Thursday, November 15, 2007

Medical Missions for Children

I recently returned from Cusco, Peru where I spent just under two weeks working with a group of nurses, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and volunteers in a small community a few hours away from one of the seven wonders of the world. I'm a member of a global health group based out of Massachusetts called Medical Missions for Children. A group that travels across the globe performing free surgeries for underprivileged children and young adults in about 13 different countries.

My initial exhaustion from the traveling and subsequent catching up at work delayed me writing this post. But I now finally have some time to write a little bit about my experience. First of all, I love traveling and when I can combine my absolute love for traveling with global health work, I really couldn't be happier. It's quite blissful actually...

It was kind of like a 'working' vacation (oxymoron?), and while we were able to spend some time getting to know the city, most of our energy was on reserve for the long days which promised to be...well...long. The majority of the surgeries we performed were to correct Cleft Lips and Palates. However, we also performed a Microtia case and several Rhinoplastys (in addition to other procedures). It's pretty amazing to see the before and after because the results and impact of what the group did was pretty immediate. What was most spectacular was to interact with the patients and families who were the most gracious individuals I have come across in a long time. It was amazing to me how well they dealt with everything and how accommodating they were. A lot of our patients made huge sacrifices to reach our team. Many of them traveled huge distances to reach Cusco and many were from local orphanages who had heard about our group coming from a local radio announcement. Somehow, within a week, you form a connection with the patients and it stems beyond the surgical procedure. You have an interest in providing them with the right advice when they leave, you want to make sure they're heading to a safe place after they leave the hospital. In some ways I wanted to make sure that the circumstances they were returning to were conducive to them living a healthier lifestyle (my public health side was bursting at its seams). It was therefore nice to provide our patients with a new set of clothes to leave the hospital in - perhaps a simple thing, but it meant so much more to them. You could see that the result was beyond an aesthetic change. It was a change in self esteem and confidence which was evident on each of their faces.

Doing this kind of seva is part of who I am, but it's the experience and the people I get to interact with that impacts me in a deeper way. I decided not to write about specific patients in this post out of respect for their confidentiality. But I am definitely still thinking about them on a personal level. It was an amazing experience and it just reminded me how fulfilling this kind of work is for me.

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