NIFA Surgical e-News, December 23, 2013

Name: Victoria Rice

Credentials: RN, CNOR, RNFA

Student Status: Graduated from NIFA’s RNFA program Nov. 2012

City and State: Seattle, WA

Current Position: Surgical Nurse, University of Washington Medical Center. General Surgery and Da Vinci.

NIFA-sponsored Medical Mission: Ghana with Dr. Glenn Geelhoed, summer 2013

Was this your first medical mission? No, I had been on two others to Mexico doing cataract surgery. Also, this was my third trip to Africa, so I was prepared in many ways for that.

What was your day-to-day experience like? The clinic days were very challenging, very demanding. We started at 7 in the morning and frequently would go until 6 or 7 in the evening. We would do up to 30 surgeries in a day, with two tables running side by side. It was very intense. The conditions were very hot, very humid. You didn’t have a lot of things you’re used to having at home in an American operating room: no bogie, no electrocautery, no general anesthesia–most patients got about 10 ccs of local anesthesia. No drapes. We sterilized instruments in a pressure cooker.

We had opportunities not just to perform surgeries but also to take patients in a clinical capacity. We had an incredible Ghanaian land team in place–volunteer translators, nurses. They were wonderful to work with–tireless, friendly, fun, knowledgeable, compassionate. It was wonderful for us to work shoulder to shoulder with the local people and a great experience for them, too.

What was it like working with Dr. Geelhoed? I was very impressed with his can-do spirit. Whatever we had to work with, that’s what we had to work with. Nothing dampens his enthusiasm. He’s a very practical, very positive person and he just says, “We’ll just do the best we can.”

He is a great teacher, extremely knowledgeable. He gave us lots of opportunities to assume a leadership role, including in surgery. We got to perform a good deal of the surgeries ourselves under his direction, which was an incredible, fantastic, confidence-building experience. Long hours, long days, lots of challenges. We saw close to 1000 patients in the 10 days of clinics.

What was one scene that particularly struck you while there? With our patients only having 10 ccs of local anesthesia, they were able to feel a lot of what we were doing. One day I was removing a lipoma and Dr. Glenn was just watching me. Every time I would snip the snip the patient would wince and cry. Dr. Glenn said, “You need to get on with it. Hurt him quickly, because you’re not doing him any favors by hurting him slowly.”

The people who came to us really suffered a lot. They were so dignified. So stoic, so grateful, so appreciative. Even after being in a lot of pain on the operating table, after we would put the bandages on and they would get down from the table, “Thank you for coming so far. Thank you for helping me.”

We’d walk back and forth from our host home through the village every morning People ran into the streets to shake our hands, or called from their windows to us during our evening walk, waving and thanking us. I was very touched. And at the clinic, people waited patiently. There would be 100 people waiting when we got there at 7. People would wait all day. I never heard a complaint. People were so gracious. It is touching to see what people must go through to receive health care in many parts of the world; how fortunate we are here to have the services we do.