A crowd of people were already lined up outside the metal gates along the stone and barbed wire fence, when the team arrived shortly after 8am. The clinic was scheduled to start at 9am. Several patients with crutches were leaning against the fence. Some were sitting on chairs. One group had a blanket and lots of bags with them – they had travelled from Loja in the mountainous region for 4 hours by bus.
We went through the gate, organized and set up the clinic space, then started inviting patients into the courtyard. The stream of patients lasted for hours. There were some big hugs between follow up patients and team members. Patients beamed with happiness to embrace the nurses and docs who changed their lives in previous years. Some other patients looked like they had donned their best attire to be seen by the Canadian team. Others looked visibly poor but all had a quiet sense of dignity about them.
The patients had their x rays looked at outside and were triaged. Each person there with pain or problem would have their turn to be seen and examined by an orthopedic specialist. If the patient was a candidate for surgery, they would then be seen by an anesthesiologist and then go for lab work – all for free. What really made an impression was how politely, patiently and quietly they all waited with their x rays in hand. And they did have to wait. The doctors and nurses skipped going for the lunch provided by the hospital so that patients would not have to wait any longer. But the sheer volume of patients and the team providing thoughtful and thorough assessments meant that the last of them was not seen till after 4pm. But not a single one of them asked how much longer they had to wait.
Four first year medical students from a local university came to volunteer as translators. Those students plus our own roster of Spanish speakers, including Nazly, Paul, Tanya, Kaibree, Mike and Dr. Fred were invaluable in communications. A little special surprise was provided by Michelle. She had arranged for running shoes to be collected by The Running Company in Calgary. These were definitely a big hit as they were given out in the courtyard to those most in need, during the long wait.
The patients and their families’ faces in many cases told the story as they came out of the examining area. If selected for surgery, the patient was now a step closer to being relieved from their pain and enjoying an ordinary life. Their family would also enjoy an improvement in their lives. There was also disappointment. For one patient all the way from Peru, the assessment determined that her condition could not be helped by hip surgery – it would require some other surgeries which was not available from TNM but possibly from another group.
Late afternoon, the clinic had already been taken down. Dr. Powell had already left the hospital when he was called back on the street and handed an x ray. Dr. Powell looked at the x ray on the street and returned to the hospital to see the patient, who was eight hours late for the clinic. A real testament to his compassion and genuine desire to help the poor!
Surgery starts tomorrow.