Friday, November 12, 2010


It has almost been a week since I returned from Belize. In a few days, the rest of the team will be back – after spending a week on the Belizean coast, diving, snorkeling, beachcombing . . . I hope they enjoyed the well-deserved vacation and come back excited about the possibility of doing this again sometime!

I owe some big “thank you’s” to team Belize. Bonnie Webber – Thank you for being patient, generous and supportive. Your contribution to our team was critical (no instruments, no surgery) Sorry you had to put up with my insomnia! Cynthia Kruger – Thanks for taking a leap with me. You did an amazing job! I hope you enjoyed the challenge – you certainly rose to it. Marilyn Vernon – Seriously, you can work in my OR any day! You were such a quick study. Thank you for your patience and hard work! Jane – Thanks for your laugh and your great work with our post-op challenges. You were sunshine! Anne Marie – Our hummingbird, or is that social butterfly? Thanks for getting to know each of our patients so well, and for always smiling. This was an amazing OR team that I would be proud to work with anywhere.

Back home I want to thank Shounta Candies for the support that got me on the plane with the tools I needed! You are the best! Saundra, Kristin, Steve; thanks again for letting me go do my thing. Team Choibalsan, thanks for reading my blog and cheering me on with each trip I take. Mom, Dad, Tuck – Thanks for always loving me, even when I wander.   Beau – thanks for being there when I get home and for loving me through my jetlag.

Next up – Haiti . . . 

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Kelly Slater won his tenth world title yesterday. Pretty sure he knows what his legacy will be. I envy him – sitting there with this monumental, hard won accomplishment – looking out over the vast expanse of the rest of his life – knowing, that his legacy is set. Anything else, is icing at this point. Anything he does, save scandal or crime, can be a total failure, and he will be remembered forever as a tremendous champion.

Today we canoed through a cave in Belize – thought by archeologist to be a site of Mayan rituals and human sacrifices. When we got back to St. Ignacio, we walked through the Cahal Pech ruins – only a block from our hotel. It was peaceful on the cool stones in the jungle – quiet and shaded with beams of sunlight creating some interesting shadows. Perfect place to sit and reflect, high on top of the oversized steps. There we were, sitting on concrete evidence that these people have left an indelible mark on this planet – a legacy of unimaginable endurance.

So what do I leave as my legacy? I will not build a stone monument, or win even one world title in anything but I have to believe, that in some way, what I am doing, what we all are doing, will endure. I have to believe that one day, my children, my nieces and nephews, will know that I tried to have a lasting – if only small - impact on the lives that I have touched. I do not see my legacy on a grand scale, but more as a legacy of a life fully and well lived, a legacy of quiet integrity. That would be my monumental championship.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sleepless in Belize

It is 815 in the morning and I am sitting in a hammock, downing some Vega, looking out over St. Ignacio as she wakes up. I tried to sleep on the porch last night but it got too cold. And then I tried to just sleep . . .

We finished up at the hospital yesterday. 20 cases in 4 days. Our O.R. team of 6 women got a bit slap happy at the end. We really have become a strong team but we were really ready to be done. After inventorying and packing up the last of our supplies, we made it out for a ‘belizean snow’ at the bar and dinner at the fancy St Ignacio Resort Hotel. And then back to the hotel – where I couldn’t sleep.

Today we are going canoeing through some caves and then down the street to check out some Mayan ruins. Looking forward to day of recreation, a night swim, and the trip back home. As I look out over this city, with the sun shining down, I hope that sunshine finds those who need it the most. Winding down from this adventure in Belize – maybe tonight, I will sleep. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Patience and Grace

Today was a good day. If you were here, on the surgery team at La Loma Luz Hospital in St. Ignacio, Belize; you may disagree with that statement. Please let me be so bold as to explain.

We had scheduled five cases today – two quick, easy kids and three lap choles. After yesterday’s marathon, we were prepared for just about anything but wanted a bit of an easier day. But today, today was nothing like yesterday. Today we met a whole new set of unforeseen challenges. Today we were tested. Today was our proving ground. As a team, we weathered a halothane hang-over and a power outage with patience, faith and grace. I am proud to say that this team showed each other the utmost respect while taking care of our patients and facing these challenges. We were patient with the process and each other; had faith in each others expertise and knowledge; and were graceful enough to move through these trying times with level heads. I am proud to be a part of this team and proud to see that I can find inside of me the strength to endure and to help move a team through difficulty. I have never thought I had much patience or grace but today, I found what I had and put it to use. Today was a good day.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Belizean sunset view from the front of the hospital
This is the first time I have been the “lead” (read “only”) surgeon on a medical mission trip. Initially, the idea was exciting, then intimidating, and then I think I just gave into it – the next step, figuring out how to fly without a net.

Today was our second day of operating. Every case had an added degree of difficulty – funny liver anatomy, acute inflammation, large gallstones, difficult airways, short cystic ducts. I got stressed during our second case when the anatomy was obscured by inflammation and I made the comment that I sometimes make when I am doing a difficult case “I’m not happy.” The minute I said it, Cynthia, or anesthesiologist piped in with “if you’re not happy, we’re not happy.” Subtly she reminded me that this team is counting on me to set the tone, be the leader, and make this a good situation for everyone. I shut up and got back to work – damn gallbladder has got to come out.

It was a long day. We operated until 830. Staring at 11pm right now and we have only just eaten dinner and gotten to our rooms. But we did it  - managed to take out five gallbladders of the nastiest variety and fix a little kids funny looking belly button. Everyone worked incredibly hard today and we are all pretty tired. But we are here . . . we are doing this. We are each others net. We are flying.