By Karen Myung, MD
There is no insurmountable solitude. All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. And we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth to the enchanted place where we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our sorrowful song - but in this dance or in this song there are fulfilled the most ancient rites of our conscience in the awareness of being human and of believing in a common destiny.
~ Pablo Neruda, Nobel Prize in Literature speech 1971
Some events take on an influence when they are recalled, while others are influential in that very moment - and again and again as they are recalled. Remembrance of our work, our "clumsy dance," still brings tears, laughter, burden, and relief just as it did that week in Honduras. As travels go, the day of traveling there and then traveling here are long, to say the least. Yet traveling there, I sensed Worry over anticipatory excitement, mumblings about electrical power or the lack thereof, the shipment or the lack thereof, the floors, the roof..Rightfully so, as our operating room was still a "hard-hat" zone (if they wore hard-hats) when we arrived in Siquatepeque. I still cannot glean to imagine how it had appeared to Marge and Gary who had arrived earlier. Yet, I remember going to the site for the first time after clinic on Monday, walking down the dirt hill from the bus and sensing and even seeing, if it can be seen, Worry again. However, Worry was outnumbered. So as the Hondurans were fending off a nearby forest fire, we made the decision to forge ahead and achieve what we had come to do, even if we had to build our own operating room. We had all day and all night after all. Most importantly, we had belief in a common goal and an affinity for teamwork. As soon as the decision had been made, and amazingly without specific allocation of tasks, it seemed as if we all knew exactly what to do. Helping truly is so easy, and I cannot figure out why the rest of the world makes it so hard sometimes.
Recovery from surgery is much easier with a warm colorful donated blanket. The poet is not a "little god". No, he is not a "little god"..I have often maintained that the best poet is he who prepares our daily bread: the nearest baker who does not imagine himself to be a god. He does his majestic and unpretentious work of kneading the dough, consigning it to the oven, baking it in golden colours and handing us our daily bread as a duty of fellowship. And, if the poet succeeds in achieving this simple consciousness, this too will be transformed into an element in an immense activity, in a simple or complicated structure which constitutes the building of a community, the changing of the conditions which surround mankind, the handing over of mankind's products: bread, truth, wine, dreams..Only in this indispensable way of being ordinary people shall we give back. the mighty breadth which has been pared away from it little by little in every epoch, just as we ourselves have been whittled down in every epoch.
-Pablo Neruda, Nobel Prize in Literature speech 1971
Dr's Karen Myung, David Mann, and our Honduras partner in surgery. In the next twenty-four hours, the site underwent a transformation. For those of us who were there, it now seems unbelievable. Immense amounts of equipment and supplies, including anesthesia machines, hospital beds, surgical supplies, furniture, and linens, were transported from the warehouse to the hospital. The distance was only an eye-shot away, but unfortunately separated by a hard clay trench spanned by a leftover 2-by-8 plank on which our ability for tandem gait and balance was tested. Assembly and cleaning of the hospital beds was reminiscent of a carwash - assembly, power rinse, wheel rinse, pre-clean, bleach-clean, final-clean, and dry. Meanwhile, in the hospital, cheers rang through as the operating room lights were installed, and we had finally achieved electrical power. Select plumbing and select toilets started working. Doors to keep the persistent sawdust out were constructed next, while our Honduran family practitioner, her daughter, and the nurses assembled the patient room. This simple beautiful room epitomized the essence of maternal love. At last, final cleanings must have been done by angels that night, such that on Tuesday morning, we were able to hold hands in prayer and begin our first surgery.
During the construction, on Sunday and Monday morning, part of our team saw patients and their families in a makeshift clinic in downtown Siquatepeque. We interviewed and examined 66 patients with the assistance of indispensable translators and volunteers. Some patients had traveled hours to be seen. Additional patients, who had also traveled hours, were seen at the hospital during the week. I will never forget the small frame of a father carrying his child with cerebral palsy, who might have outweighed him, up the long flight of stairs into our clinic. Even a wheelchair had been inaccessible to this family. As the day wore on, Cathy, our translator Nikita and I would be crying in consolation with the fatigued mother of a child with cerebral palsy one minute or laughing with the innocent glee of a friendly child waddling with Blount's disease the next minute. Yet the excitement of recognizing a child that we could help with surgery on this trip was always quelled by the child that we could not help on this trip, for example our patients with complex upper extremity issues in need of a hand surgery team. I am humbled by those children that we were unable to help and children that were unable to come to be seen.
The operating room environment was phenomenally complete, with the exception of air conditioning. We completed nineteen surgical cases as well as cast changes. Surgeries encompassed a wide range of cases from simple polydactyly (extra digit) excisions to complex foot reconstruction cases. The environment was held to the utmost surgical standards and post-operative care was impeccable.
Most of the week, we worked well into the dark hours of the night, backing up the bus uphill in the dark. The first night that we were actually leaving the hospital in daylight hours was late in the week. For the first time, the bus ride home was populated with normal daily Honduran life, children running about, women cooking, men on bicycles, boys on horses, gatherings here and there.
A big blue cast is not so bad and Emerson has a big smile for all after surgery! I stride along with calm, with eyes, with shoes,
with fury, with forgetfulness.
I pass, I cross offices and stores full of orthopedic appliances,
and courtyards hung with clothes on wires,
underpants, towels and sheets which weep
slow dirty tears.
-Pablo Neruda, from Walking Around
I remember that at dinner that night, we all talked to each other, really talked, about anything and everything. It seemed to strike us all at once that we had been working so hard. Yet it did not seem hard, as labors of love are not.
Traveling back to here was filled with mixed emotions. There is so much more that should be done. Yet there is so much that we can achieve. There is so much hope and so much sadness. On the bus back to San Pedro Sula, I left realizing that we must return.
Lastly, I wish to say to the people of good will, to the workers, to the poets, that the whole future has been expressed in this line by Rimbaud: only with a burning patience can we conquer the splendid City which will give light, justice and dignity to all mankind.
Oscar has is new stuffed animal and blanket and is ready to go to surgery. In this way the song will not have been sung in vain.
-Pablo Neruda, Nobel Prize in Literature speech 1971
This medical/surgical mission took place at the new clinic built by Providence World Ministries in Siguatepeque, Honduras. We thank them for the privilege of being a part of this program and to be able to help them realize their goals of helping Hondurans with their medical needs.
Members of our SRW Medical Team to Honduras in March of 2007 were:
Marjorie Abegglen RN - Fall River, WI
Mary Dowling RN - Mt Horeb, WI
Toby Haines RN - Madison, Wi
David Mann MD - Madison, WI
Maggie Mann, Assistant- Madison, WI
Kathy Sweeney LPN - Mc Farland. WI
Patricia White CRNA - Middleton, WI
Bonita Steinback RN - Mayville, WI
Sally Schroeder CRNA - Mt Horeb, WI
Karen Myung MD - Madison, WI
Michael Sweeney Photographer - Mc Farland, WI
Gary Haefer Biomedical Engineer - Evansville, WI
Thank you all for a great job well done, each of you are very special people!