[I’ve scheduled several posts to go up while we’re away on the trip. The wonders of WordPress.]
Our surgery team sets up in an underserved hospital and, in effect, takes over the place. The local staff doesn’t know what hit them until a few days into the project, as they are accustomed to only a couple of surgeries a week (if they can get an anesthetist) and our surgeons normally perform about six to twelve per day, keeping two operating rooms going. As an untrained bystander, I’m always astonished that they mobilize in an unfamiliar hospital, with antiquated equipment, and often start cutting flesh by noon the first day.
We bring our own anesthestists, surgical techs, nurses (and surgeons, naturally) as well as all the
necessary equipment: tens of thousands of dollars worth of drugs, sterile drapes, gowns, surgical instruments, etc. We do rely on the hospital’s own anesthesia monitors and oxygen, and on hospital administration and cleaning; but we’re largely self-contained so there’s no miscommunication in the operating room.
The need for translators like myself comes before and after surgery, while interviewing the patient and then afterward explaining care and medication. We also serve as orderly, helping to move patients or hold an I.V. drip, or as errand-boy/girl because we’re the ones who know how to ask to get copies made or to plead for more bedsheets—or go get some more lactated ringers, whatever that is. And, at the end of each long day, we’re among the last to leave because we have to talk with family members and field Ecuadorian paperwork as the patient is getting discharged.
The surgeries most in-demand are hernia repairs and gall bladder removal. As a translator, the words are easy in Spanish because they’re pretty much the same: “hernia” and “colecistectomía”.
(I had no idea either, until I learned it in Spanish, that when they yank out a gall bladder in English it’s called a colecystectomy. The bigger the word, the closer to the Spanish. But the gall bladder itself is called the vesicula biliar, and that’s took getting used to.)
One time a man came in carrying his hydrocele. Don’t ask about that one.
By the end of the first week the surgery team has exhausted the Ecuadorian hospital staff, but we’ve also made some friends and allies. The ones who can’t get used to us (or just plain don’t want us there, and that happens) have made themselves scarce by then. By the second week we know our angels and allies and there’s always a ceremonial going-away party with speeches, refreshments and awards. And no doubt a collective sense of relief as we wave goodbye to them.