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All the parts that make up the whole

March 26, 2024 

Tuesday, March 26
Kyiv, Ukraine

One of my favorite literary terms has always been “synecdoche” which is when we use a part to describe a whole. For example, “St. Louis trounced Chicago in the baseball game last night.” When I say this, what I actually mean is the players of the cities’ baseball teams, not the cities, were the actors. English allows us to take the synecdoche shortcut, and we use it all the time. (This example gives me particular joy, by the way.)

Today we toured an orthopedic hospital in Kyiv. We were there because we delivered a portable ultrasound to the physicians – they had requested one, and it’s something I could transport in my carry-on baggage. I didn’t know anything about this hospital, except that shipments from Mission Outreach could have included items for them (and may again in our next upcoming shipment).

The hospital is modern and efficient – there isn’t a lot of décor, but it is clean and bright. The building was constructed when the Ukraine was in the Soviet Union, and within the hospital you can see evidence of this era by the color choice and design. All patient doors are closed, and there seemed to be many visitors to this hospital.

We went upstairs to the office of the chief surgeon and several other clinicians joined us. You know they’re really busy, so while we were honored to meet them, we were also aware of keeping things brief.  When the chief surgeon learned that Bruce and I were from America, specifically near Chicago, he became excited and started showing me name tags from orthopedic conferences he has attended around the world over the last 40 years. He’s also been to many places in the U.S.

With great energy he showed us a photo of him at the Grand Canyon. There was his speaker’s tag from a conference in New Orleans, a boxing glove autographed by Vitali Klitschko (former boxer and current Kyiv Mayor), and a photo signed by Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Randy White. He briefly shared a memory as he pointed to each memento, clearly having had a wonderful career full of travel and adventure.

His attention then turned to the ultrasound and his demeanor grew serious. He explained that the ultrasound would be used often, as they do 14 orthopedic surgeries a day – more than half on soldiers injured on the front lines. The hospital has about 430 beds, and since the war began the number of surgeries they do annually has doubled (not only have they absorbed wounded war patients, they also have kept up with the needs of civilians). They do orthoscopic surgeries, total knee and hip replacements, and amputations. The reason that ultrasound was at the top of their list, the surgeon explained, is it helps them fully see hip and knee joints easily and from all angles, particularly for the wounded soldiers.

Then he thanked me and all of us for bringing them the ultrasound. When it was my turn to reply, I told him that we were honored to meet all of them. We are all praying for the Ukrainians, and we thank them for their service to their country and the world. I meant what I said – but it seemed entirely inadequate considering what I had just heard.

I suddenly remembered what Ratish (our biomedical engineer at Mission Outreach) told me when he gave me the ultrasound right before I left. So I said (through the translator – although many of the Ukrainians obviously understood English) that there was a battery in the pack and other parts, and Ratish himself had tested the ultrasound before he packed it for transport. If they have any questions or require any information, contact us and Ratish will help.

Someone then asked for my business card, and instead of digging through my entire bag, I remembered that I brought a copy of our Biomedical Services brochure. It features Ratish’s picture on the cover, and Ratish’s contact information is inside. I handed the brochure to the doctor who asked for the business card (he also happens to be the youngest surgeon there – and doesn’t appear to be older than 16 himself). He looked at the brochure cover for a second, then at me. “Is this the man who prepared this ultrasound for us?” the doctor asked with great interest.

“Yes,” I said. “That’s Ratish Kumar from Mission Outreach.” A few of the others leaned in to see Ratish’s photo and nodded approvingly.

As we all shook hands and departed, I thought about how often I use synecdoche in my working life – almost every day I say “Mission Outreach” has shipped something to somewhere. How many times in the last week have I told someone I’m “visiting Ukraine”? But as I thought about it, synecdoche may have lost its place as my favorite literary term.

Because in that moment, which will last in my memory as clearly as a boxing glove or autograph, I saw clearly that it wasn’t Mission Outreach that did anything for Ukraine’s hospitals.

It’s Ratish, and all the members of our team – Vicki, Sue, Joe, Nick, Lou, James, David, Ken, and Darin --who with great care, expertise, and attention create shipments of real medical supplies and equipment that are donated by real people (not hospitals) and those materials are requested by real people with names and stories and memories. There are colleagues, donors, and volunteers (all with names) who have contributed to many such shipments over the years. The items are sent to doctors and nurses and clinicians, who give their skills and care to provide health care to patients with names and families and futures in every part of the world. Can you imagine how many hundreds of thousands of names I would have to list just to include everyone who makes this work possible?

Today I met a surgeon – whose name is Alexander – to whom I handed an ultrasound that will be used to treat thousands of wounded soldiers and Ukrainian citizens. It was packed by Ratish Kumar, a biomedical engineer who went out of his way to procure and prepare it for this exact day. And in the middle of that one action, there were thousands of people too.

Never again will I say “Mission Outreach” did something without picturing the faces of all the people who really took an action. That, I learned today, is what human connection is all about; and that is what Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach exists to do in the world. 

Erica Smith signature
All the parts that make up the whole