NIFA Surgical e-News, December 21, 2012

Name: Bruce Visniski

Credentials: RN, soon to receive CNOR

Current Job: Practicing as an RNFA in orthopedics and general surgery at North Ottawa Community Hospital, Muskegon, MI

NIFA-Sponsored Medical Mission: Accompanied Dr. Glenn Geelhoed in the Central African Republic for three weeks in summer 2012, working in the villages of Zemio and Obo

Why did you want to go on a Medical Mission? I had a dream of becoming an RNFA before I was 50 and then do a medical mission; I am still earning my RNFA but got my dream of going on my first mission before my 50th birthday.

I have a pretty good life. When I look around me and watch the news and I see the things going on around the world, I want to help. I have wanted to do this for a long time. With my kids (18 and 28) now grown and out of the house, the timing was right.

What kind of work did the team do?
The team performed 120 operations during our stay there with no negative outcomes. And we were doing them by generator, with no wired electricity, no running water. Among the surgeries were three radical retropubic prostatectomies–the first time this procedure had ever been done in those villages. We helped three gentlemen who, before their surgery, had to have a needle stuck into their bladder 3-6 times per day to void. These were life-changing, life improving surgeries.

Among all your experiences there, what is one that was particularly touching?
The experience I remember the most, and that made me realize that what I had done was so good, was when one of the respected elders from the village of Obo came up to me and grabbed my hand. At first I was shocked; I didn’t know what he was doing. He took my hand and touched it to each side of his face, then he started crying. I asked the African doctor we were working with, “What just happened?” He said, “That is the highest honor that any elder will give you–that you touch their face. It is the greatest thank-you. Normally not even a person from the village is allowed to do that.” That was the second to the last day before we were going to leave. That’s the day I broke down and realized how great the things we were doing in Africa actually were.

Another touching thing was the villagers’ sense of community. As we started doing the operations, there were a few village ladies helping to cook. As we did more operations and there were more mouths to feed in the infirmary, more women came in to help cook. It warms you to see that human kindness and know that these people are all living for one another.

How has this experience changed your perceptions of your life and work?
It was always over 100 degrees every day in the OR, but the funny thing is, I never found it difficult because it was just so rewarding to be there. You never thought about what was bad for you, because the entire time you’re working, you’re doing something so important. If one person is “down” in the village, it affects the entire village. The surgeries were enabling people, for example, young men with hernias, to get back into the work force.
While I was over in Africa I swore: I will never complain about a hot operating room again.

And then there were the values that Dr. Geelhoed instilled into our heads. Even our worst day at home will never be like the things that we see here and the things that the people here have to endure every day. It put so many things into perspective.

Other highlights?
Dr. Geelhoed is so knowledgable and filled with facts–one of the most amazing men I’ve ever met. I pray that I’m able to go back and do another mission with him. And I can’t explain the thanks that I had for NIFA being able to send me on that trip, because I know how much it costs. NIFA funded my airfare and I’m in debt to NIFA forever.I wouldn’t have been able to have that experience without their support.

In this photograph, I’m doing my first spinal anesthetic. This is out of my scope of practice in the U.S., but over there, Dr. Geelhoed encouraged us to learn new skills, to step outside our comfort zone–and he holds your hand throughout the whole process to make sure everything is good. One of the highlights of my trip was being able to perform spinals.

Even though it was work from daylight to dark, I can’t tell you the last time I’ve had that much fun and that much learning. It fills your heart.