Throughout my life, I have had many dreams – many of them involving things I wanted to be. Recently, in cultural orientation I was reminded of one of my [fleeting] dreams – archaeology. I remembered that I had once wanted to be an archaeologist…and a figure skater…and the first woman president…and an astronaut…and a fire fighter…and an author…and a marine [as in marine corp]…and a marine biologist [as in underwater life – although, I think I just wanted to work at Sea World with the dolphins]…and the list goes on from there. Practically the only things I didn’t want to be revolved around professions like accounting, economics, history, or secretarial stuff.
It’s really no wonder that in college I had 3 majors – Elementary Education [#1], Biblical and Theological Studies [#2], and finally Nursing [#3] – and it took me 10 years to get my Associates Degree. Seriously.
Thankfully, since graduating with my nursing degree I have never wondered if I made the right choice. In fact, once Derek and I decided to move to Zambia to work with Churches Ready to Overcome Silence and Stigma (C.R.O.S.S.), my only question to God was if I would need to open my hand where I had so tightly gripped my love for nursing. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to love the Gift-Giver more than His gifts…but it just felt…painful. It didn’t seem that, even though we were going to work with HIV/AIDS, I would get to really practice nursing in Zambia.
Fast forward to 3 months ago – just before we hopped on a Zambia-bound plane. God had done a great work in my heart, and I wasn’t exactly sure how He would use my nursing degree/skills, but I knew that He was sovereign and had a plan. I also knew that God loves me so much. He knows my desires to practice nursing – so I would just let Him provide opportunities however He wanted to.
Fast forward to 1 month ago. In the small group that Derek and I have been a part of, a man asked for prayer regarding the Cardiac Trust of Zambia – a philanthropical trust he founded that provides cardiac surgery to the needy people of Zambia who will die without surgical intervention.
[Note: This man – Chris Kangwa – has a daughter who was born with Tetralogy of Fallot. God had given the financial resources to the Kangwas to take their daughter to South Africa for surgeries and treatment that cost almost $100,000 out of pocket. But Chris felt bad for those in Zambia who didn’t have the resources to get treatment. So, he came up with the idea to start the Cardiac Trust of Zambia…and he wanted to make sure it was done in the name of Christ and for the glory of God.]
Apparently, there was a multi-faceted team from New Zealand coming to Zambia, donating all the equipment for open-heart surgeries, and volunteering their medical skills in performing open-heart surgery for the first time in Zambia. I approached Chris Kangwa to ask if there was any way, as an RN, I could observe what they were doing. Before I knew it, he was saying, “You are an answer to prayer! We would LOVE for you to help us.”
And within 1 week, I had a temporary Zambian nursing license and was scheduled to work 30 hours on the post-surgical ward alongside the New Zealand nurses.
The New Zealand team was well-prepared. There were 40 of them total – cardiac surgeons, cardiologists, O.R. nurses, I.C.U. nurses, anesthesiologists, cardiothoracic nurses, and physical therapists. And they brought [and donated!] all the necessary equipment – heart/lung bypass machine, IV and oral medications, personalized heart pillows, incentive spirometers, discharge paperwork, and so much more.
A total of 7 patients were able to have the surgery. All of them needed heart valve replacements (mitral and/or aortic) due to lack of treatment for strep throat which resulted in rheumatic heart disease, a common and fatal condition here without surgery. After surgery, the patients spent 24 hours in ICU, where they were stabilized, extubated, and monitored before coming up to the post-surgical ward.
Once on my ward, they received care very similar to what I was used to giving in the States – assessing their body systems and vital signs, providing pain control, encouraging light activity, educating about their post-surgical condition, etc. I was happy at how quickly all of these skills came back to me. Non-medical people have a hard time understanding my breed of person, but it was fun to administer injections, give IV medications through Central lines, listen to bowel and lung sounds, use sterile technique, and clean and redress incisions.
I also got to learn new things – things most nurses don’t have the pleasure of doing in the States – and this is where the “fun” gauge went up a couple notches. Apparently, in New Zealand, nurses are in charge of removing chest tubes. So, I watched the first time around…and then for one of my patients, I got to take those babies out and tighten the sutures on the holes. Before discharge, the sutures get to come out – another job I got to do. It was all very exciting for me. Like I said, non-medical people think people like me are crazy. But the proof is in the pudding, and my patients told me, “You have very soft hands.”
One of the highlights of my experience was seeing the gratefulness of the patients and their families. Many of the families would approach the nurse’s station with clapped hands and curtsies, saying, “Thank you, thank you. We are so grateful.” The father of one of my patients came to some of us and said, “I am overwhelmed with happiness.”
There is much more that I could say, but I guess I’ll leave it at this for now. The team from New Zealand is planning to do this every year for the next 5 years at least, and they have already asked if I will be around next March to help again.
After it was all over, Derek asked me when the first heat surgery in the world was done. Here is what I found out:
- First successful open heart surgery in the world: September 2, 1952 at the University of Minnesota (using hypothermia – not anesthesia!)
- First [successful] open heart surgery in Zambia: March 21, 2011 at Fairview Medicare Hospital (using anesthesia, thankfully!)