The work of Operation Walk in Antigua Guatemala is complete, and the team is congregating to board the buses back to Guatemala City. As Hurricane Matthew pounds the East Coast of Florida, we hope to slip above it and make our connection in Atlanta.
But whether or not we make that connection, we have made connections this week that will endure.
First, it's impossible to come away from this week of patient care without making connections with those patients.
Clearly, they understand and appreciate the care they have received, and it has the potential to be life-altering for them. But what they may not realize is how life-altering these connections are for us. Because in no context does it become more clear that by giving, we receive.
In short, Operation Walk has been good for Guatemala, and it has been equally good for us.
And as we board the buses to depart Antigua Guatemala, it takes only a moment of eavesdropping to understand the remarkable and strong connections we have made with each other. There is laughter. There is good-natured ribbing and joking. And there is simply no hesitation to pile into these Guatemalan-sized bus seats right next to a team member who, 8 days ago, was an "acquaintance." But now, after working and laughing side by side for the week, we are friends - close friends - and the closeness of these tiny seats is a non-issue.
And those connections will endure when we get home and see each other in the familiar hallways of the hospital, and will spill over into the patient care we provide in that environment. Make no mistake - Operation Walk improves the care provided to our patients at home.
These OpWalk people... Each has his or her story, a story that has led them to Operation Walk. I have seen them early in the morning, and late at night. I have seen them under duress, working hard at hard jobs in the service of people they do not know, and will never see again. I have sat with them at breakfast, then at lunch, and then again at dinner. And I have come to appreciate the qualities in those people which make them the capable, dedicated professionals that they are. They are, each in their own way, leaders. And I am honored and humbled to work side by side with them... in Guatemala, and in Syracuse.
Traveling - being away from the comforts and routines of home - has a way of heightening our awareness and emotional responses to things. Our experiences become more vibrant, more stimulating. As such, it's difficult to stay objective when considering these new connections we have made. But a few final statements must be made.
First, to the leaders of Operation Walk Syracuse, I know I speak for all of our OpWalk team members when I say: Thank you. The opportunity to participate in this experience defies description, and we are more appreciative than we can say. We are changed for life.
Second, to the people of Antigua Guatemala, and especially to the hospital staff: Thank you. Your hospitality is unparalleled, and we could not have made this effort happen with you.
And last, and most important, to the generous donors and to the staff of Operation Walk Syracuse: Wow. Just... wow. The lives you have touched, and the difference you have made for your patients... these are the essential hallmarks of Operation Walk. You ARE Operation Walk, and without you, it simply doesn't exist.
The quaint cobblestones of Antigua Guatemala have been replaced with the bustling energy of Guatemala City. Next stop: Atlanta, and then home to the Big Orange. Thank you to the followers and supporters of OpWalk. Your support makes this possible, and you have changed the lives of our patients.