I heard a wrestling coach once explain “Do you know what luck is? Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” I have been lucky over the years to have the opportunity to apply the medical training I’ve received as a volunteer with Operation Smile and Medical Missions for Children. I would wager that most of my contemporaries at RLS would do the same if such a venue existed in their personal or professional lives. Under the steely gaze of “the Good Apostle Elliot” in Rousmaniere Hall, we collectively heard enough “service to Church and State” themed halls to be fully saturated and inculcated with that message! Mr. Jarvis delivered the “Do your job” admonition 40 years before Bill Belicik.
I have volunteered as a physician and anesthesiologist on missions to the Philippines, Ecuador, Peru, and Guatemala. The one-week missions typically include one day of screening, five days in the operating room, and a last day for post-op checks. In a good week, we’ll work on about a hundred patients, mostly craniofacial defects, cleft lips and palates, as well as burn patients (cooking fires) and victims of trauma (dog bites, attacks with acid). The challenge in this regard is avoiding “mission creep” and respecting the idea of primum non nocere. Specifically, as desperate as some parents are to restore both function and dignity for their children, there are times when a child just happens to be too sick that day (fevers, asthma exacerbations, etc.) for surgery and anesthesia to proceed safely. One can only hope that they are able to make it back next year.
It’s odd how these missions have changed me. I didn’t expect to be changed. And yet, it happens. Sometime a day or week later, when I’m alone driving to work or connecting on the flight from Miami, it strikes me how capricious and vicious life can be. Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt. Some of my fellow humans, through no fault of their own, are living with some real challenges. And they are doing it with honor and dignity. The least I can do is meet them part way in trying to lighten that burden. Flight delays and traffic jams seem less onerous at that moment. Do your job.