A Lesson in Love and Selflessness in Bolivia

Robin Wood, 2014 General Surgery Trip missioner and guest blogger.

Good evening from Cochabamba!

My name is Robin Wood and this is the best possible “reunion” week for me. My college friend, Dr. Gay Garrett, a surgeon from Washington, D.C., started coming to Bolivia several years ago to do operations and train Bolivian doctors. This is the second time I join her, translating as she works with the Bolivian doctors. It’s wonderful - two old friends spending ten days together helping people. We are so fortunate.

As we arrive the first day in the five-ward, forty-bed Tiquipaya Municipal Hospital in the outskirts of Cochabamba, the patient line is forming. Word is out that we are here, and by 8 am, patients and families are waiting to be seen. Here at this hospital we are a team of five: a surgeon, anesthesiologist, surgical tech, the local social worker, and me, the translator. After seeing fifteen surgery candidates, our schedule is almost full for the week. The hospital moves at a distinct pace, different from what our American doctors and nurses are used to, and the tension builds as we take in the enormity of work to be done.

Robin Wood and Dr. Gay Garrett moments before surgery in the Tiquipaya Hospital.

Then, in the midst of the hustle, something happens that brings us all to a halt. It is a simple moment. A forty-four-year-old woman had waited patiently for her appointment. I begin the usual translation of Dr. Garrett’s basic questions. At this point, I have translated the interview so many times I could almost do the assessment myself. We come to the usual question: “Are there any medical problems in your family?” I pause at the response, processing what I've heard before finding the words to relay it to Gay.

This woman, a mother of seven, tells us she prefers to delay her operation if, instead, we could just help two of her children. Before having her gallbladder removed to relieve the tremendous pain she has lived with for at least two years, she wants to know the cost to help her children.

As Dr. Garrett and I exchange glances, we realize that her children’s problems are an easy fix.  Gay directs me to speak with Solidarity Bridge’s local social worker and a student doctor, and within fifteen minutes the woman is given medicine (free of charge) to treat her children’s parasites.

We are here to provide surgeries and help train doctors in the latest procedures. But this suffering mother has provided us with a lesson in love and selflessness. Fortunately, we are able to schedule her surgery, and she will not need to choose between curing her own ailment and caring for her children. We are reminded that, sometimes, you just have to start with the basics.

Missioners Jacqui Claros, Dr. Gay Garrett, Dr. Dan Yousif (back to camera), Jennie Bagaconza, and Robin Wood, with our local partner, Dr. Luis Herrera, and a hospital intern. Doctors Garrett and Herrera are performing a laparoscopic gall bladder extraction.