The warmer weather of Spring met our team as we prepared to return to Guatemala for the Orthopedics and Plastics trip in 2019. We traveled with just over 20 volunteers and the same number of triple-XL duffle bags, zippered seams bursting with medical supplies. We left Austin on a sunny Sunday afternoon, the last bounce off a diving board before a head-first dive into our mission trip.
Sunday: The Operating-Room staff turned three simple rooms into sterile operating suites, and prepared to accommodate any surgical scenario we may find downstairs. The clinical staff met with the Orthopedic surgeons and Pediatricians of the Moore Center. They ushered patients and families between rooms, one-by-one with paper charts that didn’t need to be opened to tell their stories. Some patients were familiar, having been followed by the Moore center for years for chronic care and multiple surgeries, others were new. You may be surprised to find that many families dress their children in either traditional Guatemalan clothing or tiny second-hand suits purchased with savings at the local Goodwill. Their parents believe that if their child looks their best and makes a good impression, we will be more willing to perform their much-needed surgeries. We screened 150 patients that day, and booked 74 surgeries.
Monday through Friday: Each morning starts with a communal breakfast at 6:00 a.m. before the bus leaves at 6:30. The days are marked by bus rides like book-ends. These are the only times not spent in a windowless operating room. The mornings are the nicest because the rising sun illuminates the parks and landmarks as we crawl by, stuck in rush hour traffic. The evening rides are special in their comradery after 10-14 hours of operations.
Each day we start by rounding on patients in the morning with the Pediatricians of the Moore center who are working with their resident physicians-in-training. Many of these patients have spent the night with 2, 3, or 4 patients to a room. Rather than complain about the heat, cramped sleeping accommodations, or noise, they thank us for our help and describe how nice their accommodations are. When we are done there are usually patients waiting in the Operating Rooms. The day marches on: pre-op, surgery, recovery, repeat.
One of the highlights of the trip is the opportunity to work with the local physicians and surgeons. We keep in contact with them year-round and enjoy the opportunity to finally spend time in each other’s company.