Day 5: Creating a Learning Community

Posted on: 03/05/2019

Author: Marian Janes

12:38pm: Today was the second day of surgeries. Even after a long day yesterday, the team got in early and quickly outlined their surgery schedule for the day (and following days) for each operating room. As a non-medical volunteer, it was a little weird for me the first day to get used to the work environment. It shocked me that the entire process, from the waiting room to the ward, was so close together. I soon realized though that this was not common in the states but specific to our operation here in Antigua at Las Obras. This helps a lot though because each team is physically working so close to one another. The work environment, as a result, is close-knit, communicative and supportive.

For the first times, I went into the operating rooms to observe and take photos for the team. It was new for me to wear scrubs, to wear the shoe covers and the face mask. I didn’t know what to expect inside those rooms. Even the thought of surgery makes me a little nervous still. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel standing in one of those surprisingly small operating rooms as I watched a life-changing operation be performed.  

As I walked into each OR though, the teams were communicating constantly. They were calm, and some had music lightly on in the background. There was an air of confidence. The surgeons are incredibly skilled professionals, and they are here in Guatemala to do what they do best. They’d answer questions if I asked what was going on, and every move or action they made felt intentional and thought out. They’d move confidently and quickly, and they knew exactly what they were doing.

To the surgeons, it’s muscle memory for them. These are normal procedures they’ve done time and time again. In a way, it’s routine, and situations are pre-planned and thought out before they enter the room. As I watched them work, it felt like another day in the office for them all, another day of changing lives.

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5:29pm: So far, I’ve learned something each day that is specific to our Faith In Practice team. Like I mentioned before, on triage day, we take individual photos of each patient smiling. Unlike some other teams, we bring a small team of people as cooks who spend everyday planning meals, going to the market and cooking for the team. Today I found out that not all Faith In Practice teams bring student nurses along, and this year four student nurses are along for the week.

For them, like me, this is a learning experience. They are given this opportunity to join our mission, where they work side by side with medical professionals.  It’s a special relationship and environment where they get to grow close to people in the field, both professionally and personally. All of the skills demonstrated by our team before, during and after these operations have to be taught. They are not always natural, and they take practice. And when you’re learning a new skill, it really, really helps to have people along the way to teach you how to be better. People to share tips and advice when you are unsure or are new to a given situation. Even if you’ve learned something before, the open-mindedness to continue learning is a key trait in anyone. I’ve seen it across our team as they ask questions to one another or work together for the first time and teach each other new ways to do things.

I may not be performing any life-changing surgeries any day soon, but in a way, I do feel like a student on this trip. In a way, I think everyone here on our trip does too. One of our first nights. Dr. Stempel told us that he didn’t like their old team name – Team Awesome. This year, he wanted to change it up and decided that we should be called Team Outrageous instead. Anyone can be awesome, but outrageous brings it to the next level. Everything this team does feels the next level. They work hard, they laugh hard and over the years, they have created a team dynamic unlike any other.

We show this by taking photos of the patients. This respects each of them as an individual and no longer makes them a stranger. We show this by prioritizing the team’s meals. This acknowledges each of us as an individual and never as a stranger. And we show this by including students and emphasizing learning. This demonstrates a commitment to growing community filled with individuals and no strangers. To this team, caring for one another, be it a patient or a teammate, comes first.

To them, caring for one another is also muscle memory. It’s routine, and it feels like just another trip, another group of people grounded in mutual respect and community.