Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Another Great Day

Day three of surgeries ended with ten more children having surgery. I wish I could report that nothing broke today :-), but the autoclave sterilizer stopped working during the night shift. Thankfully the parts were able to be bought early in the a.m., and surgeries were able to begin as scheduled. One of our team members joked that you know you have been going for a lot of supplies when you get in a taxi in China and give the driver directions on how to get where you need to go!

The word has started to spread in the city that our team is here doing surgeries. Early in the morning we had a lovely young woman walk in from the street and tell us that she spoke very good English and was so touched by what was happening that she would like to be an LWB volunteer for the mission. We quickly put her to work and she was a great help in interpreting instructions to the aunties.

Right as we were getting ready to begin our first discharges, we were notified that both the local television and newspaper reporters had arrived at the SWI to find out what was happening. After getting a quick tour of our "hospital", they decided to do a documentary on our team and so their video crew took lots of footage of the surgeries, the post op ward and of COURSE the beautiful children. The question that kept being asked over and over again was "WHY?" "Why are you here, giving up your time and your finances to help these children?" The first time I was asked, I had to stop and think of how one answers that question in a sound bite. Why did 42 people fly all the way to the other side of the earth, using their vacation days and buying their own tickets, to work 10-18 hour days? I am sure the reasons are many, but I finally told the reporter that at the core of all of our team's hearts was a deep love for children, and that I knew that while we were giving a lot of ourselves, we were gaining so much more by being allowed to be a part of such a trip.

The next question was again a deep one...."what do you hope you accomplish by coming here?" Thankfully the reporter gave me a moment to collect my thoughts, and I finally told him that I hoped our story inspired others to do whatever they can to brighten the lives of children, but even more importantly, I told them that as he knew, many children in China become orphans simply because they are born with cleft lips. I told him that perhaps our being there would help inform people that children with cleft can be given a whole new smile with just an hour long operation.

The reporters were amazed at the before and after images of the children, and they took lots of pictures of the children and our doctors. The news article will have our phone number, so we honestly have no idea if we will show up for work tomorrow with people lining up to see our team. We did have one 12 year old whose grandmother brought her in today. Most likely we won't know until tomorrow afternoon what the effect of so much publicity will be.

Our team has continued to become great friends. Last night a group ventured out on their own to get a local dinner. The restaurant they chose was one that serves a Chinese favorite, hot pot. Unfortunately, once the team was all seated and ready to order, they realized that not one person who worked there spoke English and the menus had no English translations. At first they tried to draw a picture of little grains of rice, and then they kept saying "chicken? chicken?" to no avail. Finally one of the nurses hooked her hands under her armpits and started making clucking sounds. THAT was the way to communicate! They reported that the food they received was absolutely delicious. The food in Luoyang has been really good. Each day a local restaurant delivers a wide variety of Chinese dishes, but we did get some American style comfort food today by ordering in KFC for the team.

One sad thing that happened last night is that one of our nurses unfortunately became very ill, and we are all hoping Teresa gets better soon. I know how very hard it can be to be sick when you are away from home.

Back to the patients being discharged....this morning we sent the first day's kids home. One little boy from Guangxi and one from Jiangxi both had a little bit of swelling around the repair site, so we decided to keep each of them one more day. The rest were given their blanket (THANK YOU THANK YOU to everyone who donated a blanket....the aunties absolutely LOVE that their kids get a brand new special blankie), and they also got to take their beanie baby that most were holding onto tightly. While it was a bit hard to see them go because we had come to know and love their own unique personalities, all of us are hoping to see them again soon on waiting child lists being given a chance to have their own families.

We had a very special treat today when four of the children that LWB sponsored for surgery came to see us on the 6th floor. One little girl had received congenital cataract surgery and her aunty told me that she can see now. Another was a little girl who had a large eye tumor removed. While it was hard to see that her eye was removed, I am hopeful that in the future she can receive an artificial eye. The little boy who has the rare heart defect that is even more complex than TOF came with his foster mother. He has been gaining weight, and we sent her home with a special formula that is geared for children aged 6 and up, and we told her that we think he will be ready for surgery by October. We will most likely send him to Hangzhou Children's Hospital to be healed. The final boy was little Liang. In all the photos we have of him, he is wearing long sleeves. Today, he arrived in a short sleeved short and we learned that he is missing his arm. It was great to see how wonderful he looks after having his VSD surgery. This little boy is FILLED with personality. He was grinning at us and we quickly found a matchbox car and beanie baby for him which he really loved. Right before they were ready to leave, his aunty told us "this child is very smart". She then said, "he can sing Chinese opera in the most beautiful way". Well, that little boy stood in front of all of us strangers and began to belt out a complete Chinese opera song in a perfect pitched voice. All of us stood around him spellbound and when he hit his final note, the whole post op ward broke into spontaneous applause. I asked the aunty if they could please stay just a moment longer and whether he could go with me into the OR to serenade the surgeons. She agreed.

We quickly walked back to the OR and again he walked into a complete unknown and stood before all of these foreigners in surgical scrubs and masks. He raised his little hand and then gave a little wiggle of his hips, and then opened his mouth and began to sing. It was a beautiful thing, and I believe it was a moment that no one in that room will ever forget. How I hope that this precious little boy finds a home. There just aren't words to describe how my heart felt to see this beautiful little boy, orphaned his entire life and surviving open heart surgery....standing innocently in front of us, lifting his voice with such a sweet song.

There is an older girl who lives in the orphanage that our whole team has fallen in love with. She has severe scoliosis, but she has not let it stop her. Her English is wonderful and her positive attitude nonstop. She has been working 16 hour days along with our team, and this afternoon she sat in with our surgeons and sang to them as they worked. At one point she started singing "Do Re Mi" from the Sound of Music, and suddenly we heard harmony as one of our docs joined in to sing bass.

Two of our team members have had birthdays this week, so we sent out for a birthday cake to celebrate. We ended up with two of the most incredible cakes I have ever seen, one with a complete Chinese dragon made out of icing on the top and one with a finely detailed white horse. They were true works of art.

Yesterday's surgery patients were all feeling pretty well today. One little toddler boy was running so fast up and down the hallways that our team members couldn't keep up as they chased him. The moms who have brought children continue to be very emotional over their children's new faces. We realized today that many of these families are so very poor, and so they do not even have a photo of their child. One very dedicated mom, who I don't think has slept a minute she has been here, saw us taking a post op photo of her little girl and asked if she could please have one, too. We quickly printed out a copy for her and tonight before I left she was staring intently at this very treasured photo. As I walk among the cots taking photos of the children, if I forget to snap a picture of a child, the aunty or mom quickly lets me know! They are so very proud of these kids. Over and over we hear, "thank you, thank you".....and I wish my Chinese was better so that I could thank THEM for being here with the kids. We know the post op ward is crowded and not ideal, but no one is complaining at all.

Today we had two older girls on our schedule. The seven year old is so beautiful, and she really enjoyed the day today while waiting for her surgery. She liked her new stuffed animal and was playing peek a boo with our team members each time they walked past her pre op room. Finally late in the afternoon it was her turn for surgery. Anesthesia went to find her and bring her back to the OR, and she walked back to the surgical room with a huge grin on her face. I asked if I could take her photo and she happily posed for a picture. As soon as I snapped it she asked if she could see it and gave a HUGE smile when she saw it on my digital camera. She walked right into the OR without a moment's hesitation.

There were many, many funny moments today that probably are funnier since we are tired. Todd Taylor, our official "super man" has kept us all in stitches. Yesterday he found some local headbands that he bought for our art auction next summer, that had huge peony flowers on them. He was wearing them as he worked and it was quite a lovely accessory for him. We have sent him out for so many supplies that he is becoming a pro at explaining to the local store owners what he needs even though he speaks no Chinese and they speak no English. Some of the nurses wanted to do something fun with the teenage orphans so they wanted nail polish to paint the girls' toes. Off went Todd (who is this tall, linebacker looking guy) to find nail polish. When he finally got across to the clerk that he wanted to paint his fingernails, everyone in the store was laughing so hard. I am not sure WHAT was going through their heads, but after that purchase was completed, they asked if he might be interested in some lipstick for himself! Today's assignment was more disposable diapers, and we are glad he is not now in prison somewhere as the way he communicated his needs was by first doing a pantomine of rocking a baby and then hitting himself between the legs. I can thankfully report that he didn't cause the clerk to run from him screaming. :-)

We will post more tomorrow. There are 13 on the schedule but we might not be able to get to them all. There is one very special little boy to us. When one of our facilitators was bringing a boy from the Anhui province for surgery by train, he noticed a very young couple with a beautiful little boy with severe cleft. When he began speaking with them, they told him that they were too poor to afford the surgery fees for their child and that many of their family members treated their child differently because of the way his face appeared. Our facilitator told them about our team and asked if they would like to stop in Luoyang to have their child's smile transformed. They were so very grateful, and immediately arranged to come see us. Now when they return to their home in the Sichuan province, their family will see a very different little boy, all from a chance encounter on a train heading west.