Open Arms, Thankful Heart

Written by Kristina Via-Reque on Sunday, October 7, 2018

It is hard to believe the time has come to depart the beautiful country of Bolivia. As I write this, I am sitting in a window seat on the plane that will bring me and the rest of the team from the multi-specialty mission trip back to the States. This nice, long flight is the perfect time to reflect on this past week, from meeting the mission team to our final dinner together. Here I will share some of the things I have been reflecting on.

When we departed for Bolivia on Friday, September 28, I was sort of the odd one out when I met the team for the first time in the Chicago airport terminal. Almost everyone else had already met at least once at the missioner orientation day a few weeks before, but I was unable to attend. Despite being a stranger to the team, I was immediately welcomed with open arms. I could see and feel the camaraderie among the team members and I was excited to be part of it all. Over the course of the trip, I was constantly in awe of how each team member not only genuinely cared for our patients, but also for each other. Whether we were dealing with sickness, a broken tooth, or a patient’s unexpected surgical complications, each team member would bend over backwards to help, even a newbie like myself. For all this I am thankful.

Once we arrived to work at the hospital in Mizque on Monday morning, we were welcomed again with open arms and also with very long lines of patients awaiting consultations. As a nurse on the trip, my role had some flexibility and I went wherever I was needed. We learned very quickly that the vital signs triage room was very busy in the morning hours, since all patients had to pass through this room before seeing a specialist. Therefore, I spent my mornings in this room with three other Bolivian nurses, my Solidarity Bridge nurse partner Jackie Mortillaro, and our amazing translator, Daniela Viscarra. Since I am a pediatric nurse in the States, I generally started my day with the kiddos waiting to see our pediatrician, Dr. Monica Joseph-Griffin. Once we got through the pediatric charts, we would move on to adult patients waiting to see doctors of other specialties.

Communication was hard at times. Not only did I need an interpreter for Spanish, but also for Quechua, the language spoken by many indigenous Bolivians in this region. Luckily the nurses and security guards were willing and eager to translate for us. One nurse in particular, Pascolina, was extremely helpful with translating, answering my questions, giving us access to rooms and equipment, and talking down patients who were upset about wait times. Though many patients expressed their frustrations, many more expressed their gratitude.

Since the vital signs triage room slowed down around midday, I spent my afternoons with the local nurses working on the inpatient units. I was interested in learning about their workflow and trying to understand what it is like to be a nurse in this particular hospital. All of the nurses were happy to answer my endless questions and Vladimir, one of the only male nurses, let me shadow him for a few hours at the beginning of his shift.

He began by explaining the hospital’s preparation process for all inpatient medications, which is a job assigned to one nurse. After his explanation, we gathered materials and prepared all of the medications together. We then moved on to the medication administration process which he explained thoroughly and we also completed together. As he explained his workday, I pointed out the many similarities to my job and shared some of the differences.

The afternoons I spent learning about the Mizque nurses were some of my favorite experiences of the trip. Even though there are a million differences between Vladimir's job in Mizque and mine in the States, we still clearly share core nursing values such as infection control and patient safety and education. Our time spent together was eye-opening in many ways.

All in all, my first mission trip with Solidarity Bridge was all that I had hoped for. It was full of cultural experiences, ups and downs, amazing food, and even better people, both American and Bolivian. It is hard to find the perfect words to describe the trip in its entirety as I continue to process it all, but I will say this: I am thankful.

Thankful for Solidarity Bridge and our sister organization, Puente de Solidaridad. Thankful for all the staff at Hospital de Mizque Dr. Augusto Morales Asua. And thankful for the opportunity we had to come together in solidarity to serve the people of Mizque.

As we head back home, I realize we haven't even said our final goodbyes, yet I am already missing my team. I look forward to my second trip with Solidarity Bridge.

First-time missioner Kristina Via-Reque is a pediatric ICU nurse in Omaha, Nebraska.

The 2018 Multi-Specialty Mission Trip took place from September 28 to October 7, 2018, in Mizque, Bolivia. The team was comprised of a general surgery operating team, clinical physicians in cardiology, gynecology, pediatrics, family medicine and dermatology, and a physical therapist. US missioners worked alongside their Bolivian colleagues to provide care to hundreds of patients in need.


Learn more about joining a Solidarity Bridge mission trip.