“This looks like luggage, but it represents love. Our group of US surgeons brings as many surgical supplies as possible each year when traveling to Kenya for our two-week surgical camp. The bags are filled with supplies that have been donated, purchased or saved from being thrown away. Without the generosity of dozens of people, our surgical work would not be possible.”
The thirteen-year-old boy sits in a battered ENT exam chair. Henry, my Kenyan colleague, hands me a blurry CT scan. “His neck mass has grown for two years,” Henry says. “We think it is a glomus vagale tumor. Do you agree?”
I hold the scan up to a window. The vascular mass fills the side of the boy’s neck, displacing his carotid artery. “That’s probably right,” I respond. “At home, we would get more studies. We would prepare for bleeding. This kind of surgery can be very dangerous, even fatal.”
Give, give, give–what is the point of having experience, knowledge, or talent if I don’t give it away? Of having stories if I don’t tell them to others?… It is in giving that I connect with others, with the world, and with the divine.
My office at the hospital is not unusual. Amid the clutter there are several special mementos and notes received from patients and families over the years. Each one holds a story, brought back to life when I touch it again.
A few years ago, the sister of a long-term patient stopped by with a framed picture. We talked about her brother and his long battle with his cancer.
He had spent his career working for the city repairing street lights and signs. While in the prime of his life, he had developed a tongue cancer. After an initially successful surgical removal followed by radiation therapy, he developed a recurrence. Over the following months, the cancer had grown and spread. Eventually, there were no more options. He found peace and prepared for the end of his life.