History in the Making

(This is my travel journal that I kept during a medical mission to Paraguay; part one can be found here)

September 27, 2015. 09:45

Hotel Internacional, Room 1004

An unknown Paraguayan number vibrates on my phone; it was four fifteen in the morning. I think I managed to sleep a little after that but finally rolled out of bed but with a deep, soar and gravelly voice. I was able to call home. We had not spoken in what seemed like days, and traveling here seemed to screw up all forms of communication. Melinda didn’t have the chance to read my email which contained two images of this journal, recounting the day of screening.

As I re-described the stories like that of Wilma’s, I became choked up and had to pause to compose myself. The work here is powerful stuff in many ways. Today they announce the patients who will receive surgery in the coming days. Of the two hundred and seventy-eight, they will schedule one hundred and twenty, with five on standby.


Arriving at the hospital, we tour the wards to see the flow from preparation, to operating room, recovery, and post-op. The local student volunteers had decorated each area with cartoons, streamers and animals including the arrows from the front entrance to the waiting areas. In operating room #2 or #3, the decorations included an underwater theme with fish. Outside the preparatory hallway we spot the bees, some of them were dead on the floor. About five to eight of them swoop in and out of the neon light fixture at the end of the hall.


We headed outside and find all the families patiently waiting in rows of picnic chairs. The air is tepid with anxiety. Only several of the kids come and play, but most of them stay with their parents. The clear sky allows the sun to beat its rays hard upon us.


We see Bryan and his mom who walks up to us smiling and saying, in Spanish, “He’s number five!” She is so happy. There is so much joy in this child and his mother. I discover that victor and his mom, Wilma, will have surgery on Wednesday. I bring a ball to him and ask if he wants to play. We go under the shade of the hospital and kick the ball back and forth in the loading dock area. Two other boys join us and soon we tire them out and they head back to their parents.

There is a covered area where they consult the families; I sit down with some of our group to observe the process. Some you can see are not candidates for surgery, either because they do not have a condition that this team is prepared to treat, they are not healthy enough to undergo surgery, or their condition is less severe and can be treated later with the local Operation Smile team. However, there are many happy families. Smiles everywhere.


I have a discussion with Maru, the photographer with PIT crew. We talk about each other’s background; she started with one mission as a volunteer and worked to become certified by Operation Smile as a Photographic Imaging Technician; her day job is a jewelry maker.

The patient announcement runs long past noon and we head to lunch at the Lido-Bar around one thirty. Ironically, this is the same restaurant which Anthony Bourdain visited in his Paraguay episode. As we wait for our tables (no reservations) I notice several indigenous people across the street, sitting in the sun, selling handcrafts to tourists. One of the indigenous kids runs across to help clean the table for some bread and soda. Aid is needed everywhere on this trip.


We sit and enjoy our meal of beer, empanadas, and sandwiches. A man circles us, perpetuating and pushing time pieces and sunglasses. Skaters ollie over wooden pallets in the street occasionally flipping off their boards, taking to their feet, or stumbling to save their ankles. The street kids look on in awe. Darcy turns back and waves a kid over to us. He is a skinny kid and really appreciates the offer. We hand him an entire plate of food which arrived late. We ask a waiter for a couple of Styrofoam plates, we create a plate of food for the shoe-shine boy who just finished sprucing up one of the patrons shoes, and a second for the boy who takes the plate to the craftswomen across the street.

I think you reach a point where you don’t give a shit about what is socially acceptable, or not. We clearly had reached and crossed over that point. There is a point where you stop saying you “can do something,” and do it.


After lunch we cross the street and purchase various handcrafts. We were supposed to take a walking tour, but our late start to lunch and our leisurely meal, pushed that back, and compressed it to less than an hour. We walked from Lido-Bar seeing various sights, monuments, and a church, heard stories of former times, a state building with armed guards, and walked past shanties, relocated to several city squares due to floods the month prior. History was spoken; the oil of the citrus trees used in perfume, the three nation war, past dictators, and the forging of the first South American railway.


Kids, in a flatbed motorcycle of sorts, drove by yelling something positive about Paraguay. A man rode by casually, as if the wheels had too much resistance, with a blue, umbrellaed ice cream tricycle. Ding, ding. We returned to the hotel and had a surgery debriefing at seven which kicked off with the traditional name game, where everyone introduces themselves and the person next to them, however, all in your non-native language, either English or Spanish. Our main focus is to know who is who among the team for surgery.


General Disclaimer:

The views expressed on this website/blog post are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer or Operation Smile. The author encourages your help and support by donating to support medical missions by Operation Smile via this link: http://support.operationsmile.org/goto/schoutens

#JNJ #MyCompany

This blogpost-series are pages of my personal journal leading up to and during my first medical mission to Asunción, Paraguay. I hope this series encourages you to serve global communities and/or donate to a wonderful organization that improves the lives of children and families around the world!