How to keep climbing.
I have a confession to make. Sometimes this all seems so futile.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of positives in doing work in developing countries. The medical attention you give or teach, it serves a very important purpose. This is what the frontline in the battle against poverty looks like. You’re creating a smile on a patient’s face as they receive treatment to which they would not normally have access.
But there are times when you want to scream. It feels pointless. It’s pushing a rope uphill. It’s an un-climbable mountain. You just want to give up. Pack up and go home.
I’m not sure what the origin of the feeling really was. The bureaucracy that haunts healthcare? The weight of countless details that hang off you like lead balloons? More time away from my family/more moments missed with my kids? I’m just not sure. But yesterday was one of those moments and I couldn’t shake it. I felt like quitting.
I’m in Port au Prince with the team this week delivering our fourth Orthopedic Trauma Symposium. This time the agenda included pediatric trauma, an often neglected area of education. The course itself involves Canadian surgeons teaching and working side by side with our Haitian friends and colleagues to teach them using artificial patients, letting them operate on fake bones, practicing without fear of any complications.
What a gift. It’s hard to imagine a surgeon who is cutting into your baby’s hip for the first time having never practiced on a patient or model before. That happens. And it’s every bit as terrifying as it sounds. But this course helps solve that problem. It helps fill the gap.
There’s something about watching education and learning happen right in front of you that just fills your soul a bit. I think we take that for granted back home. But this did me the world of good. Boots are back on. I think I can climb a little more.
After the symposium, I went to a children’s amputee hospital and witnessed the good work being done with limited resources. Men and women working literally on the streets of Port au Prince fashioning by hand prosthetics that will help kids and adolescents with limb deformities. That’s as raw and as ingenious as it gets.
Sometimes you just need a reminder that the mountain is worth climbing.
Back at the hospital. It sits behind a gate near a partially collapsed building that serves as a gentle reminder of the devastation from 8 years ago. The hospital itself is more a series of clinics with two floors, no air conditioning and limited lighting. The paperwork consists of handwritten notes. There are no computers or reliable electricity for that matter. It’s stuffy to say the least. Little air moves and there is an inch of dust on everything. Yet our host, himself an amputee, walks through it with a level of pride seen in someone showing their new home for the first time.
We got to see three follow up patients from previous trips, patients we have helped over the years. One was a young girl, 5 years old, who was born with a deformed leg and the only option was an amputation. A team performed the surgery, saving her knee and enabling her to walk with a prosthesis. A girl who was destined to crawl for the rest of her life walked for us in the clinic. It just fills your heart.
The next patient was an even bigger surprise. He was a young man whom I had never met. He was standing next to me as we walked through the hospital. I thought he was staff. Someone introduced him to me as a long-term patient of Team Broken Earth. He gave me the hardiest of handshakes. He smiled and rolled up his pant leg revealing a prosthesis. The young man had a rare tumor on his foot and the teams had tried to save it but the tumor was too aggressive. At the time, he maintained he lived on the top of a mountain and without a foot, there would be no way he could get back to his home. Our team from Montreal sat with him, visited his home and together they came to the conclusion to amputate and use a prosthesis. He was fitted for it almost immediately. Today, he is never in his home. Not because of the terrain but because he is too busy living his life.
Mountains? What mountains? Those short-lived feelings of frustration and defeat are washed away. It’s a little selfish, I know. But I need these moments. I need them like markers on a hard hike. They remind you that you are not alone. That others have gone before you. That you can do this. Find the mountain in your life. No matter how high it seems, keep the faith. Keep climbing. Trust me, the view is worth it.