Medical Mission in Vietnam: Day 3 Surgeries

A view of the operating room with a full surgical team working on a patient,
Thursday was another busy day at the hospital with several complex procedures. The team treated two patients born with their deformities while most of the others had experienced physical trauma in an accident. 
  • 9-year-old female: bi-lateral bony and soft-tissue procedures to address deformities since birth
  • 17-year-old male: bony and soft-tissue procedures to repair an injury sustained in primary school
  • 27-year-old male: bi-lateral bony procedures to address congenital deformity
  • 40-year-old male: bony procedure to repair injury related to bicycle accident
  • 49-year-old female: soft-tissue procedure to address injury from accident
  • 58-year-old female: bony procedure to address complications of arthritis
And now, Chris's perspective on the day.

Two nurses in scrubs holding sterilized, packaged surgical instruments — and smiling!
Jenni and Maddie are always happy when
they have the supplies they need,
Earlier this week, the team received word that, due to a new government regulation, the team wouldn’t be able to perform surgery on children below a certain age at the hospital where we’re working. We’d screened the kids, families had consented, and we’d scheduled the surgeries. Wait, scratch that.

Two days ago, we had an equipment mixup. Some instruments we’d sent for sterilization weren’t returned in time for a scheduled procedure. When the time came, we couldn’t find them. Nor could we find the person we’d worked with to take them to the sterilization room. Language barriers made it even more challenging.

Upon arriving at the hospital yesterday, we learned we’d need to move to different operating rooms to accommodate open-heart surgeries. That meant gathering our equipment and setting up in new spaces further apart, adding some challenge to communication among the surgical teams. 

In each instance, the team reacted with the F-word. It wasn't frustration nor a four-letter expression that doesn’t belong on this page. With the IEP team, the word is always flexibility. At any given moment, something unexpected calls for readjustment, tweaking, and flexibility. 

If this was baseball, a baseball game, every pitch thrown would be a curveball or a change-up. When the ball is constantly moving, it’s hard enough to track it, let alone hit it. The masters of this game are the nurses and translators. No matter what comes at them, they keep their eyes on the ball, swing, make contact, and hit it out of the park…every time. They are the masters of flexibility.

The stakes are high, with patients waiting for procedures that will profoundly impact their lives. There’s no such thing as a minor glitch; all glitches are major. But our nursing team of Jenni and Madison, plus the translation crew of Chau, Mai, Cindy, and Christine, keep everything moving forward. They pave a smooth path for the surgery teams to travel, which isn’t easy. 
Several IEP and local surgeons planning a surgical strategy outside the operating room during a medical mission.
A lot of the process happens before the patient is in the OR.

From my vantage point, any slip-up or misstep looks like a potential start to a domino effect of challenges. But they quickly and calmly identify solutions. They are flexible and unflappable.
  • We need the power supply from the morning surgery in OR-1 for the following procedure in OR-2, but it’s not back from sterilization? Flexibility.
  • An operating room is ready for the next patient, but they’re still waiting to see the anesthesiologist? Flexibility.
  • We’re short a team member because he’s back at the hotel with nausea and fever? Flexibility.
The patient is wheeled in, operated on, and sent to recovery. Text patient is wheeled in. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s all working. The path the doctors take through the day appears straight and smooth. But it’s all due to the masterful flexibility of the nurses and translators. Put in the same position, I’d be using the four-letter version.
An IEP surgeon and his daughter in scrubs outside of the operating room area.
(Editor's note: I can't wait to read Magnolia's essay about "take your kid to work" day!)