My departure is now only a few days away. While my preparation has taken a month, that part is over; and now a set of skills, long rusty, have been practiced to a point where I hope that the task soon to be upon me will seem effortless and natural. By Thursday I will be with a small group of volunteers on a medical mission to a little village in Africa, serving as a surgical assistant until the first week in June. Yeah, I know… at my age what am I thinking, that this was the right (sane, practical, etc. etc.) thing to do? I suspect that those who know me, understand that I am not just passionate, but obsessive in my desires to effect positive change; and to an outside observer the paths and methods I choose might appear to be something more aptly described as pathological in their focus and commitment, most often to the exclusion of almost all else.
It’s likely that few here know this skill set was part of my background, and though it has been a while since I guided a suture through skin, or accomplished much more difficult tasks, some things you learn have no option to get it wrong, and they never really leave you. The opportunity came out of the blue when Dr. Mark DeLacure, someone I know from OCF as a head and neck surgeon at the very top of his game, suggested that I accompany him on this volunteer medical mission as his surgical assistant for several weeks on the other side of the world. A dusty little village, people in need, a lack of this kind of medical intervention available…. It’s not Club Med this invitation, but there is a distinct appeal I feel inside me. More, I now realize this is a chance not just to be of service to others in need, which is truly acute in nature. It is also for me, a chance to revisit something from my past that has laid dusty, and safely compartmentalized in a corner of my mind. Something that was perhaps subtly always an undercurrent of the visible life that transpired above it, after it was so carefully and deliberately tucked away.
The offer was on the table, and within only a minute or two, I had said “You bet, count me in.” It happened just that fast. Before my mind had really processed the level of immersion and commitment, my gut had already said yes. I mean really, what were the chances that at this stage of my life, I would find the opportunity to once more be intimately physically involved in changing someone’s life; my hands part of a surgical fix, one that might alter a life in a profound way. To work across the table from a man with some of the most gifted of hands, skilled in ways that do not lend themselves to easy description; and me personally playing a part in that most intimate and delicate of acts, where becoming participant and observer, I both help and witness an amalgam of knowledge, experience, tactile memory, detailed anatomical understanding, being translated into the silent, precise glide of a scalpel through flesh…. and ultimately the physical repair of the most complex of objects, the biological human machine. To be able at the end of the day to pull off the last pair of gloves, red with the life of that final patient, and feel the weight of that day’s tasks drain from you; and now free from the immediacy of those challenges, contemplate what has occurred, is a rare moment. Reflecting on what you have been privileged to be a part of, and how you, as much as those who passed through your hands, will never be the same, can be transformative. How do you say no to that opportunity?
My wife Ingrid, while less comfortable with the idea than I, has always been my greatest facilitator; be it starting my implant company or OCF, and in her normal and uncompromising support of my endeavors, even she has with some hesitation encouraged me to become engaged. Somehow she knew that I needed this at this juncture in my life. I think Mark did as well. Strange gifts are given to us when we least expect them….
OCF has the most competent of teams steering it daily on its path. My couple weeks of absence will not diminish its impact, or its ability to help those it serves. So with only a couple days to wrap up the unfinished details, and one more vaccine to get, (for yet another exotic disease I’ve never heard of), things are in motion, and I along with them. For those interested, if possible I will send some written thoughts and pictures as the time there unfolds. I journal like a madman when I am trying to sort out what I am thinking and feeling, and I am sure that what I think about this today will ultimately evolve into something much more complex in the end. Journaling is a vehicle that has served me well in the past, also in a remote and difficult environment. The connectivity thing will likely be an issue, but if possible I will upload some thoughts and images to Ingrid who can post for me. For those of you that think this just a little bit crazy (or perhaps vastly so), you may ultimately be right. But if I don’t go I will always wonder what if….. Did I mention this is a yellow fever CDC/no travel hot zone we are going to? Details, details. Luckily, I am certainly an acquired taste as many here know all too well, and not suited to every palate. Perhaps I will not be so appetizing to mosquitoes either.