Hello and welcome to Smiles from India! This blog is about my gap year (between high school and college) as I live in Guwahati, Assam, India. I am working for Operation Smile (www.operationsmile.org), which is a non-profit organization that repairs cleft lips and cleft palates. I am also helping the rest of the community working with the Pratyasha Foundation (http://www.facebook.com/pratyashafoundation). Enjoy and keep smiling!
Monday, October 15, 2012
Every morning and every night, I circle the ward. The ward is where the patients stay before and after their surgery. The ward is my favorite area because there is so much interaction there. The patients are willing to play and smile and give high fives and blow kisses.
In the morning, there are patients who have had surgery the day before and patients who will have surgery later that day. The patients who have had surgery are more relaxed and really enjoy seeing a person who wants to play around. The patients who are awaiting surgery are anxious so they seem to love a comforting smile. Circling the ward in the morning gives me energy for the day ahead. It rejuvenates me and reminds me how much these surgeries mean to the patients.
At night I see the patients who had their surgery that day and the patients who will have surgery tomorrow. At night, the new patients are nervous. They have watched patients come down from the operating room and heard patients cry over pain. So, giving them a handshake, a pat on the back, or a smile calms both them and their families down. At night, the patients who received surgery that day are often tired and in pain.
One night, as I was circling the Ward, I saw this girl whom I had seen a couple days before. Her hand and arm were badly burned and contracted. This means that her hand and arm were extremely deformed. You could tell she knew that she looked different because her sad eyes and non-expressive face never returned a wave or smile. Her father had traveled with her to Guwahati, and she had finally gotten surgery earlier that day. I went over to her bed to give her a smile and a pat on the shoulder. Her father had left for the bathroom, or to get dinner or something. Whatever, he was not around.
At the exact moment I touched her shoulder, she just started bawling. I did not know exactly why she was crying, but I sat there rubbing her shoulder as she cried and cried until her dad returned. But even when her dad returned, the tears didn't stop. I continued comforting her as her father kept saying bowing his head and saying, “Thank you, thank you,” to me in Assamesse.
I think that I was of some comfort to this girl, but honestly, I often find myself running into a language barrier. India has something like 250 dialects, and while Hindi is the native language that unites most Indians, the local dialect here is Assamese. The hospital's security guard has been teaching me some Assamese, and while I can say a few things (Hello, how are you, and so on) and count to 10 or so, I don't really know enough to learn about patients’ lives. When we take food for the kids to the slums, the inability to speak the language there can get really frustrating.
But on the other hand, I know that languages make cultures even more vibrant. They make our world a diverse place. They also make moments like these--non-verbal moments when a simple smile and pat on the shoulder allow a girl with an extremely disabled and gruesome looking arm to let her feelings out--incredibly special. Such moments remind me to smile and say hello to everyone. Simple acts of kindness like these can do more than you will ever know.
Playing with an adorable patient in the ward!
So let me also relate some miscellaneous stories from the ward...
1. A teenage boy wouldn’t look at me after his surgery, once his cleft lip was complete. His name was Excellent. The nurse described to him what that meant in English and I could see his ears perk and his cheeks wrinkle. Then he just started cracking up, as if he knew he was Excellent.
2. I walked into the ward one morning and was greeted by an adorable girl dancing to Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen, which is an extremely popular song (apparently in Assam too).
3. Today at the Center, the 4,000th surgery since the founding of the Guwahati Comprehensive Cleft Care Center. Hurray!