Written by Jim Manzardo

Today's guest blogger is Jim Manzardo, who took time off from his hospital chaplaincy position at Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago to accompany both missioners and patients during the General Surgery Mission Trip. His blog shares reflections from the first day at Viedma General Hospital in Cochabamba.

Team Chaplain, Jim Manzardo helped lead the ritual opening ceremony. The ceremony was co-lead by Marcela Canedo and Patricia Vargas.

Team Chaplain, Jim Manzardo helped lead the ritual opening ceremony. The ceremony was co-lead by Marcela Canedo and Patricia Vargas.

I am the chaplain for our Solidarity Bridge General Surgery Mission Trip (GSMT). As on my first trip in October 2014, my wife Matilde is with me, serving as an interpreter.  

Today our 16 missioners walked the short distance to the Viedma Public Hospital. After being welcomed by the chief of medicine, our medical team made rounds to patients in need of surgery. After Solidarity Bridge surgeons, anesthesiologists, physician assistants and interpreters met with patients accompanied by Bolivian colleagues, I made one-on-one visits. Of the eight patients I visited, each expressed gratitude, some with tears in their eyes, for being “accepted into the solidarity program.” Each of them, young and old, spoke of the economic hardship with which they live and the tremendous help and renewed hope that Solidarity Bridge gives them through our surgical mission trip.

In the first room, I met 21-year-old Carmen and 70-year-old Patricia, each sitting up in their beds, with no privacy curtain to separate them. Patricia appreciated being able to encourage Carmen by sharing her faith, while Carmen acknowledged her struggle with “things often seeming to not go my way.” Both said that sharing a room lessened their loneliness and was good for their spirits.

Missioners participating in the candle lighting ritual during the trip’s opening ceremony.

Missioners participating in the candle lighting ritual during the trip’s opening ceremony.

Another patient, Alicia, reminded me of the woman in the Bible who had lived with a hemorrhage for many years and, when she touched Jesus, was healed. For seven years, Alicia has lived with abdominal pain which has often kept her awake at night. A mother of twelve, with minimal to no help from her husband, she had no choice but to continue working very hard, including planting in the fields. Doctors could only give her calmantes for pain because she is poor and unable to afford surgery. Her eyes welled with tears of gratitude for “being chosen for surgery,” contemplating her new life without pain.  

As I left the hospital with fellow missioners, I realized that we too have been chosen – chosen to be that healing and strengthening touch that changes our lives as well as that of our patients.

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