Thursday, July 26, 2018

Who Me? On a Medical Mission to Namibia?

I started working with International Extremity Project more than ten years ago by creating the website and writing blog posts from information the team sent me from the trips. And then six years ago, Dr. Bruce Lehnert asked if I would join the group for a trip to Vietnam. 

It was definitely one of those "who me?" moments. It was like when you're in a room and someone waves in your direction and you look around wondering if they're really waving at you. Except I was in front of a keyboard and screen, so the question really was for me.

Needless to say, I said yes. I agreed to fly around the world with people I didn't really know to do something that I'd never even come close to doing before. It was amazing. 

And now I'm headed on my fifth journey with International Extremity Project. Somehow it's still hard to imagine that I have this opportunity. Am I really packing for my second mission trip to Namibia? Are those really totes of medical equipment in my living room?

I've gone from writing blog posts to managing the patient information, working on the surgery schedules, and sometimes even helping in the operating room. (Fear not: My OR role is usually paperwork, comforting patients, or getting sterile supplies for the medical team.) It makes the answer to "what did you do on your vacation?" far more interesting than it once was.

It's really interesting how similar the experiences are in Vietnam and Namibia. The structure of the trips is the same -- one or two days of patient evaluations followed by as many days of surgery as we can fit into our time in country. The hospital itself is even similar. And oddly, our hotels had nearly the same furniture and carpet on our 2016 trips... 

We see and treat patients who have foot and ankle deformities from birth or traumatic injuries. We see infants and the elderly. Some of our patients are from the city in which we work, while others travel hundreds of kilometers. 

People come to us with a mixture of fear and hope. One of the hardest things about the evaluation days is when the doctors have to tell patients that we're not able to help them. But more often than not, we are able to do something. And then we get to see the patients in the wards while they're recovering. And there the hope is something entirely new -- it's optimism for what comes next in their lives with fewer physical limitations.

I'm looking forward to so many aspects of this adventure. Stepping into the hospital on the first day and meeting patients. Having the opportunity to work with some of the same nurses and doctors. Going to the university to hear our doctors share their knowledge with medical students. Learning more about Namibia itself.

Most of all, I look forward to once again being part of something amazing. It's a privilege. And I am grateful.


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