My favorite memories of our time in Peru are undoubtedly rooted in the people we helped. In thinking back, there is a couple who demonstrated why the work of PNSO changed the lives of both the patients and the volunteers.
On our second day of operating, our schedule vas slipping further behind. Various procedures were taking longer than anticipated, and waiting for the autoclave to sterilize instruments often slowed things down further. Our final operation was an elderly gentleman who had a softball sized inguinal hernia that was continuing to enlarge. He had been leaving with his hernia for nearly 15 years, and it had begun affecting every aspect of his daily life.
As I was planning to scrub in and assist the general surgeon on his procedure, I checked in with the patient throughout the course of the day. He had been told to not eat or drink anything after midnight prior to his surgery time. He and his wife sat patiently in plastic lawn chairs in a hot waiting room with nothing more than a rusty fan attempting to cool down the heat in a humid jungle environment. I remember admiring his patience as he waited with nothing more than IV fluid while afternoon turned into evening.
His surgery began after 7 pm and we finished successful repair of his hernia around 9 pm without any complications. A nurse and I were monitoring his recovery and his wife sat fatefully by his bedside. She casually asked me when he might be ready to go home, because she was worried they might miss their last bus. It was then discovered that they lived nearly two hours away by rickety bus travel. Within an hour after his surgery, the patient was sitting up, talking and requesting something to eat. Despite his surprisingly quick recovery from a large procedure, we knew he should't have to endure a two hour bus ride. The team agreed to get the couple a room in a hotel in town so that they could both enjoy a good night's rest before heading back to their village.
Explaining our plan to this couple was one of the most rewording moments in my years of being able to translate and speak Spanish. Tears welled in their eyes and it took several reassurances that it wasn't to cost them any money. Around midnight, a few of us from our team accompanied them in a motorbike taxi to their hotel. From watching their arrival, it was clear that the couple had never experience anything like this before. Further, we worked to explain that the hotel provided a light breakfast in the morning that was already paid for. There are no words or photos that could possibly capture the gratitude and disbelief in this couple's eyes. The hotel cost, an equivalent of 26 dollars - and I am confident that I have never been more happy or satisfy with my purchase.
Perhaps the best part of the story was seeing the couple 3 days later, when the wife returned to have a lipoma removed. The husband was recovering remarkably well, tolerating pain, and enjoying his life without the hernia. When they arrived, the waiting room was full of hugs and happy tears between this couple and our team. We had printed photos of our group for them at the wife's request and we were able to give them the photos that day. While I know I may never see them again, I am confident that they will remember the compassion extended from our team with fond memories. There is nothing more powerful than knowing that you had a vital role in changing someone's life forever - and it was that moment when I knew that choosing a career as a physician was the best decision I could have made for myself.