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Date: 23 Nov 2007 11:39:34
Title: Surgery? Not for me! I'll dice, you slice!

Well, I (Tracy) was looking for something a bit out of the ordinary to occupy myself with, so I thought I’d try my hand at paediatric surgery…


Marina Bahia Redonda has for the last few years managed to rustle up some volunteers to help the Fundamigos project which runs surgery “missions” where surgeons from other countries come over for a few days of intensive plastic surgery facial operations for a variety of conditions, but mostly cleft lip and palate, which are very common in developing countries like Venezuela.  Children travel from all over the country for a chance of treatment.  Working alongside local surgeons they take over part of the local hospital and operate on approximately 60 to 90 patients, mostly children, in 3 days.  There is very little in the way of resources so they bring their own equipment and whatever else is needed is bought with donations and fund raising.



In the build up to the operations we spent quite a few mornings making packs of gauzes to be used in the operations.  Fiddly work but we soon got quite quick at it, knocking out what seemed like hundreds of the things and wrapping them in brown paper for sterilizing later.  Sheets and towels were also made for the children to use in the wards (I did say there wasn’t much equipment at the hospital). 


There were three areas in which you could help; the “Caminita” (or Little Way) which fed everybody from dawn to dusk, the “Third Floor” (on the third floor!) where children were staying before and after surgery, or the surgery itself. 


Those of us who hadn’t volunteered in previous years were taken to the hospital for a days training in the procedures for surgery back up, and, keen to find out more, off I trot to watch operations and learn what our duties might be on the day.  Once we’re togged up in all the gear it’s straight into the fray.

It’s not often you get the chance to stand behind a plastic surgeon whilst she knocks someone’s broken cheekbone back into shape with a hammer and chisel, then screws it together with her Black and Decker. 

Fascinating stuff and not as un-watchable as I’d anticipated but the condition of the hospital was a real eye opener for this softy Westerner. I know this is a very poor country in many ways, and it turns out healthcare for the masses is one of them.  Call me old fashioned but a certain level of cleanliness and maintenance goes a long way in a hospital.  I’ll spare you the details; I’m sure you can imagine it. To be honest, a lot of care was taken at the table to maintain sterility etc but once we had the tour of duty for the clean up between operations I was fairly certain I would be better suited to peeling sacks of spuds than emptying bottles of blood and goo and washing pointy instruments in a bowl of fairy liquid with a nail brush.  All the staff were very friendly and caring, especially in telling us not to let the instruments out of our sight for a second or they would be stolen!



Not me I’m afraid, but Terri from yacht “Ishi” demonstrating said bottle-emptying down open drain in the floor, and mopping up what didn’t make it into the bottle.  Picture quality not good enough for the full hygiene horror story in the sluice room.




The surgeons and theatre staff all worked from 7am to at least 10pm.  We were brought in to work 2 shifts so it was not quite so arduous for us.  Amusing hairnets are worn especially for the occasion – apparently it is a well know medical fact that seeing your surgeon sporting a cap covered in cute cows or bunnies goes a long way to reducing pre op stress.



Here’s one of the surgeons taking a well-earned rest in the corridor.  Please note enterprising use of shopping trolley to house supplies (normal practice – no special favours for the mission).  Also, sheet made by volunteers about to be deployed.



Anyway, to get to the important bit – me.  The Caminita is really the hub of the whole business, with people constantly drifting in and out in need of nourishment.  Here various food related tasks were undertaken by us, most notably butchering, I mean operating on, 30 slightly wiffy chickens into tiny pieces al fresco in temperatures more suited to saunas than keeping meat fresh.  Myself and other volunteers from yacht “Magic Moment” can be seen making one hundred (more or less, we lost count) cheese and ham rolls for the night shift whilst seated at miniature furniture, as the Caminita is housed temporarily in a primary school. I didn’t imagine I would come home each night complaining of knee ache!   We were ably assisted by the Boy Scouts, who don’t look anything like I remember…


This area is run by a fantastic dentist called Maggie who effortlessly and charmingly organises everything and still finds time to entertains everybody with her beautiful singing and by dressing up in silly outfits.



I was glad to have to been involved in some thing like this, even contributing as little as I did by just mucking out in the kitchen. The people who run it are all dedicated to making a difference to the lives of these little kids who suffer a lot through not getting treatment for a condition that is readily corrected by simple surgery at three months of age in more developed countries.  Getting away from the confines of the marina and into the real world certainly brought a different dimension to the stay in Venezuela.


What it’s all about.


Photos courtesy of Ellen B Sanpere, yacht “Cayenne 3”





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