Since 1990, the Ecuadent Foundation has provided medical and dental care to the beautiful country of Ecuador. Unfortunately, it suffers from huge economic and health disparities. For many years, and again this year, I was able to return to Esmeraldas where health care doesn’t reach the populations who need it most. This is where out volunteer efforts are focused.
Volunteering is known to be a privilege among us who work in this capacity. As a nurse, I am really able to touch and see where and how those efforts change someone’s life. In conditions that may not be ideal, I connect my professional nursing skills and ingenuity to help a child, to help a family and to make a real change. I am strongly connected to the medical colleagues who share this dedication.
Our team of 28 professionals, from all over the Untied States, come together on the night before we begin. Some are new to the team but it doesn’t seem to matter because we instinctively begin by hugging and greeting one another. I hear familiar voices talking an re-bonding. It is wonderful! We are a family. It is exciting as we exchange ideas and information related to the mission. We are a dynamic group that is so focused. This bond and this commitment are one part of the dedication that I feel as a nurse. I know we are of one mind: to help the children of Ecuador who would not otherwise have access to medical care. We put our lives on hold to hold others in our arms.
“Yo soy bandita!” I was called for a security check at the airport in Quito. Down, down, down to where the luggage is searched for illegal contraband. I was carrying crayons and anitibiotics. How thoughtless. Ha! Security was very serious but very nice once we showed them out papers and authorization. My passport was scrutinized. I was scanned again with a wand. The plane was held up for me as I ran to join my colleagues. It was a shot flight from Quito to Esmeraldas where we met the Navy; our guides, hosts and security detail. We were all pretty excited to see the hospital and set up for triage the next day.
Up at 5:30 am and ready to go. Organizing, trashing, moving, staging, counting, planning, losing and finding our supplies. It’s a group effort with each team going through their crates and boxes. Done at 6:30 pm we meet to plan for surgeries starting on Day 2, February 18th. We met some of the families who had traveled for days and had arrived early to make sure their child would be seen. The lobby of the hospital overflowed to two tents that were set up to prot
ect them from the hot sun and rain. I feel anxious as I hope we can help in some way. They are putting great hope and expectation in us for their children. I can feel my nursing instincts fire up as I scan the crowds and meet the eyes of the mothers, fathers and children. I smile but cannot pause long because I need to be ready for them. I think (I hope) they understand.
Beginning on the Day 2 to Day 5, we are at the hospital early, have a group meeting, each team ready to go. I am privileged to work with these colleagues. I am professionally challenged in a way that excites me. Though conditions are not ideal, I am charged with the planning and performance of surgery for my room. I use my creativity and humor as necessary to provide levity in stressful situations. I draw Avatars for team members, place earrings on our little girls and balls in the hands of little boys so that wake up to something special. One of the best parts of this job as a volunteer is being able to follow up on my patients from triage/evaluation to surgery, recovery to post op. That’s often not possible as an operating room nurse.
The days are long and the work is hard. I look forward to it each day because I know and can see the
difference I make. We are all crying but for different reasons: joy, pain, pride gratitude, amazement, empathy. What could be better for me as a nurse to just be there and to be involved. I am live witness to what medicine can achieve on the most basic level over and over again.
Thank you One Nurse At A Time, for helping me exchange my time and my skills as we provide care in one of the poorest regions of Ecuador: Esmeraldas. Even though the culture, language and practices are different, our team was able to change the live of sixty children! Thanks also to my friends who donated gifts and blankets as their part in giving to this mission. This is a constantly evolving and expanding mission. I love what I do as a volunteer.