Sex, Drugs, and Public Health

November 4, 2017

Orthopedic Team to Ecuador

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 4:09 am

Here’s how it works. We arrive at the hospital in Cuenca on Sunday to find a large crowd of people hoping to get surgery by the North American orthopedic surgeons. The surgeons screen them (translators needed) and then refer them all to anesthesia, where I work.

We obtain histories, nurses check B P etc. and the anesthesiologists determine whether each kid is safe to go under. Most of these cases are complex and / or risky, so the Gringo surgeons will teach advanced techniques to the Ecuadorian surgeons in the O R.

Case # 1: Jordy – he broke his tibia at age 5 and has undergone four surgeries over the past seven years, but the bone never healed.


He hasn’t walked in seven years. His mother has placed her hopes and faith in the North American surgeons (a bit of a cultural problem, as it can undermine faith in the local docs). On the morning of surgery, the team of five Gringo doctors, two Ecuadorian doctors and I (as translator) stop at his bed. The ortho docs pull out X-rays and discuss them while the patient and anxious Mom watch.


“We shouldn’t be doing this case,” one surgeon shakes his head. “He has congenital psuedoarthrosis – it’ll never heal. What he needs is an amputation.”

The head surgeon begins an intense discussion with the surgeon who proposed this change of plan. Meanwhile, an Ecuadorian doctor tells the mother what has been said. Her mouth falls open in shock. Then tears overflow onto her cheeks. The doctors move on to the next bed.

“Señora,” I hold her hand as I trail the docs, “I’ll be back and explain this to you. Don’t worry.”

Rounds over, while the surgeons change into scrubs, I return to the floor. The mother is in the hall, listening to an intense young Ecuadorian.

Good, I think, some physician is explaining things to her.


I start work with another patient in a room, then hear loud yelling in the hall. Not just once – over and over.

What the hell?

I look out and see the young man gripping Jordy’s mother and yelling for Jesus to come down and heal something. The mother convulses in sobs.

I hurry down to the OR, get the head surgeon and implore him to come up and go over the issue with her. He assigns a different surgeon to go up with me.

Patiently, we explain to both Jordy and his mom that it was likely he had a condition which would prevent his tibia from healing. That the bone would remain in two un-united pieces. That this fifth surgery might fail, too. But it is their decision – they can go for repeat surgery, for amputation and prosthesis, or to go home and live with the crutches. But we stress that, even if it does someday come to amputation, his life with a prosthesis would probably be better than a life on crutches.

Mom is not ready to consider amputation. Surgery goes forward with these results:


In the Recuperación Room, Jordy smiles as soon as he is awake, and doesn’t complain of pain. His mother is grateful and happy.

Upon hearing the story, one of our nurses offers to speak with the Mom.

“About what?” I ask.

“I’m an amputee,” she reveals. “She can see how it hasn’t kept me from a productive and fun life. Let me know.”

As she walks away, I watch her gait closely. Can’t see a limp, a stiffness or anything abnormal.

Jordy’s mother, however, isn’t ready to hear it. She beams optimism and faith. “What can I do for my son to help him?” she asks.

I go over post-op care at home. I feel a responsibility to temper things a little. I remind her that we don’t know how well the tibia will heal, in spite of good alignment. Then I say something I seldom say. It seems appropriate in this case:

Señora, you can pray.”



  • Pentacostal “christianity” has penetrated deeply into traditionally Catholic Latin America.

* Congenital Psuedoarthrosis – if Jordy indeed has it – is pretty rare. About one in every 250,000.


Blog at

%d bloggers like this: