Written by Tristan Alexander, Elon Fellow ’16-’17
From the very first moment I stepped into the hospital, I felt a nervous but excited energy from staff and patients. The much-anticipated event of the year had once again arrived. Much like a well-oiled machine, the successful Freedom From Poverty Foundation/CRHP surgical camp required all staff members to fully participate. The Village Health Workers prepared patients for surgery; the Mobile Health team and Science Center staff worked admissions desks; nurses transferred patients between pre-operation wards, post-operation wards, and the operation theatre; and doctors, lab technicians, and interns and fellows made files for incoming patients. Needless to say, the environment during that week in the Julia Hospital was buzzing.
As CRHP’s Elon Fellow, my experience was all about learning, and in this one week, I learned many invaluable lessons. Everyday, I spent approximately nine hours in the operation theatre. From 9am to 10pm, surgeons made life-altering decisions and operated on patients while continuously showing compassion towards staff members and patients alike. While most of my time was spent observing in the operation theatre, I got several opportunities to scrub-in and assist in surgeries. The very first time I scrubbed-in, I learned my first lesson: the patient is the most valuable teacher. For me, every moment spent in the theatre was a moment to learn something new. During the course of the week, I was exposed to several types of surgeries including but not limited to: contracture releases, amputations, syndactylies, and arthrodeses. All together, the three visiting surgeons and their team successfully completed 56 surgeries, transforming the lives of patients physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
Aside from my time in the operation theatre, I also observed triage. During this time, doctors told patients of the potential benefits and risks of doing the proposed surgery. That was when I learned my second and third lessons consecutively: 2) some surgeries can do more harm than good, and 3) patients greatly appreciate compassion, sincerity, and honesty. In triage, the doctors assessed the patients’ condition and made the decision that could give the patient maximum mobility. I learned my fourth lesson: surgical decisions should be made based on providing function to the patient. That week, I was able to get a glimpse of the life of a surgeon.
The genuine interactions I witnessed the doctors have with patients are irreplaceable memories. The pure joy seen on the smiles on the patients’ faces after surgery was the most satisfying and rewarding gift. All the patients were grateful for the life-changing operation and for the friendly and welcoming grace from the staff members. Being a part of the surgical camp was more than just a once in a lifetime experience; it was an opportunity to see magic and witness hard work, altruism, and humanity at its’ finest. It were these lessons, experiences, and interactions throughout the camp that inspired me to pursue a career in medicine.
Although they are not around to see the patients post-operation, I can vouch that the surgeons’ work transcended the lives of people who cannot afford access to proper healthcare, and that was when I learned my final lesson: doctors are healers. I am looking forward to our next surgical camp at CRHP in February 2017.