Today I assisted in my first surgery. Seriously.
My alarm went off at 5:30 am- the same time the roosters in our backyard start crowing and the blood orange sun starts creeping over the horizon. I rolled out of bed, threw on the most professional-appearing attire I have in Nica (a collared shirt, some khakis and my new coconut shell earrings I bought at the market yesterday), made some coffee, ate some gallo pinto and headed off to Hospital Infantil Mascot (one of two free children’s hospitals in Managua).
In order to get to the hospital, I had to catch two different public buses, not an easy task during the mornings when Nicaraguan children are rushing to school and adults are off to work. This morning, like every morning at 6:30 am in Managua, the public buses (old US school buses) were jam-packed… to the point that four or five men were literally hanging out the back, holding on tight to the open doors. I waited for thirty minutes before a bus arrived that didn’t have more than 100 people smashed into the seats and aisles. After two bus rides and forty minutes of standing sandwiched between a pregnant woman and a man holding a bag of rice, I arrived at the Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Mendez, a Nicaraugan pediatric surgeon (who works with our child sponsorship program), greeted me when I entered Hospital Mascota with a kiss on the cheek (the typical greeting in Central America). The hospital, nice by Nicaraguan standards and free to its patients (thanks to tax dollars), was teaming with babies and children and mothers- all waiting to be seen by a physician. Walking to the surgical ward I passed a baby with hydrocephaly, a young girl holding her bloody hand in a cloth, and several crying children holding on tightly to their mothers’ dresses. Dr. Mendez pointed out a three-year-old boy with big brown eyes who was about to have an abdominal surgery… that I got to watch.
Scrubbing into surgery was awesome. Decked out in green scrubs (booties, hat, mask and all), I followed the doctor’s lead as he showed me how to properly wash my hands before surgery; soap up to the elbow, scrub scrub scrub, rinse, repeat.
The little boy on the operating table had a perforated bowel and had already undergone a colostomy, in which part of the large intestine was brought into the wall of the abdomen. As a result, this child literally had part of his intestines outside his tiny belly. The doctor’s job was to repair the bowel, and put the large intestine back inside the boy’s body. For two and a half hours I stood next to the doctor, amazed at his confident and fluid sewing techniques. Stitch here, cut here, cauterize here, sew-up the large intestine- no big deal. It was incredible. And the best part? I got to help out with the stitches- the doc said, “Asi no te aburres” (so you don’t get bored), and handed me the needle. Seriously.
After the successful surgery I watched as the doctor told the parents of the little boy that everything went well. Upon hearing the good news the mother began to weep as did the father. Both are farmers in the mountains of northern Nicaragua, and hardly make enough money to feed their children nevertheless pay for this expensive surgery. They had driven nine hours in the back of a chicken bus with their three-year-old who had a torn bowel (the result of a serious oxen cart accident) because they couldn’t afford the hospitals closer to home. And now their son was going to be okay. They were so grateful to the doctor- the mother (between weeps) even hugged me as she said gracias over and over. Mid-hug the doc looked at me and winked, whispering “el mejor parte del dia,” which means “the best part of my day.”