We are like a "MASH" unit. The mission in Iquitos performed 100 surgeries in five days. One day, for example, we worked from early morning until 11:00 p.m., and the nurses even later. One of the problems we had was that the hospital did not have enough operating rooms, so some doctors had to stay late in order to perform a particular type of operation. The patients also had to wait, sometimes two or three days, and some of them had to travel two or three days to get to the hospital because they lived farther along the river.
Q. How long do the doctors and nurses in these missions usually stay at a particular location?
A. It varies from one to two weeks. In my view, a mission is more productive if you go for two weeks because during the first week the people in the area hear about you through the radio and the TV, and they have more time to get to the hospital. If you are there for only a week, many patients don't arrive until near the end of the week and, of course, the schedule is too full by then. However, the reality is that it is difficult to commit a group of people to work for two weeks. Not only is it more difficult for the doctors and nurses to leave their work in the U.S., but it is also difficult for the local hospitals. They have to feed the volunteers, prepare the operating rooms, and clean and sterilize the equipment two or three times a day.
Q. Can you tell us about the people you treat?
A. We see all types of patients because when people hear that a team of doctors from the U.S. is coming to town with new technologies, everyone wants to be treated. For instance, people who are able to afford a private clinic want us to operate on them because they want to benefit from the latest medical developments. Of course, the hospital charges all those who have medical insurance. However, the majority of the people we treat are peasants, and the hospital charges them very little. Public hospitals in Peru have to charge because they have limited budgets. Remember, though, that we don't know who the people we treat are. In our view, they are all patients, and they are all poor, even the professionals.
Q. The patients are very appreciative of your efforts, I'm sure.
A. Of course. A nurse from Virginia who worked in the recovery room said that never in her life had she been so appreciated!