Sorry that the blog abruptly ended. Things cranked up even more in terms of demands on our time, we had some minor health issues, and I just had to make a choice of doing what we were there for and also trying to get a few hours of sleep each night to keep it going. Below please find the notes as I had them for my next posting and then some comments summarizing our trip at the end.
Dominican Republic 2019 Thursday January 17
The end of our trip is near! I can hear the call of my bed, a REAL diet coke, and some French Fries! The team, yours truly included, is ready for a break. I have stated before that my grasp of the English language is not good enough to clearly and accurately articulate a ‘day in the life of’ any single person who undertakes this mission trip. Words like kind, passionate, caring, giving, loving, generous, and selfless come to mind. Words like blood, sweat, exhaustion, effort, determination, struggle, challenge, perseverance come to mind. But the best word I can use to describe the experience is presence. Whatever your belief system, you always feel His presence.
What our volunteers do here is nothing short of amazing, incredibly amazing, at that. Thursday is always bitter sweet for me because it marks the last day of our week here. When Thursday night rolls around our volunteers have worked an average of 14-15 hours every day for 4-5 days depending on when they arrive. So figure about 70 hours in a humid, hot, and unfamiliar culture and situation. The remaining 9-10 hours in their day is inclusive of sleep, meals, showers, eating etc. My best guess is that the average night sleep is 4-5 hours. I personally am averaging somewhat short of that number at about 3 – 4 hours of sleep per night, and strange things can happen when you are sleep deprived. I fell asleep literally 25 times last night while typing on my computer and had little snippets of dreams about the most bizarre things. At another point I woke up and had about 7000 n’s after the pla part of the word plantain having fallen asleep with my finger on the n. I dreamed once of Dr. Vessely and I flying home after our mission was over. Not so odd unless I tell you that there was no plane; we were literally flying out in the air but then somehow Ramona ended up being the pilot. And yes, I realize that makes no sense. Anyway, I posted my blog last night before proof-reading it, I still haven’t actually read it and yet it seems to have been ok as I have gotten plenty of nice emails back with reasonable comments and nothing bad. I might read it on the plane ride home though and see what I got wrong…
Today being Thursday we are at the end of the road for our OR time here. We have had some truly amazing experiences and none more amazing than what our group experienced today. Dr. Duwelius did a hip replacement on a 54 year old woman who broke her hip in a car accident when she was 14. For the last 40 years she has been barely able to walk and has had no ability to flex her hip. She was fused at her hip joint and had a weird lurching gait as she would use other muscles to swing her leg forward enough to propel herself forward while walking. The hip replacement went well, Dr. Duwelius is always a rock star in the OR; the real interesting part of this story picks up in the recovery room. A couple of hours after Dr. D finished up hius normal awesome job, Tim Kirby , who provided the anesthesia, was in the recovery room speaking with our patient. A couple of our other staff Andrea Weber and Josh Valdez, happened to be with Tim Kirby who did the anesthesia. When Tim spoke to the patient he was just following up on his part of the operation and making sure her spinal was wearing off normally. He asked the patient to flex her non-operative hip (bring her knee toward her stomach but with her leg straight). When she successfully did as asked, Tim then tasked her with flexing her operative hip. When she did this maneuverer successfully the patient abruptly started to cry. When Tim asked her why she was crying the patient told him that she had not been able to flex her leg since she was 14 and consequently had not seen her thigh or knee since then without the assistance of a mirror!
She continued to sob and explained that she had lost her husband recently and that because of her hip problem she had been forced out into the street and had been living homelessly relying on the charity of others. I have told you before about the culture here—if you cannot take care of yourself your family is not inclined to do much about it, you wind up begging somewhere and if you cannot make enough money doing that to eek out some sort of meager existence, you get forgotten and a nasty downward spiral just gets worse and worse. This patient with a new hip, will be able to slip out of that spiral, one of the few infirmed here that will be able to do this. In some areas of the DR a hip or knee replacement can truly be the difference between life and death. In the US people ask questions such as ‘will I be able to ski again’, ‘will I be able to travel next month’, ‘can I play golf’ and other similar types of questions. Our patient was crying because getting her hip done means she can actually go to work and earn enough money to become self-sustaining! Because of you Walkers and all that OpWalk FTM does, she will be able to thrive. If this doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, I am not sure what will!
Ugh! Our autoclave issues are still with us though our work-around wrap jobs performed well for the most part thanks to some fast thinking by Shannon Coupens and Paola who is the Central Supply Manager at Juan Bosh! Unfortunately the autoclave issues are deeper than we thought and we find ourselves still quite a ways out before we can even begin to think about any kind of major repair; Not sure this is going to be doable. As I said yesterday, I had a lengthy conversation today with Dr. Taveras about some new ideas for next year, including a portable autoclave, which would help a ton. Please stay tuned on this as I am very hopeful we can come up with a viable option for this bottle neck and important pathway to success. We have not given up on the million dollar Cadillac machine but have realized that there is much more to the repair of it than meets the surface. I am not sure it will just go back to being a million dollar towel rack, but that is entirely possible.
I would be remiss without mentioning the real brains behind our mission. Each year we are truly blessed with a great group of young people who want to help us. We call these folks our “Runners”. It always is an amazing group of people with usually no or very little medical knowledge who are considering careers in medicine, are in college, and multiple other reasons for getting to come with us. It always is an amazing, talented group of young people and this year was no exception, truly amazing people and I want to say a special thanks to all of them somehow, someway. They are led by 4 time returning rock star Conner Schwab. Conner is nothing short of spectacular down here, has a million irons in the fire and oh, by the way, just finished up getting his MBA. I am super proud of him and am excited to see him spread his wings! Conner was joined by returning superstar Madeline Vessely. Madeline is so good that I am pretty sure that she could do that entire job by herself. She learned the names of the instruments and tools faster than most everyone I know. What’s more is that she know what it is that the instrument is supposed to do. Maria Kirby is a true delight just to be around. She is willing to do anything you ask and is never afraid to tackle even the toughest job here. Don McMahon is also a person who can be trusted and is willing to jump in and do whatever he sees needs to be done. He sees a need and he does something. It is so nice to just know that once Donnie comes along, fuggetabaoutit, it is handled. The aforementioned Danielle Simmons, wow, what can I say? I have never had someone else down here that I was responsible for before, not that I would say Danielle needs me hovering around but she is my niece after all. She too was a Rockstar and just rolled up her sleeves and got to work. She always has a smile on her face, is always positive and always a joy to be around! Maggie Duwelius is another Rockstar! I think she should be the ambassador of love, or a goodwill ambassador of some sort somewhere! She is always doing something to help and ALWAYS doing it with a smile and ALWAYS asking if you are ok personally, have you had enough water, are you hungry, the sort of person who probably has some orange slices in a zip lock bag and runs around sticking one in your mouth while you continue to work! You put all of these people together and the Runner group this year was nothing short of astonishing! Truly remarkable people joined with little or no knowledge, asked to figure out and perform impossible feats in impossible situations with very few tools to do so. Our Runners are always good, I want to take nothing away from any previous year however this group is always going to be remembered for the love and caring they displayed!
Ok, I know you all want to know so our final tallies are 17 hips and 44 knees. 61 people OWFTM touched down here and changed forever thanks to your generosity. An awesome feat, an incredible mobilization of people and supplies. These people are changed forever and they will never forget the fortune that fell upon them when our group became involved in their world.
So that is where I ended up when I was writing my last blog to you all. Each of you has made a difference down there that is going to last an awful long time. Whether you are a Walker, a member of our team that does not physically go to the mission or one of the lucky few who does, YOU make a difference. Thank you for what you do.
I would like to take a moment to thank our doctors. Each of you is a remarkable person and each of you gives of your time like the rest of us. Thank you for doing what you do, thank you for giving your time for without you the rest of us would not have this opportunity. I know I make fun of all of you especially down there (especially you Gronk!) but please know now that your effort means the world to me.
To good friends, who on my worst days, take it upon themselves to figure out solutions to game changing problems, I can only say thanks. Again, words cannot express the depth of my gratitude so thanks is all I can say. But please know that in my heart there is a huge place for you, thanks Paul and Shannon.
We stowed our gear and had one last wonderful meal and night together. When we hopped on our planes and scattered to the 4 corners of the globe to get back to our lives we all took away a piece of something that can never be yanked away. We all own a piece of love from the people we helped this past week. We are tired, hungry, and behind in the lives we are returning to but we are so happy to have had this chance. This chance is thanks to all of you who give generously and consistently to help others in some faraway place that you will likely never get to. But I leave you with this, that 54 year old woman, the one with the new hip and the new lease on life. She wanted to meet with me just before we left. What she wanted to express was her deep thanks to all of you. She knows that we have support at home. She knows we cannot do this without that support. What she said to me was a message to you:
“Tell them I can walk. Tell them I will walk towards doing good for others. What was given to me I will pass on”.
With this attitude, perhaps we together can change a culture. Perhaps what we are doing together is not just fixing a hip or knee, perhaps we are fixing a paradigm, shifting it towards helping those that are less fortunate. Perhaps in this way our legacy will be people of the DR helping each other and not leaving unfortunate souls to fend for themselves. Perhaps we just aren’t providing a fish, perhaps we truly are teaching humans to fish.