“Move in.” Dr. Miller is dissecting a gallbladder, cutting around the inflamed mass, turgid with stones. I'm watching the end of a tiny camera, inserted into the patient’s abdomen. “That means move the camera further into the body cavity.” Amidst the beeping of machines, chit chat among the surgery personnel, and clink of the surgical instruments, the faint smell of burning rises from the cauterizer.
I'm standing in an operating room at the Holy Family Surgery Center near Tegucigalpa, Honduras, watching my first ever surgery... and I'm completely terrified. But the doctor is calm and confident, the surgery is over quickly, the patient is taken to recovery, and I'm back in my comfort zone, cleaning the surgery center and preparing operating rooms for their new patients.
This is basically how our days go here. We're often carrying out the most menial of tasks; at other times we feel ourselves to be in way over our heads. But the surgeries are completed, the patients are discharged, and finally we make the trek back in the dark to dinner.
We hear the story of NPH, how it started with one priest saving one boy, and the story of Holy Family Surgery Center, how it started with one couple building one operating room. Seeing the hundreds of Honduran kids and gleaming surgery center, it's hard to believe they started with such humble beginnings. But as LuLu Daly is fond of saying, “our vision was small, God’s vision was big.”
That seems to be the theme around here: small ideas making big changes. Laparoscopic surgery involves making small incisions in the body wall to insert instruments and perform surgery without opening the body cavity; while that's going on in the OR it sorta feels like that's what's going on at this place in general. We're making small incisions into the very center of these people’s lives, inserting what tools we have, and hopefully making a difference in their health and wellbeing overall. Sometimes I'm dejected, wondering how a single doctor, OR, or even surgery center can make a difference in a country with such seemingly insurmountable problems. But there is such hope in the hearts of everyone involved. Everyone works with persistence, patience, and prudence, and no one even questions whether they are “making a difference”--they are certain that they are. One doctor who has been coming for many years shared that he had been saddened at his first visit by how helpless he felt and how he had only wished he could do more for the kids; now, he cries tears of thanksgiving because of how much God is doing through him for them.
I'm convinced it comes from a surrender--a surrender of our own desires to be heroes, surrender of our ideas of success and progress, and surrender to the “big vision” at work here. Each person contributes what little (or big) they can, and no job is too small. I have seen the academic dean as a glorified dishwasher and the anesthesiologist filling soap dispensers. As for me, with no degree or medical experience to speak of, it is a massive privilege and honor to even be in the OR. I'm happy to empty trash or wipe down glass doors, making a small difference in a single OR in a single surgery center in the middle of Honduras. Maybe this small action will help make a big difference.