Number of People with Nothing Better to Do

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mercy Missions

Not as bloody and gorey as I had imagined.
Pre- and post-op team.

Patients lined up in the hall waiting their turn.

Peruvian surgeons removing a tumor.

Earlier this month a group of 13 doctors and nurses from the Detroit area came to do a surgery campaign in the town of Palpa about 10 minutes from where I live. The campaign was organized by the local Rotary Club and several Peace Corps Volunteers translated for the doctors and nurses.

The last time I was in an emergency room (when I wasn’t the patient that is) was when I was a freshman in college. I took a buddy of mine who’d slept with his hard contacts in to the university’s quack shack. His eyes were swollen shut and he was in a lot of pain. He laid down on the examining table and the doctor opened up his eyes to put in some drops. He cried out in pain and a lot of tears poured down his face. I felt light headed, my knees buckled and I would have passed out had I not found a nearby chair and a promising career in medicine ended before it began.

So I was a little apprehensive about going into an operating room to translate for patients who were having surgery but were awake and able to talk. I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle actual blood and guts. But it wasn’t that bad and I didn’t even come close to fainting. A helpful pointer from one of the nurse antesthetists was that blood was just red water.

The campaign was very well organized by the local Rotarians and all the patients showed up on time and waited their turn patiently (even though cutting in line is a bit of an art form down here). I did have a couple of people pull me aside and ask me what kind of strings I could pull to squeeze a family member in but I had no pull.

One lady showed up who didn’t have an appointment and happened to catch the lead surgeon on a break. She asked him to take a look at a lump on her foot that hurt when she wore sandals. The doctor said he could remove it. Then she got greedy and asked about a tiny lump on her thigh. The surgeon poked around and asked if it hurt. She said no so the doc said to not worry about it. Later that afternoon she changed her story and told the same doctor that the lump on her thigh hurt but the doc called bullshit on her and told her he would only operate on the foot.

The next day she came back apparently having told the organizers that the docs were going to remove both lumps and sat there kind of smug. When they called her name she got up with a big smile on her face and went in. Her face quickly changed when she realized that a couple of Peruvian doctors were going to do the surgery instead of the Americans. Her face went from “Hell yeah! I’m going to see U2 live in concert” to “godammit this is a shitty U2 cover band”. She only had the lump on her foot removed by the way.

Weird shit I saw. A tumor the size of an orange on the back of someone’s neck, a hernia that was so bad the guy look like he had elephantitis of the balls, an infant with an extra thumb (teach him to pitch don’t have it removed) and a man with a hair lip that had never been repaired.

Thanks to Mercy Missions for coming down to Palpa and for all the good work. Enjoyed getting to know you all and look forward to seeing you again if you come down in October.

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