What a gift

I cried when Manoj put the last stitch in.

On Friday, Helen, Marianella and I visited with all the parents on the ward. For those whose children had had a lip repair, we celebrated together, admiring their beautiful babies. For those who had their lips repaired but still would need palate surgery in the future, we also gave advice on helping the kids develop good speech habits now to establish good airflow from the mouth after the palate is closed. We worked directly with the kids who had newly closed palates and their parents, teaching about how to bring the sounds out through the mouth and not the nose. Needless to say, there were many therapy materials, toys and goodies passed around, ensuring we went home empty handed but the kids did not.

The ideas we have about privacy in the US do not apply in Peru. Surgical postoperative wards hold eight beds, and there are no curtains between them. Therapy done with one child was viewed by all, and indeed, visitors for the patient in bed 1 would offer helpful advice to the patient in bed 2. Everyone was truly in it together.

After speech rounds, we put on fresh scrubs and went to surgery. Dr. Manoj Abraham, who works mostly at Vassar Hospital, was operating on a baby with a cleft lip that went up into her nose all the way, and welcomed us to observe him. 

Manoj is the chief of this mission. He has done many trips with Healing the Children, Northeast, to Colombia, Thailand and Peru, perhaps others I am forgetting. He works tirelessly before, during and after a trip to make it all work. He has an easy sense of humor and remains calm even when things get complicated or delayed or totally knocked off track. Somehow, with the help of the administrative staff (who deserve their own post) he maintains a positive outlook, keeps the team humming along, and makes it all great fun.

Now Manoj was putting this baby’s nose together, carefully making it match the other side as much as possible. He worked some more on the deep layers of the lip, making sure it would be able to have free movement. Then he sutured the raised line that runs down from your nostril to the beginning of the red part of your lip. Suddenly, this baby had a sweet Cupid’s bow of a mouth…a mouth that would pout and pucker, shout, whisper…

Even though it was my second time in the OR and I thought I was over it, I cried and cried. Writing this now, I’m crying again.

What a gift. 

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About Shari Salzhauer Berkowitz

Shari is a speech language pathologist and assistant professor of communication disorders at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY.
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