The rest of the team arrived in Guatemala City late Friday night but they didn’t rest long. Everybody was up and loaded on the bus to Huehue by 5 a.m. I cannot relay how the 5-hour trek was because this blogger took a Dramamine and doesn’t remember much after that.
By noon, we were at the hospital. The early wake up seemed well worth it when we saw the dozens of people waiting for us. Some had traveled from very far and had been waiting several hours to been seen by our doctors and nurses.
Saturday was Assessment Day with each potential patient being seen by surgeons, pediatricians, anesthesiologists and dentists. While some kids wailed in their mothers’ arms, others were all too familiar with the drill.
All the different health experts consulted and decided what was the best path for each child. Unfortunately, not every child would receive surgery in the next days. Often, children under the age of 1 were told to return next year when the child is more able to withstand the surgery.
It was often difficult watching a mother while her child was being examined, knowing this was possibly their only shot to close the gap inside their child’s mouth. “Nervioso?” I asked one, in a miracle of high school Spanish coming back to me. She gave a sigh and sad smile that could only be translated as “You have NO idea.” It’s amazing how some emotions need no language.
What struck me during the last hours were all the relationships I witnessed. Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, rallying around a child, holding them, playing with them, supporting them as they went through this experience.
I was also impressed by the relationships built by the volunteers and their patients during these annual meetings. Some come back year after year for more surgery or other services since cleft palates are rarely a one-time fix. I was lucky enough to catch this little girl running into the arms of her dentist, instantly remembering him from years past.
So the goal of today is a schedule of surgeries for the next week.
The team will perform 5 to 10 surgeries per day. Some will be easier than others. Some will be the final piece in a long journey of surgery and recovery; others will be just the first step.