We were on the bus by 6:30, with our 60 or so suitcases, on our way to Sergio E. Bernales Hospital. It feels good to be back here, as if I never left. At 8, we had an official welcome, with a flag raising and announcements on the front steps of the hospital. Immediately after this, we were greeted by many of our former patients and their families, and many staff members as well. There was a lot of kissing and hugging all around. We all admired how well the babies’ cleft lips had healed, and peeked at their palates. As soon as this reunion was complete, we set up for screening day.
When we screen on Mondays, we have a system. Kids are weighed and photographed, a physical exam and surgical plan is made, a history of previous surgeries and illnesses is taken, anesthesiologists examine the potential patient for undue risk, and finally, the speech language pathologists assess communication skills. This is a bullet proof system…on paper. Once we set up and let the families in, it gets pretty chaotic. However, every time we do it, it becomes more efficient and the truth is, we just have to embrace the bedlam. By the time the dust cleared, it was late in the afternoon and we had seen 40 patients. After the first few children were screened, Vanessa and Lindsay took the lead under our supervision. After a few more, they were both 100% up to speed, so we separated into two teams in two rooms to power through our evaluations. Helen and I were very proud of our well-trained, empathetic, enthusiastic students.
A new wrinkle on this trip: we have brought hearing screening equipment with us. The Mercy College SPARC Lab purchased two small screeners with institutional grant money, to check the hearing of participants in speech perception experiments. These have proven very popular and are often in use, but this is the first time we have taken them abroad. For some of the kids, we were able to provide information on how well they were hearing, which can effect whether they receive pressure equalization tubes while under anesthesia.
In addition to these 40 surgical cases, we were approached by about a half dozen people for speech and language evaluation and therapy…”my child is 3 and does not speak…mine is 2 and only says mama…mine has Down syndrome and hardly speaks at age six…mine does well in school, but cannot pronounce the words…mine stutters.” These parents were given appointments on Wednesday at speech clinic. We are looking forward to a full day of evaluation and treatment. Of course, parent training is the most critical piece; they will continue the therapy after we leave.
By the afternoon, two children were having surgery. We are well launched, with a full surgical schedule for the week. Tomorrow is another day…Helen’s birthday as a matter of fact.