A Serendipitous Surgery
Joey Williams has grown incredibly from his experiences volunteering with WorldTeach in Ecuador. Joey, a pre-med student, has not only been presented with the opportunity to teach at the university level but has also been given the chance to observe and assist in an Ecuadorian hospital! Joey proves that no matter your career aspirations, volunteering abroad can open fantastic new doors and opportunities! Read on to hear Joey’s full story.
I don’t want to harp too much on destiny but being in Ecuador as a part of WorldTeach, I have never felt like I was “supposed” to be somewhere so strongly. On top of my volunteer commitment to The Technical University of Machala (UTM), I have been able to offer myself as a volunteer in another area of need. Getting involved in the community is a great way to open your mind and find yourself. That is what is happening to me.
It goes back to a day in April. On a sunny afternoon, a fellow WorldTeach volunteer and I decided to park ourselves beside a local pool. As the sun was going down in the evening a man emerged from the attached hotel. Noticing he was a fellow gringo was not the only thing that caught my attention. He was prepped and ready for an IV. I asked “What’s the deal was with the needle?” as we shared a drink. He explained that he was bit by a mosquito and was infected. That made sense, but sitting by the pool with an IV?… I expected him to be in a hospital bed. He had with him a bag full of medication subscribed by American doctors. The name was Dr. G. As Teddy, the infected 22 yr old from Malibu, CA, and I were talking we came to the reason he was here in Ecuador after a few other bits. He was working as a scrub tech in the OR with a group called Operation Rainbow. This is an orthopedic surgery mission 34 years in the making. I expressed my interest in becoming involved and Teddy shared with me the Email of Dr. G and told me to email him. I did. I woke to an email that said “come to the hospital tomorrow”. Which one? I was not sure…
After my class, instead of going home to check my email again to find an answer, I decided to poke my head into the hospital that was on my way home. I walked in and asked a simple question, “Where is Dr. G?” A man directed me to the second floor saying all the North Americans are on floor 2. Wiggling my way through mounds of Ecuadorians, who were most likely awaiting news on their loved ones, I managed to breech the entrance to the operating wing. I was greeted by an old woman, I would grow to learn she was 80, but you would never have guessed. I couldn’t tell if she was Ecuadorian so I initially spoke Spanish. She quickly asked if I spoke English as I was asking for Dr. G. After asking for him 2 or three time she just handed me some scrubs and said put these on. Slightly confused I emerged quickly from a changing room and she escorted me down a hall. Passing OR after OR with patients on the table, I began to think, “Teddy really put in a good word for me!” That would prove to be true, but so would many other things.
Sara, the 80 year old nurse, brought me to an OR and said “Hello everyone, this is… What’s your name?”… I said my name and was immediately put to work. The North American surgeon called me over and asked me explain each step of the procedure to an Ecuadorian. Thinking in my head that I needed to find Dr. G, I decided it could wait when I took a look at what we were dealing with. The patient was in for an abdominal hysterectomy. For the next hour I spent my time translating and talking about the procedure with the doctors. After a while they realized I had some knowledge and asked what I was doing there. I told them I was looking for Dr. G. Their confused faces made me question what was going on. As we finished the procedure, the three North American obstetricians that had been working on the patient and I shared some more words. I explained I was looking for Dr. G, the head of the mission. They said, “Well, that’s the head of this mission.” Enter MEdhat Allam, the director of International Surgical Mission Support, a completely separate mission trip at a different hospital. I explained to him what had happened the previous day at the pool and how I got to the hospital. He explained that my help as a translator was priceless and said “You are not leaving.” I knew this was a remarkable opportunity as I had the key, Spanish.
For the next week, I could come and go as I please between each of the 6 operating rooms. I was called from all directions to do things as simple as get supplies, explain why a procedure was being done to ordering lab work. Then the stakes were raised. I had explained to the OBGYNs that I was a premed student and had plans for medical school. This made it through the grapevine. Enter Mehul Mehta, MD. He came to the recovery room where I was helping discharge patients and asked for me specifically. I thought I was just going help with some translating. Then he said “Scrub in.” I was going to be the only other one in the room for his next surgery. He told me it was time to get my feet wet. Then I passed the test.
The case was a man that had severed some tendons in his foot with a machete. The accident occurred months ago but the man walked in under his own power. As the procedure went, I was there assisting the surgery. I made no incisions, but my job was equally important. After you make a cut, you need to close it. That is where I put my hands to work. Just like sewing some clothes. We closed the foot and I was no longer “The Newbie”, especially after I could explain that the reason the man could walk in after his extensor digitorum longus was severed was that the extensor digitorum brevis must still be intact. That one really impressed the medical professionals.
Over the rest of the week I saw more surgery and learned more about medicine than I had in 4 years studying in college. I can’t even touch on the content of the things in the OR, but I had my nose in it and I was up to my ears in the practice of medicine. I loved it. I took in every minute, down to my core. I solidified my passion for this pursuit.
The best part about it was that as this mission trip came to a close I was informed that another group was on their way. They would be there just a week after group one and they invited me to be a part of that.
This group was a group of ear nose and throat specialists and they were just as awesome as the first group. The freedom I was given and trust they put in me at times was remarkable. I was so inspired by them. Little did I know they were also inspired by me. At a closing dinner, after the 4 physicians present had given short speeches, they asked me, and only me to do the same. Put on the spot, I became a little emotional as I explained that they had given me such confidence and made me believe in myself. I gave a little toast and the party continued.
I now regularly volunteer in the hospital and am sometimes flagged down in the streets by an Ecuadorian or 2 yelling “Doctor! Doctor!” I become embarrassed but before I can explain, they just thank me for the work we did with their family members. I just smile and say it was nothing.
If it wasn’t for Teddy and my willingness to get my hands dirty and go for it, I would never have found my niche here in Ecuador. The life I have as a volunteer in the university along with the hospital makes me feel needed and useful. I can help people, and that is the name of the game on this Earth.