I encourage all nurses to do something similar in the near future.
You will never look at your nursing community the same.
The trip consisted of sitting for hours on end, being covered in road dust, breathing diesel fumes, and eating deep fried crickets.
But it was also a time to really get to know my team mates and will always be one of the most enjoyable times of my life.
After getting the clinic set up and approved, and making sure the local politicians received all of the credit, we were able to start seeing patients.
Bring it on
We had about 20 medical stations set up, staffed by MDs, RNs, LPNs, or EMTs, and in five days, we had see, 3,300 patients!
Many of these people traveled for days to arrive at the clinic, and then had to sit for hours on end in the outside ‘waiting room,’ which was a covered area with about 500 plastic chairs.
When I signed up, I thought there would be a Cambodian ER physician taking care of the emergently ill people, and I would be working in the ER to assist, being fairly handy with an IV needle and all.
But it turns out, that I was the ER department … JUST ME!
All of the medically trained people were operating as primary care providers.
They sent us through a class to identify the most common illnesses in the area, and we had a few physicians and a pharmacist to ask for help when we needed it.
It was a lot of fun being able to work outside my scope of practice for a while, and it was even better knowing there were no lawyers and no paperwork to worry about.
No hidden costs
Most of the people we saw were too poor to have ever seen a real medical provider in their entire lives.
Other than the occasional witch doctor who would promise a magic cure if they paid, or signed over their land to him.
Some people were afraid of the ‘hidden cost’ we were going to charge for the service.
But once word got out we were giving free medical care and handing out free medicines, and even paid for a few of the sickest patients to be admitted at the closest hospital, they really opened up to us and came by the truck load.
It was heart breaking to see the condition some of the people were in, just because they had no access to medical care.
Just one quick example: a young man literally crawled into the ER with a knee the size of a basketball.
From across the room, my first thought was elephantiasis, even though I have only seen pictures of such a thing, and never a real case.
I bent down to examine the knee, and found it to be full of fluid.
I got him onto a cot, numbed it up with some Lidocaine, and made a small incision in the skin.
Thankfully my reflexes were fast enough to avoid the stream of blood that sprayed out of the wound, and continued to spray about three feet through the air for the next two minutes.
A friend slid a bucket next to the bed to catch the blood, and we watched in amazement as the knee slowly shrunk to normal size, and then in horror as it continued to shrink.
By the time the fluid was drained, we had obtained the tribal interpreter we needed to go from English to Khmer and then from Khmer to his tribal language, and back the other way, through two interpreters, to English.
It turns out he had broken his leg five years earlier, by falling through a floor, and had been crawling on it ever since, as the swelling and pain got worse and worse year after year.
By the time we drained the fluid, I could feel that his tibia was about two inches away from his knee, and that it had been reabsorbed, and there was no way a simple splint was going to help him.
He was one of the patients that we admitted to the hospital in the hopes they could either put a rod through his tibia, knee, and femur to lock his joint in place, or at least provide him with a polio knee brace to lock his knee in place from the outside, so that he would be able to walk on it again, even if the knee would never work.
We were hoping for anything that would help get him up off the floor.
Don’t take things for granted
All of the other patients we saw, treated, and cared for appreciated us so much, it was hard not to cry every day.
Working in the ER here in the states, it is easy to get a little jaded and wonder why people that have a sore throat for the last hour think they are having an emergency, and then complain that they have to wait in the waiting room for over 45 minutes before they are brought into a room to be seen by a physician.
I know we are all Mighty Nurses, and we can provide care and compassion in any situation.
By going on a medical mission trip to a needy part of the third world, it can really recharge your batteries and bring the caring and compassion back into your practice.
We try to make a difference in the lives of all of our patients, but I really encourage you to go someplace where you know you will be making a huge difference in the lives of thousands of people.
Be a true Mighty Nurse, and spend your next ‘vacation’ oversees helping those people that really need your help.
I promise you that you will be recharged to provide care back at your regular job than if you just went out to the beach, had some fun, and then dreaded your first day back to work after it was all over.
Those Cambodians helped me more than I helped them, and it was truly a once in a lifetime adventure, although I hope to do it again in a couple years.