Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Abandon Ship Drill Does Not Deter Dedicated Surgeon

Life on a ship is frequently punctuated by announcements from a ship-wide PA system, and we HOPE volunteers strain to understand the announcement through the static and unfamiliar military language. But there was no misunderstanding the command, “Abandon ship” preceded and followed by six short, then one very long blast of both the ships whistles and the general alarm bells. We’d been trained what to do: grab a life vest from your work area, tuck your pants into your socks, grab a long sleeve shirt, and a cover (hat.) The pant legs tucked into socks made quite a fashion statement, and the combination of the long sleeves and the vest created boiler room heat. There are lifeboats and life rafts that inflate, and we all knew where to report. I was grateful to be on the starboard side of the boat where at least we were protected from the sun. Heads were counted, and for this drill, a few heads were not where they were supposed to be. “That’s why we drill; to work out the kinks,” said a Navy seaman with a clipboard.

At our nightly Project HOPE briefing, we passed around Vicki Bryant’s shots of the day and all agreed that team member “MJ” Reed looked particularly fetching in her life vest.

Surgeon Dr. Mary Reed is on her second mission with Project HOPE. Her first was to Trinidad, Guyana, and Suriname, and it whet her appetite for more opportunities to put her philosophy of life into action. “Animal Farm is my favorite book, because the message is that we are all, by nature, corruptible,” Dr. Reed said. “But if enough of us are safe, have enough food, and good health, we can have the opportunity to be altruistic to others.” Dr. Reed is especially enthusiastic about the humanitarian aspect of our mission. “The surgeries – even the routine ones - can really make a dramatic difference in people’s lives.” “But the real value, I feel, is in holding someone’s hand, treating them kindly, giving them the message that someone cares enough to reach out.”

The shelf in Dr. Reed's berth contains an interesting mix of books and magazines. She is an avid reader, and is particularly interested in the history of medicine. She’s a walking encyclopedia of information about Dr. William Halstead, the father of American surgery who went on to co-found John Hopkins Hospital.

Dr. Reed lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and practices at Geisinger Medical Center. She’s active in the Society of Critical Care Medicine, and that participation has taken her to many first world countries. “There’s a lot of talent out there,” Dr. Reed says. “These native country doctors do a lot with very little.” Going forward, Dr. Reed wants to help figure out how to build health care infrastructure that supports these physicians.

While we talked, she fingered the three dog tags that hang on her neck. “It’s my talisman,” she says of the collection. One is her father’s, one, her stepfather’s, and one is a gift from a patient. In addition to being a surgeon, her father was a lieutenant colonel, and her stepfather was a “full bird” colonel. “The Navy’s commitment to these humanitarian missions is great,” concludes our mission surgeon. “I’m just so proud of my country.”

Thanks for your interest in Project HOPE -- Kathryn Allen, HOPE Public Affairs Officer

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