A year ago I quit my longtime challenging job to search for what else I am capable of doing. I was not looking for money, but for something that could bring me a new perspective of life.
After visiting with people from different fields for a couple months and still not yet finding that “new perspective”, a wise old friend told me about a foundation with a long name which I had never heard before involving operations for children with cleft lip and palate. I was not familiar with these conditions, and it occurred to me at once that no matter if I am capable of helping or not this would definitely give me a “new” something.
A great opportunity came to me when Khun Yuy, Resource Development Director at Operation Smile Thailand, asked if I would like to join the mission at Maesot and see firsthand how the organization helps. I agreed and went to Maesot in November 2014.
On the first day of the mission I woke up at 6:00 am and reached the hospital at 7:30 am and found out that over one hundred patients and their families had been waiting hours already. From babies to a nearly 80 years old man, they all had been waiting for Operation Smile since last year and started walking and hitchhiking from their homes or refugee camps to the hospital days before we arrived.
I had a great chance to try 2-3 new jobs everyday at the hospital.
On the first day I was a nurse assistant, registration staff, queue ticket delivery girl, baby attention caller, etc. During a quick lunch break Khun Kevin, the Chairman of Operation Smile Thailand, asked how I felt about the mission. I was so dizzy by the tasks and the crowd that only I could say is … ‘good’, not better than nothing, is it? He smiled and told me to pick one patient and keep an eye on him or her in every level to observe the change and the effect of what we are doing.
That’s how I got story of Mu Yount Pong.
She was a small kid, not taller than my waist and weighed only 20 kg. I am not a number person but I did remember her weight because after checking her weight and height (I was nurse assistant then) and sending her to pediatrician, she was soon led back to me, crying hard, by one of the Farang doctors. He started questioning nurse about something that might be wrong and we had to make sure every record is correct before the doctors can decide if the patient would get an operation. “This is the matter of life and death”, he explained and I feel so even more clueless. Changing my job to translator, I checked with the nurse to see if I did use the measuring tool right and checked her weight again with the pediatrician. I did it right! She was 20 kilos! Thanks goodness for both Mu Yount Pong and for other 50 -60 children I weighed that morning.
The problem is the poverty and lack of nutrition. To my surprise, the doctor showed me she is 12 years old, but she is even smaller than my 6 year old niece. Her mom who neither understood Thai nor English looked so worried and MYP was sobbing. I crossed my fingers and prayed for her to be able to get an operation.
There are so many steps patients have to go through in order to know if they can get operation or not – they must visit a pediatrician, dentist, anesthetist and surgeon. Late in the day, I found myself at the station to process the records of patient who can’t get an operation at this time, they could be too small, had fever, the wound too severe to cure in one operation and need more preparation, etc. Even though I don’t have motherhood experience, I can feel the mother’s heartbreak.
I couldn’t find MYP again in the evening and kept wondering at night if she could pass the screening with her 20 kilos weight. Before bed, I prayed which was something I haven’t done for quite a while.
The next morning I went to hospital again and to my relief, met MYP again in the children ward waiting for her operation turn.
My second day jobs are data collector, toy giver and special nursing bottle demonstrator. I just had realized how the state of “yod-nam-kao-tom” was when I saw the bottle. After lip or palate operation, the babies would not be able to drink from breast or normal bottle for a month and could only be fed drop by drop.
Having the operation is not just an improvement in physical condition, but a better life. MYP mother told me she hopes her daughter will have ‘a friend’. With the cleft lip, she can’t speak like others and has been left out in class also treated as an outcast by other children in the village. With corrected lips and palate her mother hopes MYP will be able to go to school, make some friends with her new smile and take further study for a better future.
On the third day of mission, I was allowed to observe the operations. Doctors and nurses have been working since 9 am until late night to get all 138 operations done in a week. Every step required delicacy and dedication. While observing the surgeons closely, I couldn’t stop thinking of them as Francois Lesage sewing every single thread to create beautiful life for the children.