAAT is what I envisioned when I
pictured an organization to become involved with. The next step will be my own
Sunday, May 4, 2014
In the five days that we actually treated patients our clinic team saw 1038 patients. Our team completed 206 surgeries in that same five days, including OB/GYN, ophthalmology, plastic and general laparoscopic surgeries. A lot of gallbladder removals, hernia repairs, hysterectomies, mass removals and some cleft lip/palate repairs were done. The eye team repaired a lot of cataracts, pterygiums and patients that were cross-eyed. Our outreach group saw 327 patients and our stove team installed stoves in over 100 homes. Each home received an indoor stove, an outdoor stove and a water filtration system.
There were so many things that I enjoyed on the trip, it is hard to put into words. I loved the people I met, the friendships I made and the patients I was fortunate enough to take care of. I especially enjoyed taking care of the children. Living in an area where medical care is far and few between, it seemed the children were even more apprehensive than typical, which made it all the more rewarding when they would warm up to you.
Having to say goodbye to all my new friends was the hardest part of the trip. Sure, the bathrooms weren’t five-star and the spiders came in extra-large sizes, but I knew about all that before going into the trip. What I didn’t foresee was the relationships I would build in such a short amount of time. The people I got to work with on the mission were one-of-a-kind. All there to help others, all there on their own accord; I feel so lucky to have gotten the chance to work with them for a week.
The people of Guatemala were extremely gracious. Every single patient (and their family), that left after a surgery, whether I took care of them directly or not, would give me a hug, a kiss, tell me thank you and God bless you. The amount of gratitude they had was overwhelming and it has made me crave going back.
They all appeared to have very close-knit families. Every patient seemed to have at least one or two support people with them-even the ones who had traveled four or five hours for the care. No one complained that there weren’t enough beds for the family members to stay in-they stayed in chairs, on the floor and shared beds with each other.
There were so many wild dogs. I was told that most of the people of Guatemala view dogs as a burden and it’s rare to have one as a pet. I guess because I was naïve to this, it came as a shock to see so many roaming dogs, semi-friendly but not tame necessarily.
|Jello after surgery.|
One morning, I was able to observe a bilateral cleft lip repair surgery on a two year old. It was interesting to actually see the process of this common procedure (instead of just the end result as a recovery nurse). I had seen the two year old boy the day before preoperatively, and obviously during surgery, but the best part was seeing him very shortly after his surgery. I was working in the recovery room and got to see him shoveling down jello, pushing his mom away in a, “I can do this on my own” way. Crying and whining for more jello. It was a moment I will never forget—the way the mom was tearing up watching him eat—without a cleft lip, and him without a care in the world that he had just had surgery.
|Singing Happy Birthday to a patient.|
Every evening a few of our co-workers who brought down their guitars would lead us in hymns that we would sing in the recovery wing of the hospital. Patients and their family members would occasionally join, and a lot of the songs we would sing first in English and then in Spanish. The first night they did this it gave me chills, and on the last night (when we only had four patients left spending the night), it made me laugh and cry. We transitioned from hymns to campfire songs and I felt as giddy as a school child at summer camp. We sung for hours into the late night, different people stopping by to join in or request a song. Here, I was once again amazed at how quickly I had become so close to the people I was working with.
One evening when I was on shift and the group had gathered around to sing to the recovery patients I was given the sweetest gesture by a seven year old patient. After I had finished rounding on patients I came to the group to sing along. This polite, small, seven year old boy, who I had gotten to know well over the last two days as he was recovering from his surgery, got up without hesitation and offered up his stool to me. Without any words, he stood up and patted the top of the stool for me to sit down. Not knowing Spanish very well, I got it across to him that I would not take his chair from him. He insisted and then ran off, quickly returning with a second stool that he sat right next to mine. We sat together while I sung and he listened. His dad looked on from the back of the room and gave me a quick smile. It was a small gesture, but it was grand in my eyes as I felt connected to not only him, but the other pediatric patients despite our language barrier.
Now that I have been on a medical mission, my nursing career will never be the same. I am grateful for the opportunity I was given to go help others, but I know I am blessed because of what the people of Guatemala gave me. It’s hard to put into words, but I feel like they gave me more than I gave them. They gave me a deep happiness as well as an appreciation for what I have. Their graciousness and spirit will never be forgotten, and I am thankful for all that they taught me about family, love and perseverance. I know that I will not be able to have this be a one-time event—I am hooked and can’t wait to go back as soon as I can. I will for now on, incorporate medical missions into my future planning.