Wednesday, July 1, 2009

On Shore, On Board and Behind the Scenes, Volunteers Continue Critical Work

The moving parts onboard Comfort never seem to stop moving. While the Project HOPE care providers were getting things done ashore and our team of nurses held down the fort aboard ship, the management team was engaged in their own work.

Dr. Ken Iserson, HOPE’s chief medical officer onboard, has spent the last two days as one of six docs on a board in charge of credentialing each and every volunteer doctor and surgeon that comes onboard. It’s a job that sounds fairly simple—yet considering that it requires reading English, Dutch, Spanish, and sometimes Portuguese, plus the sheer number of doctors and surgeons that rotate through Comfort’s OR’s, the task becomes quite formidable, especially given how critical the job is.

Meanwhile, Project HOPE’s operations officer for the mission, Tracey Kunkel, was officially handing over HOPE’s donated medical supplies--nearly $150,000 of medical and first aid supplies—to the El Salvadorian Ministry of Health for use in the nation’s clinics and hospitals.

While that was all going on, the Chief of Naval Operations (number one admiral) of the El Salvadorian Navy paid a visit to the Comfort and toured the ship and the hospital. Captain Ware, Commanding Officer of the hospital, gave him and his entourage the tour, and I ended up in front of the group of El Salvadorian top brass, (briefly, as the Captain had a lot of ship to show off) explaining HOPE’s mission, size, and makeup in Spanish.

Still, I managed to sneak into Casualty Receiving (CASREC) for a short time to see Project HOPE volunteer ER nurse Carleen Qualantone with her incoming patients. CASREC is equivalent to the ER in a land-based hospital--the first place that any patient bound for surgery goes when they come aboard Comfort. Carleen and the other CASREC nurses take whatever X-Rays, CT scans, blood work, or labs that a pre-op patient needs, then sends them to stay with HOPE volunteer nurse Addy Wakeman to stay the night before their surgery.

While I was with Carleen, HOPE volunteer nurse Peggy Goebel (who I shadowed on my first day ashore) walked by with three El Salvadorian nursing students in tow, showing them the ship, their berthing spaces, and…where they would be working. One of the major pieces of this mission isn’t about seeing patients at all, but liaising with our partner nations’ medical corps—the doctors, nurses, midwives, interns, and residents who will be in the medical work force for the next 20 to 40 years. Ken Iserson and Faye Pyles, when they were ashore, were especially good at this. They were both assigned El Salvadorian med students to help with translation (Ken speaks Spanish, but kept the med student there with him for this purpose). For most cases, both Faye and Ken would make the med student make the diagnosis.

Most of the time, Faye says, the student would be correct, but not sure of his answer, so she kept training—it was awesome for the med students, awesome for the HOPE volunteer docs to get to train, and awesome even for the El Salvadorian patients to see their own med corps growing. This same thing will be happening with these three nursing students who, out of the 400 students in their school, were selected to come aboard the Comfort for a week to help out wherever they’re needed.

And, as a final treat, I got to wave goodbye to Luciana Portello, the hysterectomy patient Elie Malloy was caring for in the ICU yesterday. I shook her husband’s hand and wished them well after her successful fibroid surgery before they left the discharge area. They say, “A smile will go a mile.” In this case, it’ll go a lot farther than that.

Thanks for reading-Jacob

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