At 2:30 am on Friday, February 21 the taxi drove up our driveway to take Kathy and I to the airport to begin what turned out to be the experience of a lifetime. We had been accepted as volunteers for the Canadian Association of Medical Teams Abroad (CAMTA) medical mission to Quito, Ecuador. CAMTA is a not for profit organization in Edmonton that sends orthopedic surgeons and other professional staff to Quito to perform surgeries on Ecuadorian adults and children to make their lives a whole lot better. The surgeries are usually hip replacements for adults and correcting club feet for children. This was the 13th annual mission to this particular country.
We were part of the second team, with the first heading out the week before. Typically the mission utilizes over 90 volunteers over a two week time frame. This year, CAMTA performed 79 procedures on 62 patients.
Our role for the mission was that of “lay persons” which is the fancy name for individuals who do whatever needs to be done to ensure that everything flows smoothly. The main task that we were responsible for was to ensure that the instruments were properly cleaned, sterilized and ready for the next surgery. That may not sound all that difficult but the hospital in Quito does not have hot water so we were in a small room with kettles boiling continuously to ensure we had a sufficient supply for proper washing. Needless to say, in a temperate climate with no air conditioning and nowindows that open, it was a warm environment. But that didn’t hinder our work. The group of five worked tirelessly to get the job done so as not to delay the main work of the mission.
|Tom and Kathy in their scrubs|
The people on the team were so cooperative and respectful of each other and the patients. The surgeons, anaesthetists, family doctors, translators, nurses, physiotherapists, administrators and lay people worked together as a team. Everyone was equal and everyone pitched in wherever help was needed. The “lay people” were usually the last group to leave the hospital each night (except for the ward nursing staff) but no one ever complained if they had to wait an hour or so before the bus left.
The most gratifying moments during our nine days at the hospital were the Ecuadorian people. From when they lined up to be assessed for surgery to when they arrived at the hospital on the day of their surgery, they were always so pleasant and grateful for the opportunity to live without pain and to be mobile once again. Seeing the patients after surgery, with their smiles and eagerness to get on with their physiotherapy, left a very warm feeling in everyone’s heart.Being part of the CAMTA Medical Mission was certainly a highlight for us and something we will never forget.
|Kathy with a young patient|