It is hard to know where to start on the day after my recent mission to Guatemala. There are so many emotions running through me. I'm happy, sad, depressed, worried, fulfilled, and anxious all at the same time. It is hard to explain to anyone unless they have shared the experience with you. There are tears in my eyes as I write this.
This is the same experience that I had during and after my years as a paramedic. You experience things and things happen to you that are only relevant to people with shared experience. But since it's so important to me, I will try to explain it for you.
A mission trip can only be described as a multi-sensorial metaphysical experience. It is intellectual, spiritual, tactile, physical, and emotional, all at the same time. A person is thrown together with a team of 99 other kindred souls, some of who are old friends and some of whom you have met for the first time. Together, we participate in a logistical nightmare to move and set up a mobile army surgical hospital (much of the heavy work is done by the advance teams prior to arrival) and be open for business within hours of arriving on the site. The team brings scores of large bags of consumables and medication.
There were 2000 people waiting for us in the rain when we arrived on Sunday. Some had walked days and hours to get there, all were sleeping out in the open in the rain, heat, and humidity, for one chance at a cure. While we had an amazing team of surgeons, physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAS), nurses, cooks and support staff.
The most heartbreaking thing in the world is looking into the hopeful, fearful eyes of a Guatemalan and telling them that there is nothing that can be done by our team to help them. It makes me also feel helpless. We helped many, but it is never enough.
I was touched by every patient that I saw, treated, and on whom I operated. The family with the Down syndrome child with a cleft lip that walked five hours in hopes we could repair and remove the social stigma of the deformity (we did). They camped out for two days waiting for their turn in the operating room. The woman with a large eyelid growth that I excised. With tears in her eyes, after the procedure, she reached into her purse and took out a Rosary and placed it around my neck. She was there for two days and cried every time she saw me wearing it. I could give more examples, but you get the picture. This was all day, every day, for five days and as much surgery as we could physically perform.
I found strength in me that I didn't know that I had. On Monday night you could have put a fork in me. After two grueling days of travel and non-stop screening of surgical patients when we arrived Sunday night and Monday morning, we spent most of Monday afternoon and late into the night doing an endless stream of "lumps and bumps" and hand surgery in the procedure room. I went to the team leader and expressed to her that I didn't think that I had anything left in the tank. She told me to go if I needed to go. I looked into her eyes. I looked around the reception hall and into the eyes of all of my teammates. I looked into the eyes of the hundred or so patients clustered around the door to the hospital, filled with hope I found the physical and emotional energy to treat one more patient in the minor room. Every team member knows what I'm talking about.
I had better leave it right there. I'm glad to be home. I'm beyond grateful to live in the greatest country in the world, a country that produces people willing to work overseas to help the less fortunate. Everyone needs to experience mission at least once in a lifetime to truly understand that the world is a community of people and we all have a responsibility and duty to do our part to help our fellow men, women and children — wherever they have the fortune or misfortune to be born and live.
I'm going to have a hard time transitioning back to the "world" like I always do after a mission. But I'm resting comfortably in the belief that I did all that I could, to help the team do all that it could, and that we left everything on the field when the whistle blew. I also can't wait to go back to Guatemala.