The Adventure of Living in the Kingdom of God

Monday, February 16, 2015

Jungle Bunks, Jungle Funk, & Jungle Fever: Pt 1

"For your kingdom" was my simple and yet heartfelt prayer as our team of surgeons, physician assistants, physical therapists, students, staff and hundreds of pounds of equipment took off headed south into the Amazon basin of Peru. The snow and single-digit temperatures of Minnesota were in sharp contrast to the 80+ degrees and humidity of Lima, the Peruvian capital and home to millions spread out along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. A few hours in a hotel and a short flight over the Andes Mountains placed us squarely within the Amazon Basin and the humidity of Pucallpa, a city of 300,000 literally at the end of the road, made me miss Lima. As we exited the plane to walk to the terminal, we were greeted with a bright sun, lush vegetation, and a perpetual sweat that would be our constant companion for the remainder of our time (thus the jungle funk - you fill in the gaps). :)

Feb 2015 Scalpel at the Cross Team @ Amazonico Clinic

The Amazon, perhaps the wildest and most untamed place on the planet, is a fascinating place that is ever changing.  In fact, the water levels during the rainy season rise 30 feet or more! A gorgeous place with plant life and critters galore, some of them more pleasant and attractive than others, was be our home for the next week. According to statistics, the Amazon produces 20% of the world's oxygen and hosts > 50% of the world plant and animal species. The plants, animals, and people of the region are accustomed to this natural ebb and flow of change and have adapted to both its blessings and challenges.

Peruvian Amazon from a float plane ride

We lived at Jungle Bunks, a beautiful house/lodge built to house visiting teams and part of a larger dream that began with two couples - Peter & Nancy Cole and Craig & Heather Gahagen - decades ago that materialized into a ministry called Scalpel at the Cross [] devoted to bringing orthopedic care to the people of the Peruvian Amazon in the name of Jesus.
We spent most of Saturday in clinic examining patients, reviewing xrays, listening to people's stories, and trying to decide who we could help surgically with the implants and supplies we had available. We celebrated with those we could help who had so patiently waited months and years for help. We also teared up with those we could not help or had to offer unpopular treatments because there was nothing else to do (i.e. amputation).  In eight hours of clinic there, our team saw 80+ patients with a level of pathology that most orthopedic surgeons do not encounter in a career. Nonunions (unhealed bones), broken hardware, failed prior surgeries (some of them unique), malunions (bones that healed crooked), infections, and combinations of all of the above filled the x-ray box as the surgeons could hardly contain our amazement and excitement over how interesting the pathology was.  We marveled that some people could walk at all with their level of pathology and yet express such little discomfort (compared to American patients) as they quietly persevered. 

We often refer to trips like this one as headed to the 'third world.' However, to look them in the face removes the tendency to talk abstractly about 'people in the third world' and reminds me that we both live in one world, not three.  Though they live in a low- or middle-income country, we share the same world - one world, God's world, a world where we are all equally created in His image. Though the Peruvian people are typically short-stature and small-framed, their perseverance, gratefulness, and joy in the face of difficult circumstances overwhelmingly indicted our western, self-centered worldview. Just as Jesus touched the leper, our purpose is to see others, regardless of circumstance, as fully human and to restore dignity to the best of our ability.
 'The notion that some lives are more important than others is the root of all that is wrong in the world today.' - Paul Farmer, MD

Sunday morning was spent at church with local missionaries and then that afternoon we took a boat ride through the canyos (sp?), a stretch of swamp-like, dense foliage present only during the rainy season that allows small boat access from the lake we lived on to the main Ucayali River, one the largest tributaries to the Amazon River. During that trip we spotted several iguanas, sloths, eagles, orioles and host of other birds.

Of note, a few of us (me included) go for a swim in the river back by the camp but only one of us was bitten by a piranha (wasn't me!)!! 

 Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were the bulk of our days of surgery. Depending on the size of the cases, we did anywhere from 2-4 cases per day per operating room. Believe it or not, the operating rooms were air conditioned!!! Wow was that amazing!! The level of orthopedic pathology was phenomenal and the majority of the cases we performed were very large complex surgeries, all performed without the use of live xray (a definite perk here in the USA).  The best thing about operating in developing countries is that you use what you have to do what you can for best possible outcome possible for the patient. No whining. No complaining. No excuses. Everyone is there for one purpose and it has nothing to do with  being pampered.

Reviewing an xray preop

Gia, Joe, Me, Dr Schmidtz
Working in OR

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