July 29, 2013
By: Caitlyn Williams
Junior Women's Tennis Player
A typical summer for a tennis player consists of week after week of tennis tournaments. A weeklong medical mission trip to Guatemala, however, was on my plate this past June. John Hollingsworth, a nurse anesthetist and a good friend of my dad told me that they could use another Spanish translator for their medical team.
The University of Tennessee had my Spanish terminology in top form, as I have been able to take several of their classes the past two years. There were around 25 of us in total; just five were doctors. We went with the Faith in Practice team; a church based out of Texas. Every person traveled with a small duffle bag and a large trunk full of medical supplies for the surgeries.
DAY ONE - GUATEMALA!
We flew a good portion of the day Saturday, and arrived in a very wet Guatemala City. An hour bus ride up the mountain to the city of Antigua proved difficult due to heavy rains. We weren't sure if this was going to be a trend or not for the weeklong trip. We then took a quick tour of the Obras- the hospital where we would be working, and the Casa de Fe-a Ronald McDonald house with 100 beds used for patients before and after surgery, giving them a warm, safe place to stay. Finally, we arrived at our hotel and had a great dinner prepared by our team chefs. I believe everyone was asleep by 8 p.m. that night.
Every morning before the day began, we gathered in an outdoor sitting area with a fire, and had a devotional period, mainly focusing on answering the question of why God chose this group to go to Guatemala to help others.
DAY TWO - GETTING TO KNOW THE PATIENTS
Sunday was triage day; we checked the patients and made sure they were fit for surgery. First, they would see the doctor that would be performing the surgery, and then the patient would come to Anesthesiology, and make sure no problems would arise when they were put to sleep. This day, I worked with my dad's friend John, and we tag-teamed the patients. He would ask a question in English, and I would have to translate to the patient in Spanish and relay the response. Nerves got the better part of me for the first twenty minutes, but eventually we perfected the system, and saw close to 30 patients within only a few hours. Rain hit again that afternoon, so a tour of the city was out of the question. Early dinner and early bed were necessities because surgeries started the next day.
DAY THREE - SURGERY & SCRUBS
It was a 5 a.m. start on Monday for the team, and it was important to get to the hospital early to prepare for the surgeries. One of the fun activities at the hospital was the everyday decision of which scrubs you wanted to wear! They had shelves of various tops, bottoms, booties, masks and hairnets. Matching was never an option!
After dressing for the day, a Faith in Practice representative asked for my assistance in Operating Room 5. Well, to my knowledge there were only 4 operating rooms. We left the cool, well equipped rooms and headed upstairs. She took me to a closet with only a small sink, table, a fan for air, and one small standing lamp inside. The nurse in the room spoke only Spanish, and you could tell things were going to be difficult. Dr. McElligott, a minor surgeries doctor, was setting up shop alongside his assistant, a LMU student, Patrick. The FIP representative said I was to translate for the doctor the rest of the day. It was 7:30am.
The first patient was brought in, and as he was being prepared for surgery, nerves took me. He had two fat lipomas (masses) on his leg that Doc was going to cut off. I sat down in a chair behind a curtain, just in case. Doc would ask the nurse for something in English, and I would translate back and forth (from behind the curtain). Blood is not a strength of mine, and I had no desire to see anything that trip. However, thirty minutes into the surgery with the patient only under local anesthesia, I felt as though this man should see my face and know who else was in the room. I stood up on my wobbly feet, and threw the curtain back. The rest of the day the chair and curtain were no longer needed. Because the patients were awake during these surgeries, it was very important to remain calm and speak confidently.
Later in the day, we had a very difficult surgery to do; a right breast mass causing large amounts of pain for the woman. Halfway through that surgery, I knew it was my place to grip the hand of the woman and squeeze tight, letting her know I was there for her. The woman never said she was in pain, though her tearing eyes said otherwise. She was tough; stronger than I ever would have been in that situation. After we finished, she continued to say thank you until she left. Thursday, our last day at the hospital, we went upstairs to make sure the OR was neat and clean, and in the waiting room I recognized the woman for whom we performed surgery. I went straight up to her, and asked how she was doing. She simply came back to have us take a look at her wound, and make sure everything was going as planned. It was surreal. My mind had been on the woman since she left the OR Monday, and having the chance to see her again made my week.
DAYS FOUR, FIVE & SIX - MAKING ROUNDS
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday all had similar stories involved. However, the doctors now had rounds to perform at the start of each day. I made rounds with a GYN doctor from Texas, Dr. Doody. We would be the first ones to the hospital each morning, and he would check on his patients, with my translating his every word. One thing that was very noticeable was how thankful each and every one of the patients was. No matter how much pain they were in, their words to the doctors were nothing but thanks, and how the patients prayed for the doctor. The off to OR 5 we would go, in our colorful scrubs. The days at the hospital were long, 12-hour days, but knowing what you were doing there and how many lives you were changing, it made no difference.
Because Thursday was slower for us up in OR 5, Patrick and I were allowed to observe in the large operating rooms. We even got to "scrub in" on a surgery. This was definitely a new thing, as it takes almost 15 minutes to wash everything and put on the blue sterile robe and sterile gloves. It was worth it, as I had the opportunity to hold Army/Navy grip hooks, and even suction during the surgery.
What an incredible thing for these doctors to give a week out of their busy schedules, mostly vacation time to travel to Guatemala and perform surgeries on the people for no pay. To me, they are the real heroes in this situation. The doctors performed 96 surgeries in 4 days at the hospital. The number of lives we changed goes way beyond that.
That was to be expected.
The unexpected was the impact each and every one of the people has had on my life.