Sunday, November 8, 2009

Surgical Mission with Team ISHI

At the end of October I had the amazing opportunity to be part of a surgical mission in San Juan, Sacatepéquez.  The clinic there called Centro de Salud Bárbara (CSB) has recently installed two fully loaded operating rooms, complete with air conditioning! (A real luxury)  Partner for Surgery has helped to equip these ORs and find surgical teams to come and put them to good use.  This month's team was from New Jersey and goes by the title International Surgical Health Initiative (ISHI).  A team of 20 came down to Guatemala, including 6 surgeons, 2 anesthesiologists, 1 nurse anesthetist and 7 OR and recovery room nurses.  They even came with their own journalist, photographer, and two people to handle all the logists and plan making.  This was quite an organized bunch, to say the least, and I can't say enough about their efficiency.  We had a total of 60 patients scheduled to be operated on over the course of 5 days, but team ISHI finished in four.  Although they were very serious and extremely focused in the OR, team ISHI certainly knew how to have a good time when they were off the clock.

The patients came from a variety of areas within the departments of Alta and Baja Verapaz.  The majority spoke Q'eqchi', some spoke Spanish, and a few others spoke A'chi.  The language barrier would have posed quite a problem if it weren't for our collaborators from these areas.  Partner for Surgery contracts a few special local area managers who travel with the patients, stay with them at the patient shelter, and translate from Spanish to their native Mayan language.  We certainly kept these people busy as they were constantly on call; translating for the inital evaluation and often times entering the OR with the patient to keep them at ease.  Some of the patients really appreciated having someone there who spoke their language.  Others blindly followed whatever instructions the nurses were able to convey through body language and gestures.  I helped to interview some of the patients with ISHI's journalist, and most felt fine about the fact that the doctors didn't speak their language.  They said they were so happy to be able to have the surgery, an operation that they wouldn't be able to afford under normal circumstances, and they trusted this team of foreign surgeons to do a good job.

On a personal note, the whole week was incredible.  As someone who is interested in going into medicine, the experience couldn't get any better.  I was able to observe any surgery I chose throughout the week.  What was not a big deal to the doctors made my day, my week for that matter.  All of the doctors were incredibly nice and patient about explaining anatomical elements and answering all of my questions about the procedures.  I'm wondering if there is any possible way I would get experience like this in the States.    
(photos to come)

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