Myanmar Medical Mission 2017: CRNA Lauren Fagan Shares Her Experience
October 4, 2017
By Lauren Fagan, CRNA
It was my privilege to join Aloha Medical Mission (AMM) on a journey to Myanmar (also known as Burma) in August, which was eye-opening, challenging, and humbling on a number of levels. I gained invaluable experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my career as a nurse anesthetist.
Our caseload consisted mainly of cleft lip and palate repairs, thyroid goiters, and hernias. Our team consisted of four surgeons, two physician anesthesiologists, two nurse anesthetists, and several internal medicine physicians and nurses, along with the amazing local Burmese staff who traveled with us from site to site. During our two-week mission, we completed 153 cases in the OR, and our medical team treated 608 patients. We worked at hospitals in two different cities, for four days each. Our mission was led by a general surgeon who has provided care to the underserved in Myanmar for over fifteen years.
The Burmese welcomed us with incredible hospitality, and our patients greeted us with excitement for our long-anticipated arrival. Patients lined up around the hospital to be screened, many having walked for days to reach us. Our first hospital in Sagaing, about an hour from Mandalay, was located within a Buddhist academy where many of the patients were monks. Our second hospital was located in Inle Lake, a unique community built on stilt homes and set on a lake, with no roads to speak of. Transportation there is solely by wooden boats.
The equipment was very basic, and the conditions in which we practiced were suboptimal, much as I expected. The one end-tidal CO2 monitor only worked intermittently, but we reserved the best machine and ventilator for the pediatric cases. We brought all our medications and airway equipment (we even brought a rented videolaryngoscope) and used creativity to conserve our finite resources. Reusing supplies after proper decontamination and sterilization was essential. We did not use any expired medications, treating our patients as closely as possible according to the same standards we use in the U.S.
We did not experience a single adverse clinical outcome! Unfortunately, we were unable to treat everyone, as it’s important to be selective and choose patients who are able to safely undergo surgery and to have a successful recovery after we leave. Surgically correcting their cleft lips will completely change the course of these babies’ lives – they will be able to avoid stigma and attend school.
There are countless reasons I was so amazed by the patients we served. The children were brave, letting the preop nurse place an IV without even flinching. The families were trusting, handing their babies over to us in complete faith and without question.
But what impressed me most about this trip was the incredible kindness the people in Burma have for one another. They looked after and cared for each other even when they had their own needs to tend to. I’m grateful to the Burmese staff for being eager to work with and learn from us, to AMM for inviting me to be part of their team and treating me like family, and to UCLA for supporting and allowing me to pursue this life-changing opportunity.
AMM is based in Honolulu, and since its inception in 1983 its volunteer medical-surgical teams have performed over 21,000 surgeries in Hawaii and in the developing countries of Asia and the Pacific.