Archive for January, 2010
The Surgical Volunteers International November 2009 mission was relatively small, with seven professionals departing to Haiti: Tom Flood, the director and organizer, an Anesthesiologist, a CNRA, a Plastic Surgeon and his office manager, a nurse, and myself, a plastic surgery resident. Believing that missionary care should not be a surgical conveyer belt, Mr. Flood purposely makes his missionary groups small to provide the patient with individual, personal care. The group’s small size also makes the mission for the members special — personable.
We arrive in Port Au Prince on Saturday night, and the following morning, three Haitian nurses and two Haitian nursing students join our group. Interestingly, the three nurses were previously nursing students on Mr. Flood’s last Haiti mission, returning yet again to help their fellow Haitians. That morning, we screen around sixty-five patients. As mission’s purpose is mainly cleft lips and palates, we could only schedule forty of the sixty, as some patients required a higher level of care. Mr. Flood makes plans for many of these remaining patients to return in February, 2010 – his next mission, when he will have a craniofacial expert. That afternoon, after the screening, Mr. Flood takes us a tour of Port Au Prince, which is our first introduction to Haiti’s enchantingly beautiful culture, juxtaposed against its disturbingly abysmal poverty.
On day two, we operate. Our facility is a quaintly small hospital with two operating rooms. As expected, the equipment is rudimentary and supplies limited. Yet the group’s members quickly show their expertise: amazing is the care quality they give, rivaling that in the United States. The Anesthesiologist and Nurse Anesthetist work proficiently and efficaciously in concert, one turning over the first operating room while the other works with the surgeons in the second. Their compulsively compassionate care insures no significant complications on our mission. The patients expediently move from the operating room to the pre- and postoperative care area, where our nurse tends to not only their needs, but the concerns of their loved ones – providing total and complete care. Our office manager organizes and governs the mission’s administrative functions, and with a myriad of checklists, she expeditiously dots all the I’s and crosses all the t’s. She also adds a motherly touch to its members, insuring that we are fed and hydrated as we consume ourselves in patient care. The Haitian nurses and nursing students work expeditiously, not only helping in surgical care, but also with translation and cultural intricacies. I help the plastic surgeon, witnessing his deftly creative skill with the scalpel — a true master of his art. More than just at surgery, he is a true Master of education, with the untold patience – he edifies and instructs, not just myself, but all those in his presence, especially the Haitian nurses and nursing students. The entire group works together dynamically, united in its patient care goal. Mr. Flood supervises the entire missionary process: under his umbrella, there is no politics, no arguing, no conflict — only a unified purpose safe and efficacious patient care.
At night, we meet for dinner to discuss the day’s events and tomorrow’s plans. Here, over dinner, I get to know the group’s members: not just their medical knowledge and patient devotion, but who they are: their interests, their beliefs – about their lives and their loved ones’ lives. United by the uncommon trait of selflessly giving, and augmented by the trust each develops for the other during patient care, a strong bond increasingly develops among the small group’s members. Respect, both professionally and ethically, grows each day, and friendships mature rapidly. In a foreign country with the joint goal of helping those who suffer, compassion connects the group’s members, whose only reward is the knowledge of each others’ charitable humanity. But I find myself entranced not just with the members’ humanity, but also their humility.
Not until I write this blog, performing research on the group’s members, do I appreciate their exceptional professional expertise. Our plastic surgeon, humble in character but not in feat, is a decorated military veteran and highly published author in the plastic surgery literature. Participating in eight previous humanitarian missions, he is also a veteran at charity. He was formerly Chief of Plastic Surgery at the Illinois Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children and an Associate Professor at Northwestern University Division of Plastic Surgery. Our Anesthesiologist, with five previous missions and also published in his field, is Director of Pediatric Regional Anesthesia and Assistant Professor at the Workew Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York, Columbia University Department of Anesthesia. Our nurse, who is actually a Nurse Supervisor at the University of Minnesota Community-University Health Care Center, is also missionary veteran, having completed eleven trips of charity. Our CNRA, a member of the Department of Pediatric Anesthesia at Children’s Hospital of New York Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, is an expert at missionary pediatric anesthesia. She has been on countless mission trips starting in 1992, completing four trips just to Haiti in 2009. She too is published, and her publications directly concern the topic of anesthetic care in developing countries — specifically the equipment and techniques to provide the safest, most efficacious missionary care. Indeed, this mission’s members are unusually talented, yet surprisingly humble, humanitarians.
I cannot explain the sense of heightened being – a greater awareness of life’s purpose and a more grounded perspective: the mission has greatly advanced me not just professionally, but spiritually emotionally. With newfound direction, I understand our nurse’s words to me: “on mission trips, you always get out of them more than you put into them.” I eagerly await my next chance to not join my colleagues and newfound friends on another mission; more generally, I look forward to my next chance to give to another.