At 9:00pm our trip began with a prayer by the pastor amidst chaos of fellow late night travelers in LAX. Then at 6:00am, following a short sleep, we gather the baggage as the team members greet each other a good morning and ask how their flight was. After collecting our massive luggage that contained our medical equipment, we moved on swiftly to customs where we faced our first crisis. At customs, we had to leave behind the box of glasses and medicine at the airport because a special form was not signed. It was a loss that was regretful, but we had to sacrifice it for the sake of our priorities. We departed around 9 am and went to eat our first meal of plantain and eggs. As we were on our way to the second restaurant (first one did not have enough food), the van pulled over because some suspicious noise with the car’s tire, thankfully, nothing was wrong. Despite our fatigue, we continue to greet one another, forming a closer bond as a team. Upon arrival at the hotel, we met up with the members who came from Korea and Virginia. The energy and enthusiasm that they had and the past VCS experiences that they shared were encouraging. After a short respite at the hotel, we entered the blue gates of our workplace for the week. Following a small path surrounded by lush foliage, we were welcomed by the bright colors of the hospital walls. The eventful day that we had so far had tired us out, but the events to follow re-energized the entire group. The sweet aroma and taste of the mangoes, growing on the trees around the hospital, was exciting for Grant, David, and me to pick and collect and distracted us from the humid weather. The sudden and brief thunderstorm and heavy rainfall, was a new sight for most of us and brought us much happiness as we played in the rain and enjoyed the moment. In the evening, we made our way to Pastor Luis Morales' church to feast on homemade pupusas specially made for us by the church staff. Afterwards, we all sing along to Korean hymns and Spanish gospel songs and Pastor Lee preaches about Paul's vision that lead to his missionary work and paradigm shift of women (Acts 16:6-10). The first 15 hours of my first mission trip was filled with setbacks that scared and slowed us down. The first day taught me that missionary work is unpredictable, but trusting God's plan and being open to and optimistic with new ideas will make it all worthwhile in the end.
June 20, 2016
In the early morning of the second day, we gathered for quiet time and breakfast in the hotel’s dining room, where excitement and energy was abundant. Upon arriving at the hospital, there was already over a hundred patients gathered to receive surgery and eye exams. I walked around greeting people with “buenos dias” and familiarized myself with the setup of our clinic. The morning proceeded chaotically. David and Grant moved boxes into rooms. The nurses sterilized all the equipment and organized the operation room. The VCS volunteers received training, cleaned equipment, greeted patients, and organized materials. The hospital staff and translators registered all of the patients and instructed them on the procedure. Although a few hiccups occurred with the A-scan and patient processing, the first patient, who was extremely nervous, went into surgery after being comforted by prayer and support from the staff in pre-op. Thanks to the wonderful translators who came to help, our work ran smoothly. With them by our side, I was able to relay information and answer questions that reassured the patients. Throughout the work day, I learned a lot about the medical field, mission field, and El Salvador.
The doctors and nurses explained the different reasons for cataracts, especially among the younger population. I learned that cataracts not only form from age, but also from trauma. For example, there was a young woman, around my age, who had a cataract because she was beat up by a group of gang members that were unhappy with her decision to not join their gang.
From watching the older VCS team members pray and talk with the patients, I realized the impact that a short prayer and a few comforting words can have in reassuring and calming the patients. Towards the afternoon, I was a bit flustered by the sudden influx of patients and became more serious because I was overwhelmed by the commotion and crowding in my small area. A fellow volunteer asked me if I was alright and reminded me to keep smiling for the patients, and when I did smile more often I felt the positivity surge in the room and was able to focus on my tasks with a clearer mind. After the last patients went into the operation room, I had some time to talk to the family members of the patients about El Salvador. I spoke with a pair of twin boys, who had been waiting all day for their father’s surgery, about education in El Salvador. They said that they were in the top of their class and would be applying to colleges soon, but they seemed discouraged and hopeless about college because they want to go to a college in America that will prepare them to be globally competitive; however, their chances are very slim because of the lack of preparation and costs. The second day reminded me again of how lucky we are to have people around us, that people are a great gift from God. From my interaction and fellowship with the people of VCS and El Salvador, I was able to find pleasure in doing my work, spread optimism to the patients, and discover more ways to help El Salvador develop.
June 21, 2016
The second day of seeing patients was very busy- we had about 35 surgeries, making the total of completed surgeries 55. Although the day was chaotic, I was glad that I was able to use my organizational talent to contribute to the efficiency and efficacy of the surgical process by creating a chart to keep record of each patient’s progress in the entire process that was displayed for the family members and staff to see. In the morning, I had the pleasure of greeting the patients who had their surgeries the previous day. They greeted and thanked me, as they held my hand and smiled. These moments that I began my day with were so rewarding and motivating because I was able to see the healing power of my service and answer to my prayers. While dilating the patients, a few problems occurred with checking the charts for preliminary examinations. The volunteers were flustered because we did not know how to read the charts and find out what was missing at first, but with some education we were able to easily learn how to recognize a missing piece from a file and take further actions. It seemed like a huge problem at the time, but it had a simple solution and ended up being just a minor mishap. Another obstacle was the language barrier. Most of the time I had a translator with me, but in the moments when the translators left to help with other jobs, I felt bad because I could not understand or answer patient questions and realized the importance of learning languages. Towards the end of the day, I had the unique opportunity of going into the operation room to watch the doctors remove the cataract and replace it with a new lens. Inside the operation room, I witnessed and learned about the challenges of eye surgery, especially through non-profit organizations. Each patient is a unique case, the cataracts range in severity and shape and the size of the dilated area differs, that the doctors need to examine carefully and then adjust their surgical strategy to fit the case. Because all the materials are donations, the lenses differ in brand and sometimes require a different method of insertion. In addition, the amount of lenses that were brought over was limited, so the doctors may have to improvise by adjusting the prescription to one that is in supply. On this day, I learned from my own experience and others that God gives us challenges to test our patience and to help us realize and utilize the talents that we have.
June 22, 2016
On the third work day, our energy was beginning to deplete and fatigue was settling in. The work we were doing became routine and everyone was excelling in their assigned job. I became closer friends with my fellow volunteers and a better leader to the eye drop area. By delegating work strategically among the volunteers in the room, we developed a very effective and simple working system. I was in charge of putting the eyedrops in and recordkeeping, Sarah was in charge of checking the charts and the time, Josh was in charge of dressing and transporting the patients, Daniel was the main translator, and Grant helped us frequently with transporting patients and offering refreshments. By listening the ideas of others and implementing them into the system, we were able to give the patients a better experience in pre-op. With the system in place and working well, I was able to divide my focus and time on other things. I spent time praying with patients and telling them about all of the successful operations we have had and the amount of experience the doctors have to ease their anxiety. I noticed other things that the patients needed, like fans to keep people from fainting and music for comfort. One older man came with a splintering wooden stick that he was using as a cane and an older lady came in with bare feet, so I looked into ways in which we could find a cane and shoes for them when they returned for their checkups. With the translators, I shared more conversation with them to get to know them and their life in El Salvador better. After finding out that Sarah wanted to become a doctor as well, I asked the team leader about letting her go into the operation room to experience what I had the day before. Later that night, Sarah shared that her experience with the entire VCS group and time spent in the operation room re-kindled her passion and pursuit for medicine, which filled me with happiness and hope for our futures as fellow doctors together.
The evening closed with gleeful celebration, we shared dinner with the church volunteers and afterwards had a mini dance party and a night acupuncture clinic. The day was filled with experiences that truly humbled me as a leader, friend, human, and daughter of God.
June 23, 2016
It was the final day of surgeries, I felt even more energetic that day because I wanted to finish strong. Earlier that morning, I was assigned an additional job of finding the patients to bring up to the dilation area. The team leader stressed the importance of this job because the surgeries could not begin until I had found and dilated the patients, so I was a bit nervous going into the hospital because I did not know if I could handle all of the responsibilities on my own. Thankfully, one of the volunteers came early that morning and helped me with the task of finding patients so that I could start with the eye drop process until more help came. Although I made an effort to reassure the patients as much as I could throughout the past week, I did not pay too much attention to the entire effect it had on the sensitive environment until this day. The smallest actions, such as going around with the light to double and triple check their dilation followed by a short "muy bueno" or "perfecto", made a huge difference to each patient because the attention I gave them made them feel prioritized and important. I tried my best to maintain my professionalism because it was important to show the patients that they are being taken care of by professionals to relieve some of their worries; however, I learned that professionalism does not always have to create a serious mood. The more serious we became, the opposite effect occurred--the patients became more anxious and nervous. Noticing this, I changed the environment to be a more friendly one by initiating conversion that entertained the patients during their long hours of waiting in the heat. This day was a constant reminder about the power that small acts of thoughtfulness can have on others and made me better at reading and understanding people. I learned that missionary work, God’s work, is very sensitive and requires the combination of mindfulness and thoughtfulness to best serve the people.
June 24, 2016
God is so good. All 122 patients came back to the hospital early in the morning for their final checkup and were waiting for our arrival. Some people live hours away, but still made the trip to the hospital for the third time that week to get their recovering eyes checked again. As soon as we arrived, the majority of the patients were waiting for us in a cramped room--sweating and smiling. Mr. Jung-won Ko began passionately praying and praising with the patients as soon as we arrived, while the rest of our team set up the examination rooms and greeted the patients, who were so thankful for our work. After we finished setting up our stations, we gathered all 122 patients outside for a group picture with all of the volunteers. Standing there with all of the patients gathered was a moment that filled me with great joy and pride of the good work that we have accomplished as a team for God’s glory. On my way back into the main waiting room, patients stopped me to thank me, take pictures, and hug me. The gratitude that they went out of their way to show me and the other VCS team members is a special and rewarding memory that I will always remember. As soon as the patients began filling back into the room, I began my new assignment of measuring and recording the eye pressure on the operated eye. It took less than a minute per patient, so I spent an extra minute to ask the patients how their eye felt and if they could see better and here were some of their responses: “I forgot how beautiful the world was, now that I can see it properly, I remember”, “I saw my grandchild clearly for the first time, god bless you”, “I am so happy that I can see everyone clearly, because now I can remember every face in this room that God has blessed my life with, may god bless you always”. Every minute that I spent that day and that entire week with VCS, was truly a transformative time and a gift from God. My passion for the medical and missionary field heightened, my faith in God strengthened, and my purpose in life was enlightened. I will forever be grateful to all the patients, volunteers, and VCS/ANC team members for giving me an unforgettable experience and everlasting memories.