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Healing Beyond Borders: An Unforgettable Mission with the Flying Samaritans

Today I recount my journey with the Flying Samaritans, a remarkable group dedicated to delivering essential healthcare services to underserved communities. Join me as I share my experience with the volunteer organization, from the initial flight to San Quintin, Baja Mexico, to the challenges faced during surgeries and the unwavering resilience of both our medical team and the patients we served. Together, we navigated obstacles, overcame setbacks, and left a lasting impact on the lives of those in need.

Day 1

My journey began with an early morning flight from Denver, where I had spent the past week attending the Psychedelic Science conference, to San Diego. Tom, a volunteer with the Flying Samaritans and also an anesthesiologist and pilot, picked me up at a nearby small airport, and we were soon on our way to Mexico. After two stops, we finally arrived in San Quintin, Baja Mexico.

five people walking towards a plane
Excitement is high as the team gets ready to fly to Mexico.

Since my last visit, our team had grown. We now had three general surgeons, two anesthesiologists, a physical therapist, a nurse, and a surgical technician.

four men standing in front of plane
The Doctors!

Our first stop was the small medical clinic, where we were greeted by nearly a hundred people eagerly waiting outside. Some of these patients had been waiting for over a year to be seen by a physician. Many had traveled for over six hours, using whatever means possible, in the hope of receiving medical and surgical care.

man looking into the car filled with medical supplies
The Car filled with donated medical supplies.
people waiting to see a doctor
Patients being triaged with the hope to get medical care.

Each patient had a unique story, and if we were fortunate, they also brought along a medical report. Pattie, our local patient coordinator, helped us organize the surgery schedule and ensured that patients understood how to prepare for their procedures the following morning.

doctor office with medical supplies and sink
The exam room with limited supplies.

We spent the afternoon seeing as many patients as time allowed, knowing that we needed to start operating in the evening. The surgeries continued late into the night, and afterwards, we tried to make our way back to the hotel using a car donated to the organization.

run down operating room and table
Operating room number one.
Dr. Rivas removing a large tumor.

Unfortunately, our journey back was interrupted when a pedestrian signaled to us that we had a flat tire. We stopped at a nearby gas station and discovered that the tire was completely deflated. After asking several strangers for a car jack, we were finally able to lift the car and attempt to remove the wheel. However, the rusted wheel refused to budge. It was completely stuck on the car's axle. Eventually, we flagged down a firetruck, and with the help of a fireman and a sledgehammer, we were able to smash the wheel off, change the flat tire, and finally get back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep before the busy day ahead.

fireman changing a flat tire at night
A friendly fireman removing the busted wheel.

Day 2

After a quick team breakfast, we returned to the hospital. Cliff and Blake, the two other general surgeons, worked in one operating room, while I operated alone in the second room.

Two surgeons operating in an old operating room
Dr. Ewbank and Dr. Spitzer repairing a hernia.
A surgeon being gowned
Dr. Rivas gowning up.
A surgeon performing laparoscopic surgery
Dr. Rivas performing a laparoscopic removal of a gallbladder (cholecystectomy).

While the patients received general anesthesia during the surgeries, their post-operative pain management consisted of Tylenol due to the limited supply of stronger medications. All our instruments and supplies had been donated and required us to resterilize them between surgeries. Despite these challenges, we managed to be resourceful and creative, making the most of the limited supplies we had.

A surgical sink filled with sponges and surgical tubing.
The recycled ventilator tubing.
a flashlight attached to a pole in an operating room
The makeshift OR light.
An old anesthesia machine
The Mexican anesthesia machine.

Remarkably, we were able to move the next patient into surgery just 15 minutes after completing the previous surgery. One after another, we performed a total of twenty surgeries. After checking on our patients and ensuring they were properly admitted and cared for overnight, we returned to the hotel, exhausted but fulfilled, knowing that we had provided healthcare to people who would otherwise have no access to it.

A patient in white sitting on a hospital bed
A patient moments before being wheeling back to the OR for removal of her gallbladder by Dr. Rivas.

Day 3

The next morning, we woke up and made our way back to the hospital to check on our patients. Unfortunately, our second vehicle also had mechanical issues. The car overheated, forcing us to abandon it and find another ride to the hospital.

a man looking under the hood of a van.
The broken down and overheated van.

When we finally arrived, we were surprised to learn that all our patients had been discharged. The nurses reported that everyone had recovered remarkably well, and there were no complaints despite the lack of pain control or the comforts usually found in American hospitals. We felt pleased and grateful for the opportunity to help this underserved community. After saying our goodbyes to each other, we headed to the airstrip and flew back home, with plans to return in a few months to continue our mission.

Four doctors, smiling for a photo outside
Dr. Rivas and the team overjoyed after all the hard work.

Reflecting on my experience with the Flying Samaritans, I am filled with a sense of joy and an even stronger desire to make more of a difference. If only we had more resources, personnel, and time, we could extend our reach and help an even greater number of people in this community. For those who are interested and willing to lend a hand, any form of donation would have a profound impact. The Flying Sams are in constant need of nurses, pilots, physicians, and other compassionate individuals who are eager to contribute. To find out more about how you can help or get involved, please feel free to email me directly at ray@innerbloomketamine or visit the Flying Samaritans website for further information.

five people standing in front of a plane.
The team not saying goodbye, but rather, "see you next time".

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