from the December 2018 RNFA Surgical eNews


City & State
Ithaca, NY

Graduate Status 
Graduated from NIFA’s RNFA program in 11/2012

Current Position 
RN and RNFA at Ithaca NY Cayuga Medical Center

When and where did you go on a medical mission?
In January 2014 I accompanied Dr. Glenn Geelhoed and Mission to Heal on a two-and-a-half-week medical mission to Ozu Abam in Nigeria.

Erin Griffeth and Dr. Glenn Geelhoed working in Nigaria, 2014. Photo: Dennis D. Steinauer

What made you want to sign up for it?
I believe that someone who lives in and has privileges in a first world country needs to give back in some way. Plus, I wanted to see how health care was in another country—one that is not as wealthy as the United States. Also, since I was just starting out as an RNFA it was a great way to get some hands-on experience.

Just a few of the many children that came by the clinic.

What was your role onthe trip?
I worked as an RNFA.

How big a team went on the trip?

There were 15 to 20 people. A good portion of them had never worked in an OR before and did more of the medical side, but some had experience on the surgical side.

What struck you about being in a third-world country?
At the beginning of the trip, it was seeing the extreme poverty. There was also a big military presence; at least, a lot more than you would see in the US. The comfortableness of being in safe little bubble in the U.S. (although we did have a safe little bubble in the sense that we were white people from a wealthy country and had resources) changed abruptly. 

Young Daniel, feverish with malaria, with two nursing student volunteers. Daniel died two days later. He was one of the sons of Erin’s host family.

How were you received by the local communities?

The Nigerian people were amazing. They put us up in a lovely home, the home of one of the leaders in the community, and fed us so generously. The poverty is right there, and still people are really great and there’s a lot of love and a lot of appreciation.

What else made an impression on you?

The amazing, smiling kids made a big impression on me. And another big thing I took away from being on a medical mission in the 3rd world is that death is really real—not just for old, sick people, but for young people, too. Seeing a 2- or 3-year old die from an upper respiratory infection, or a 5-year-old die from malaria, it stays with you. Not only seeing the deaths, but seeing how the family and community deal with it. Very different from what we see here. I can only surmise, I can’t get into their brains, but I feel like here we have the luxury of grieving and there, it’s part of life and you move forward. Not that they don’t grieve. They do, but in a very different way, and it’s a very different frame of mind. The circle of life is more of a day-to-day, week-to-week reality. You have to take care of the living, basically. That was something that definitely impacted me and made a big imprint on my brain . . . it’s not just the material resources that we are privileged to have, but emotional time and energy. 

Describe the setting where you worked.

A goiter patient awaiting surgery.

We landed in a city and traveled out to the village to work.It was a clinic setting, in a small concrete building. It didn’t have a lot of equipment. There was running water, but limited. It was very clean but very bare, with limited supplies. We brought the lion’s share of supplies and equipment.

After we got there, one section of the building was walled off and made into our operating room, with two OR beds. We used that room to do several types of surgeries. Most were pretty minor; we did a lot of hernias. We had the most basic equipment; we didn’t have any suction or cautery.

We also worked for a day or two in one of the bigger cities, in a hospital with more equipment; we did a couple of larger surgeries there.

What did you learn medically?

One of the most interesting things that I feel grateful for learning while I was there was watching Dr. G. do surgeries without what we think of as the basics, here. I haven’t had to use those skills here but I still have them in my brain. A good example is two pretty big goiter surgeries that we did in that hospital in the city. Dr. G. dissected down through the layers of the neck, which are highly vascular, and instead of tying off or using cautery to get mosquitoes and hemostats on them, he left the clamps on there while he continued to do the rest of the surgery. With the use of lap sponges and clamps, he didn’t really need the suction and cautery.

Dr. G. made it a point to teach the medical people who were there. He did the first goiter surgery with one of the younger Nigerian doctors assisting;  I think I scrubbed in. The second one he had the Nigerian doctor do himself, and I was assisting. It was like, See One, Do One.

There are so many things our surgeons want or “need” that are so much more than are really needed. To learn how to do surgery in those conditions was really awesome.

One of the goiter surgeries with Dr. G in the city hospital.