2018 Ghana Mission Blog by Dr. John Parker

Throughout the 2018 Operation Walk New York mission trip, Dr. John Parker will be writing about the team’s experience.

November 8, 2018

“The spinal is in. Let’s get the patient positioned.” I looked around for the hip positioner, that crucial and surprisingly complex instrument that keeps the patient stable on the bed during hip surgery. It’s hard to put a hip in straight without it.

After completing our four full surgical days late last night, we had arrived at St. Joseph Hospital this morning to break everything down, make our final rounds, and get out of Dodge. But then we learned that one of the hips we replaced yesterday had dislocated overnight, and, upon being put back in place, it came out again, suggesting that it was unstable. This is a thing: it happens. And at home, we take the patient back to the OR and reposition the cup, or lengthen the femoral component, and: Problem solved.

But here in Koforidua, the system was already dismantled, and so was the hip positioner. Our surgical equipment was already in boxes, and our big bus was iding outside the hospital. We were scheduled to depart very shortly.

“Here.” Our equipment person dropped a big black plastic box in front of me. Inside was a tangle of parts and components that vaguely resembled the hip position, but dissembled. Very completely dissembled. And I realized that reassembling the hip positioner was going to take longer than the operation. And I had no choice but to - for the first and only time in my career - put together the fricking hip positioner.

Let’s end the suspense: I got it together, we did the operation to reposition the cup and put on a longer head, the hip was stable, the patient recovered, and we made our bus in time without having to alter or delay our travel plans. Phew. But the experience drove home a couple truths.

First: Every process has a series of steps, and each step must be completed before the next can be undertaken. You can’t position the patient until you assemble the hip positioner correctly. This is true of most systems-based undertakings - surgery, flying an airplane, building a house. Learn the system, and its sequence of steps, and things will get easy.

And second: Sometimes, when you’ve got everything broken down, you unexpectedly have to put it all back together again. And you do it methodically, one simple step at a time. Maybe looking at the entire endeavor can be overwhelming. But break it down into manageable, bite-sized portions... and you can eat the whole enchilada.

The 44 members of Operation Walk Syracuse are en route back to the US. We have gone to new places, met new friends and colleagues, learned a great deal (the old-fashioned way) about the unique skeletal anatomy of the Ghanaian people, and, we hope, sprinkled some grains of goodwill over this part of the world. And we left 84 hips and knees way better than we found them. A few lives have been changed - and I’m not just talking about our patients.

It’s a tired cliché: we went somewhere and did something to help others, but in the end, it was we who benefitted most. Yawn.

But it’s all absolutely true. It’s not hyperbole to say that these trips are transformative for us. They let us view the world through a different lens, and this informs the work we do and the interaction we have back home. We are granted the enviable luxury of a formidable new perspective on what we do and what we have.

One last thing: our ranks have grown and broadened, and Operation Walk Syracuse has become Operation Walk New York. And we look forward to expanding our circle farther in the years ahead.

We at OpWalkNY would like to thank you for joining us on this trip, and for making the whole thing possible, through your interest, support and donations. As we hope you can tell, it is a remarkably good cause, one that is worthy of your support. Stay tuned for 2019, when we put the whole enchilada back together again.