Guatemala 2012 — In the words of Sara Schiavi RN

How are we to know how much we can offer a team, a mission, a country? I didn’t really know what I had to offer when I volunteered for the Surgicorps mission to Guatemala in August of 2012. What I did know was that I very much wanted to be part of an organization of the caliber of Surgicorps, that has so much to do with teamwork. As an RN working in the PACU at St. Vincent Hospital, I had heard about the previous year’s trip from Dr. David Kim, Stephanie Charron and Heather Archambeault. Their firsthand accounts were much of the impetus I needed to apply.

The Boston contingent, including Dr. McNicholas and her son Darragh, met up with the Pittsburgh team in Houston. For me, as a first timer, it was all about keeping the names straight! Everyone right away was so welcoming and genuinely glad to see us. It was especially great to meet Linda who knew right away what everyone was supposed to be doing, where they were going and who they were going with!

Sunday was a very busy day. I was told screening day can be very busy, seemingly chaotic, but usually goes very smoothly. I was so impressed by the helpfulness of every member of the team, from taking photos of patients, to escorting them to various departments, assisting with histories, and thank goodness for interpreters! On a personal note, it was incredibly humbling to meet with the Padre that morning and have a tour of the hospital. The insight it brought me was invaluable. I was impressed right away with the staff of the hospital; their daily care and compassion of the patients they serve is clearly evident.

Surgical day one, Monday… While I was completely prepared and available to do whatever was needed of me, I was not quite prepared to start scrubbing, learning and identifying surgical instruments right out of the gate! Linda, Stephanie, I can never thank you enough for your help and patience. Every day was a whirlwind of activity: early mornings, busy surgical slates, complicated cases. Dr. Jack Demos and Dr. Mel Spira are such dedicated plastic surgeons. Their ongoing collaboration on each and every case was inspiring! As an RN with a critical care background I was also amazed by the commitment to superior care by the anesthesia team of MD’s, CRNA’s and residents.

Our plastic surgery team also included a young man from Guatemala named Otto. He was a member of the hospital permanent staff. This young man was truly indispensable! Starting with his quiet thoughtful care of the youngest infant, to his calming emotional support for our older patients. Also he knew where just about everything was, and when we needed it! He was a huge help to me all week, from prepping patients to assisting with different instruments, blades and needles. Finally the plastics team would not have been complete without Judy Traister PT, circulating nurse extraordinaire, as I liked to call her! Absolutely steady, reliable and prepared, she had everything we needed, or found it if necessary. Judy was a terrific liaison for me as she has worked with many of these volunteers before.

Obras Sociales del Santa Hermano Pedro is the hospital that our team worked out of. We did 109 surgeries; general, hand, gyn and plastics. Men and women, young and old. The patient I will remember most is Aaron. He is three months old with a cleft lip. I believe he may have been our youngest patient. His life is now forever changed with this reconstructive surgery. He has a beautiful complete smile!

Antigua is lovely. There are super shops, cafes and restaurants. You do not have to look far, however, to see the poverty of the Guatemalan people. That being said, you also don’t have to look far to see a smile from them either; whether it is from a street vender or a shop keeper, or simply a passing stranger.

Most moving of all on this trip were the smiles from the patients’ families as they spoke with Dr.’s Demos and Spira on rounds. Anxiety and gratitude were there as well, to be sure. I am very proud to have been, in a small way, part of the outcome for these families. On that note, I would like to thank Dr. Kim for encouraging me, and maybe seeing something, a potential I didn’t know existed within me. It was an honor and privilege to have met and worked with all of you in Guatemala 2012.

Sara Schiavi RN

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