Thursday, February 12, 2009

Living the Dream

There used to be a time when you would ask someone in the OR how they were doing and they would respond, "living the dream". It was a sarcastic reply and was usually meant as a statement about the futility we often feel in medicine when we have to deal with hospital administrators and the regulatory agencies that govern our practise. Both are burdensome and often get in the way of us delivering the kind of care we know the patients require. That is after all who it is all about.

For me there was another dream that I was able to live out while I was still a nurse. I remember reading about agencies that would send Drs and Nurses to places around the world to give medical care to the third world countries and the disadvantaged people that did not get medical care except from the shaman. I was intrigued and would periodically look at those opportunities because I thought it would be a great way to do some public service. When I looked into it each time it seemed that I would have had to pay my way and I never was in a position to afford the plane ticket and be able to house myself so it always stayed on the back burner.
Then one day when Sandi and I (Sandi is my wife. We met in the OR and married 7 years ago.) were doing an assignment in Albuquerque, a hospital we had worked at full time and left to do the travel nursing. We knew most of the folks and it was good to be back amongst friends for a change. We always forged new friendships when we traveled but they were of the disposable kind and we lost track of those folks pretty quickly. Anyway one of the Pediatric Ortho Surgeons asked Sandi if she and I would like to go to Ecuador for a week and do a medical mission. B-D was paying for the plane and the hotel. I was scrubbed in another room doing Pediatric Orhto surgery with this other surgeon's partner. So Sandi waltzed in and asked if I would like to go to Ecuador and do this mission for a week. The plan was that we would do surgery on children with birth defects such as congenital hips and anything else. I didn't even think, I just agreed.

I knew then that I was getting toward the end of my career and it would be on a sweet note that I could depart the profession and feel as though I had a pretty fulfilling and rewarding life as a nurse. We had to apply for passports and that process was more complicated than it had to be. 9-11 changed alot of the ways things were done and it took a lot longer to get our passports. Long story short or maybe for another time we were on our way to Ecuador the latter part of the year. It was fall in New Mexico and Spring in Ecuador. The weather didn' matter that much because we never got outside except to go to and from work. We figured that we worked 130 hours in the 6 1/2 days we were there. We did two twelve hour days and two tens and on and on.

The surgeries we did were complicated and took a long time for each. About Wednesday we got word that there was a woman that had heard of the mission but could not get to the clinic to have her daughter seen so she could be put on the schedule. The little girl had been in a farming accident and had broken her wrist and she had a mal-union that made her right hand useless to her. When she extended her arms her right hand pointed toward the floor. The surgeon that recruited us was going to do the surgery if we agreed to stay over for the time it took to complete the surgery. The surgery lasted about four hours or more. The one thing I never did as a nurse was to turn my back on any child and it was a no brainer that we would do the surgery. Putting her hand back at an angel that would allow her to be productive meant the difference between her living or ... She came from a family of three sisters and the parents and an aunt all lived in the same house and their daily budget was $3.00. Hell that was less than my latte bill back home.

She was a very stoic little girl and kept a rigid face whenever we were caring for her in Recovery. We would see her looking at her hand and wiggling her fingers but would immediately stop when she saw us watching her. All of the kids came for a post-op clinic on Saturday before we left. When we saw her, I cannot begin to tell you how we all felt when we saw the smile on her face. It was a profound experience and even now this tough old bird cannot relate the story without goose-bumps and tears. We literally gave her a life with that surgery and the smile was better than any paycheck I have ever recieved. It dawned on Sandi and I that we had actually gone down there and worked for free. We were travelers and did not have vacation time like everybody else that went. I often said that I loved my job so much that I would do it for free. God called my hand and I was honored to play out my cards.

We did travel nursing for a couple more years, but that honestly has to be the highlight of my career and the vision of that smile will be with me always.

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