Ecuador 2017: Reflections from Team Member Carla Wittenberg
by Carla Wittenberg
I’ve yearned to travel on a surgical mission for years. After training and working in large academic centers and level 1 trauma centers my entire career, I have been curious to see truly how simple the process could be of providing surgical care without the concerns of paper trails, legal concerns and insurance coverage.
Our mission took me to a country I’d never traveled to before, Ecuador. There we merged with an incredibly dedicated Ecuadorian organization, Cinterandes, and off we went on a 13 hour convoy to our mission site. There we found our patients well-organized with paper numbers in hand, waiting patiently to speak with one of the physicians to discuss their surgical or medical concerns.
The Shuar people were beautiful, peaceful, patient and grateful. The way their community steps up for one another, waiting patiently outside of the mobile OR to carry the patient into the recovery area, for example, was impressive and a great reminder of both the impact of disease on a community and the way care can be provided when everyone participates and lends a hand.
One night I sat in our recovery area doing post-operative care and checking vital signs as each patient slept. On the bed next to each patient was one, two or four family members by their side from ages 1-70 providing support and being available when the patient needed a drink or to go to the restroom. Such a beautiful reminder of our patients as parts of a larger ecosystem.
We can risk loosing sight of the family and community connection when we see our patients in the U.S. with such an emphasis on private care, no details shared with friends or even other family members. My desire to see how very simple surgical care can be was fulfilled. Our ability to focus on our care and simplify the patient experience was refreshing and a wonderful reminder of what really matters when providing medical/surgical care. Thanks!