Day 5: The Final Day for Us, The First Day for Many Children’s Futures

We spoke a lot about whether or not we would be able to handle observing surgery today. It’s not a great way to spend a day if you’re weak-stomached, and considering we spent a good time of our trip hopped up on Dramamene, we weren’t sure how it would be.

Today was several soft tissue surgeries, the first one being Raynique, the little girl I sang to yesterday. I couldn’t find her parents to ask how it went (we missed her time in the OR as we spent much of the morning touring the pediatric wing), but Dr. Miller assured me she did great, and they expect serious results.

We saw Jamairi and his mom while they were awaiting their turn. He was nervous, and his mom was serene. She knew he was in good hands, but he had a lot of questions for Jill, who came and sat with him beforehand to answer them.

His tendon surgery took all of 12 minutes and didn’t make us turn green at all. The doctors took time to show the Vincentian medical students exactly what they were doing. Dr. Miller asked one if she’d like to scrub in and help, and she instantly said, “The answer is always yes!” They were in deep concentration as the doctors clamped, stitched, wrapped, and whatever else it is they were doing inside his ankle.

We watched the anesthesiologist bring Jamairi out of his deep sleep, which I had assured him would feel more like time travel (you blink, and it’s an hour later!). And the team immediately started cleaning the room and prepping for the next surgery—Ariel, who would need a plate to correct a bowed leg. The drill came out, and it was interesting instead of off-putting.

In between surgeries, Dr. Miller and Dr. Huser paced the hallway, ready to get back to work. They chat with me a little bit, gracious and kind and eager to tell their stories. If they were irritated by some interlopers in their operating room, one with a big camera, they didn’t show it in the least.

I was struck by a comment Dr. Miller made during one surgery when deciding on options: “If this were my child, I’d want to do it this way.” Everyone agreed, and that’s the option they went with. I don’t often think of doctors putting themselves in the place of your loved ones, trying to do what they think would be best for your family. I sort of just think about them practicing their expertise for the sake of the work itself, which is fine, but this team demonstrated such a connection with their trusting patients.

Ethan spoke with a young doctor in the pediatric ward, who told us how excited he is that our work might bring in outside help, as there isn’t as much coming from the inside as they’d like. His particular part of the hospital is bright and pleasant, although not anything like our super high-tech wards at home. It’s an open ward with parents and children entertaining themselves and each other as a crew of medical students, doctors, and nurses (“sisters,” as they’re called here) make their rounds.

The atmosphere is breezy, and they’re serious about their work but so obviously love these children. The pediatric ward is headed by Dr. B. Datta, who got her degree in India but then started traveling with her husband at age 25. Her first stop was Guyana, she said, her next stop was St. Vincent… “And there wasn’t a third stop!”

Dr. Datta has been here 35 years. She said she saw a need and she filled it. She’s so tiny, blending in with the children sometimes so it’s hard to find her, but you usually can spot the doctor by the crowd around her. There’s a certain way of dealing with kids that comes naturally to some—she discovered it while doing a med student project in India at an orphanage. She describes her “first act of rebellion” as going against her mother at her father’s death, who wanted to do the traditional Hindu thing and feed the Brahmin priests. Dr. Datta took that money and fed her “little friends at the orphanage” instead.

I asked her when she knew she was here to stay, and she responded, “Maybe 10 or 15 years in.” But one never really has a plan, she says. Life makes the plan. You find yourself in a place you like and you stay there for however long you still like it. And she loves her life here in Kingstown, with her adopted Vincentian son and her three dogs.

Dr. Jasmine Ellis, on the other hand, hails from Fancy, an adorably named town at the very top of the island. When I tell her we went to Fancy’s southern neighbor Sandy Bay the other day, she raises her eyebrows and said they were probably surprised to see us. She got a scholarship to come to Kingstown and study in high school, then got another one, and another one, and soon found herself studying and working in Cuba for a decade.

But she always knew she wanted to return home. She knew the island needed her, and she knew she could help it in a way it was lacking. Dr. Ellis is a pediatric surgeon, and Simon assured me she was the only one in the Easter Caribbean. She laughed when I told her this and said, “No no, there’s one in Barbados.”

Sorry, one of TWO pediatric surgeons in the entire collection of countries and islands. She must be extremely busy (she laughs at this also, but then says “Yes, I’m on call all the time, every day.”)

The two doctors seem to work well together—blending a lot of humor with seriousness, and their staff clearly adores them. They’ve been working with World Pediatric Project since the very beginning, and they’re the main source of referrals that bring kids from all over the islands to their hospital for surgery they would never have been able to get otherwise.

It’s been a wild ride here (often quite literally, have I mentioned the roads?), but we’re leaving with something heavy on our minds. Can we go back to the U.S. and be content with how much we have and how little we give? Can we make other people take notice of these countries that so often fly under the radar?

Knowing that every child counts, not just your own, is more difficult to really embrace than it sounds. But we’re convinced now that it takes all kinds of people to help each other in a global community, and there’s no reason to stick your head in the sand. Even if that sand is sparkling white and beckoning for you to take off your shoes and sit back awhile.

You should enjoy that sand—the Vincentians sure do—but there’s a whole world outside of those well-trod beaches worth looking into.

If you’d like to read about our entire journey and what we’ve learned, check out our other story collaborations, starting with this one. Then stay tuned to World Pediatric Project’s website and Facebook for the real deal, coming soon.

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