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From the Classroom to the Operating Theater

In May, Maggie Holland graduated as valedictorian of Washington and Lee’s Class of 2013. Only a few weeks later she was scrubbing in for a hysterectomy operation in Antigua, Guatemala.

She admits that she nearly fainted.

“It’s a good thing I don’t want to become a surgeon,” wrote Maggie in a letter back to Ellen Mayock, the Ernest Williams II Professor of Spanish at W&L.

Maggie, a biology major, will enter Duke University’s physical therapy program in the fall.

So why a hysterectomy operation in Guatemala?

She was participating as an interpreter on a trip with a team representing the Faith in Practice program, which describes itself as “a community of health care volunteers who work to improve the physical, spiritual and economic conditions of the poor in Central America.”

Last winter, when Maggie knew that she was going to make the trip, she approached Professor Mayock with a request to help her learn some medical Spanish and also gain background information on Guatemala. That simple inquiry turned into a one-credit course for Maggie and two of her W&L classmates, something that all the participants said is indicative of the way things work at W&L. Here’s a story on that class.

With that course as a foundation, Maggie served as one of two interpreters on the 34-member team that made the trip, and she sent the following first-person report:

The first day was the triage day on which we evaluated people to determine their needs. I interpreted for the doctors while they evaluated the patients. I was very happy with the interpretation. The dialect was pretty easy to understand, and I used many words that we learned in our class! We did the surgeries over the next four days. The great majority of the cases were hysterectomies and hernia repairs. The surgeons also removed many gall bladders and very large tumors. My work consisted of speaking with the patients, calming their nerves and praying for them.  Besides that, I interpreted for the doctors and anesthesiologists and spoke with the families after the operations. I had a ton of fun!  I even got to scrub in to watch/help with a hysterectomy and I almost fainted. It’s a good thing I don’t want to become a surgeon!

The hospital in Antigua is the permanent home to 250 handicapped children and adults, and there’s a center for malnourished babies.  After I finished my work each day, I would play with the babies, and I loved that. The last day we were in Antigua we went to Nido Jesús Niño, a home for orphans started by two Spanish nuns 15 years ago. A group from Faith in Practice helps to support them. Visiting the orphanage was one of my favorite activities.

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