Thanks to a scholarship from One Nurse At A Time, which was made possible by a generous donation from Omicrom Delta chapter of the Sigma Theta Tau, the honor society of nursing. I was able to participate in my second medical mission trip with Refuge International to San Raymundo, Guatemala in October 2014. Throughout the week the team provided primary care services to nearly 600 patients, and we were fortunate this year to have the skills of two general surgeons, an OB-GYN, a urologist and an orthopedic surgeon who completed 43 surgical procedures. Although I work at an urgent care center in the US, I was assigned to the OR area again this year as a circulating nurse. From hernias and hysterectomies to cystoceles and lap choles, patients were soon able to have relief from a range of conditions that had plagued them for months and in some cases even years! It was a wonderful opportunity to experience a different side of nursing while simultaneously using my Spanish language skills in the perioperative area.
In collaboration with the Asociacion Medica Quirurgica de San Raimundo, Refuge International makes three medical mission trips to San Raymundo each year as well as to other sites in Guatemala. The organization also participates in a nation-wide program called “Adios Lombrices,” which aims to rid school-age children of worms, and a clean water project, which involves constructing wells to provide clean water in rural areas. I was impressed by a group of strangers who can come together in such a short period of time and make the best of limited resources to provide much needed health care services. The clinic where we worked is only open when volunteer groups come to staff it, and it may be a month or longer before another group visits the area to provide another round of services.
Every medical trip has its challenges and frustrations, but they also have special joys and memories. As a healthcare professional I wonder how I am going make a connection with people from a different culture? On this trip, I was chatting with a woman in her 50’s as she was getting prepped for surgery, and I jokingly told her that after the surgery she would feel much better, and then we could have a party and go dancing. She smiled and nodded her head and then the anesthesia kicked in. Later in the recovery area, she was sitting in a chair and I asked her if she was ready to dance. Remembering our conversation, she smiled and said, “I’m sorry, but I only dance with my husband.” We laughed together and I wished her well in her recovery before heading back into the OR for my next case. Even though I did not perform the surgery, I know that smiles and laughter can alleviate fear, raise spirits and provide comfort. Smiles and laughter transcend cultural boundaries and serve as a reminder that nursing is more than IV pumps, documentation and call bells. When circumstances force you to get “back to the basics” you are quickly reminded that the patient is the focus of your work and that you can make a connection using the most available tool around--yourself.
Having traveled to Guatemala on several occasions, I do not experience the same culture shock as new travelers, but that does not mean that I am unaware of the poverty, living conditions or social struggles in the region. I make the trip knowing those problems exist and with the hope that my short time in the area might bring some needed relief. There is a quote attributed to Ronald Reagan that says “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” As a nurse I help someone every day as part of my job, but going to Guatemala is a special opportunity to help a different someone, and I hope that my participation in medical missions can inspire other nurses to reach out and find their “someone” to help.
Douglas Demo, RN