The team operates like clockwork. A system has been created in the hospital and everyone knows exactly what to do. Doctors and nurses change into scrubs and prep for surgery. Volunteers and hospital staff meet to clarify the patient process for the day. Others create the pre-screening, IV insertion, check-in, and post-op stations. Once in motion, patients flow in quickly one right after the other. The drive to perform at the highest level of patient care is in action.
The conditions are less than ideal, but the experienced team members expect it. It is 101 degrees outside according to my iPhone, yet no one complains. Supplies begin to run low, but volunteers run to find the backup materials. The electricity goes out for a few moments, while everyone continues as if nothing happens to stay on schedule. Equipment malfunctions, and volunteers on standby fix it immediately. As delicious as the lunches are, lunch breaks are short because volunteers are eager to move the long the line of patients waiting outside. Volunteers and hospital staff walk swiftly from room to room to check on patients and team members. Everyone continues to give 100% to each family and patient that walks through the hospital door.
I have heard past participants refer to WSF as a “well-oiled machine” and it is easy to understand why. There is a 6th sense coming from our highly trained, committed volunteers as a vow to help the local community.
Anesthesiologist Dr. Christopher Chambers, a first-time WSF volunteer, takes the time to explain to me in depth what he does and how he adjusts to the conditions. With patient care and patient safety as his primary goal, Dr. Chambers works to help surgeons optimize their time with a patient. He also highlights, “We don’t have the monitors that we do back home.” He lists the technical names of the equipment he knows, but doesn’t seem phased at all that they are not here. “We modify our practice to adjust to what we have.” He gives the example that monitors to track patients after surgery are lacking in the post-anesthesia care unit (also referred to as PACU), a 10 X 20 foot room that squeezes up to 5 patient beds – also called the recover room, this is where all patients go after surgery. He does everything he can to assist the doctors overseeing the PACU to ensure quality and safe care, sometimes waiting alongside the patients until they wake up or until he is called for his next case.
The team of surgeons and physicians complete a range of 124 major surgical cases over two days, such as thyroids, cysts, hernias, clefts, and a range of OB/GYN issues. Pediatric surgeon Dr. Domingo Alvear performed surgery on a 16-year old boy with a rare case called severe hypospadias. He, too, was refused by other missions due to lack of specialists. A case found in 1 out of 10,000 births, Dr. Alvear pointed out that he has done this in many of the WSF missions. Plastic surgeon Dr. David Leber did a double left clip revision on a young boy, also a rare case. Both were walk-ins. Dr. Leber says, “We’re going day by day. They come in, we screen, and if we’re open we’ll operate.” There are surprise cases everyday, something very invigorating about this trip.
The day ended with a surprise thank you gift for Dr. Leber from his hemangioma patient: a roasted chicken and a white loaf of loaf of bread! According to hospital staff, it is common for patients to thank the hospital with food, particularly since many cannot afford services. For a team this full of heart, that will definitely do!
Below are some beautiful photos for you to see what is happening here in Coron, Palawan. Thank you to WSF volunteer Kui Kanthatham for capturing these moments.