Hmmmm. Where do I begin? Sitting down and writing about my experience in Zambia is proving to be the most difficult part of my Zambia mission because every keystroke, sentence, and paragraph ends up falling short of the actual experience. Simply put, and at the risk of sounding cliche, participating in this mission was one of the best experiences of my life.
Zambia was my third medical mission, but my first as a civilian, and my first with Surgicorps International. My two previous missions were with the US Navy. One mission was a month long trip to Mali, along the Niger River providing primary care, immunizations, and medical education. The other was to Turkey as part of an emergency surgical response team that flew to Izmit after the devastating earthquake that killed approximately 45,000 people in 1999. So it was with this lens that I applied to Surgicorps, both hoping to recapture the importance and sense of purpose that I felt in the Navy, but also a little nervous that the trip would not live up to my expectations.
Any fears I had about this mission being somehow “less” were extinguished on day one. From our first team meeting the excitement of the returning volunteers was palpable. Most of us are familiar with Margaret Mead’s quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Now imagine what can happen when you have twenty like-minded, highly-skilled, and motivated individuals working together towards the common goal of bringing life-changing surgery to the most underserved populations around the world. Good intentions, however, do not always translate to effective and efficient delivery of care, so I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly our group of strangers coalesced into a healthcare team. I credit not only the individual volunteers but also the leadership team that carefully planned and facilitated all of the on-the-ground logistics.
So, is it worth it? Is it worth the time away from family, the time away from work, the expense of travel, the 2am wake ups to call home and hear about the kids’ day at school? Absolutely. We performed 101 surgeries in Zambia this year, and to say we changed 101 lives fails to capture the change felt by our patients’ families, and it fails to capture how the lives of the 20 volunteers were forever changed. I made new friends. I fell in love with my career again. I demonstrated to my daughters what it means to be a global citizen. And I found a team of incredible healthcare providers that I cannot wait to work with again. Until next year – Natotela Zambia.