My Adventure with PNSO in Jalpatagua, Guatemala

My name is Rhea Shetty and I am a second-year undergraduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles. I was lucky enough to be introduced to the Pacific Northwest Surgical Outreach (PNSO) team when I was just about to enter my first year of University and was even luckier to be able to go on a trip with them that same year. We went to a small town called Jalpatagua in Guatemala and worked out of the San Juan Bautista Hospital. I was already familiar with the hospital scene, because I had shadowed multiple times before, but the experience I had in Guatemala with PNSO was beyond what I had expected or ever experienced.

The first day was spent screening patients and seeing whether they were fit for surgery, or whether surgery was even a necessity. The next couple of days was when the surgeries took place, working mostly on hernias and lipomas. I remember the days starting as early as 7 in the morning and ending as late as 1 or 2 in the morning the next day, but I never grew tired of what we were doing. Something about this trip filled me with excitement to start every single day, and I found myself looking forward to what I would experience in the town and in the hospital. My favorite times of the whole trip were each day after all the surgeries when Dr. Cundiff would say the number of cases we had completed that day because I would always fill up with a sense of accomplishment and pride that so much had been done.

I loved so many aspects of the trip, but one thing I enjoyed the most is being surrounded by a group of people that genuinely loved what they do. All the doctors and nurses I worked with on the trip were so enthusiastic about what was being done, and I really saw how that passion translated into the best possible patient care that could be given. I looked up to and learned from everyone on that trip, and aspire to find that same passion in my later profession.

If there was one thing I will remember from this trip, and never forget, it was one patient we had. It was the second or third day of surgeries, and everyone was wrapping up and winding down because we had thought that we were done for the day. One of the nurses came into the room and told us that there was a woman outside, who had been waiting the whole day and hadn’t eaten because she believed that she would be able to get surgery that day. She wasn’t in our schedule, and the whole situation seemed to be some sort of misunderstanding between the patient and hospital. Jocelyn, one of the other members of the team, made a plate of food for the woman and I thought that was the end. I thought that since the woman wasn’t in the schedule, and since we were already wrapping up, that the patient was going to be told that she couldn’t get the surgery today. Dr. Cundiff came out of what he thought was his last surgery and when he heard about the situation told us to prep her. We went to get the plate of food we had given her as soon as possible and prepped her for what would soon be a successful surgery. It was a moment that filled me with such happiness and joy and is a memory I will take with me as an aspiring physician.

Another huge thing I learned on this trip that I hadn’t learned or witnessed in my time shadowing in the U.S. is the intertwining of pre-op, surgery, and post-op. Through this trip, I saw the importance of good communication, as well as the equalness of all stages leading up to and after surgery. I had never seen what went into taking care of patients before and after surgery, and during this trip, I was able to truly learn what goes into each stage.

Every moment of this trip I was being taught a new task, whether it was administering and I.V. or making an incision- I was always on my toes and excited for what I would learn next. I was seeing how to things from the standpoint of the circulation nurse to the anesthesiologist, and it was so new and exciting. I gained and learned so much on this single trip, ranging from the medical field to simply appreciating and learning about another culture. This trip was without a doubt one of the best experiences of my life, and I cannot wait for my future with PNSO and what it will bring.