Something to make you smile

Thanks to a team of doctors from England, 100 small children are now able to do something they couldn’t before.


With the assistance of a Nagpur Rotary club, a group of English doctors flew to Nagpur for the week to repair cleft-lips and -palates of infants and small children. For upwards of 12 hours a day, the team rarely left the hospital, working around the clock to improve as many lives as possible. For free.

And we got to watch.

After Hindi class on Monday, Michelle and I went to Memorial Hospital with Franziska, eager to see this act of charity firsthand. Michelle and Franzi had already been inside, but this was my maiden visit. In fact, it was my first visit to any hospital in India, and it was unlike any I’d seen in the U.S.

I grew up accompanying my M.D. mom to work, so I know what hospitals are supposed to look like. Large, modern, sterile structures impenetrable except through a pair of automatic glass sliding doors. Patients sitting two or three in each well-ventilated room, guests only allowed with a prominently-placed visitors pass. An anthill of activity: bustling with white coats and blue scrubs, teeming with clipboards, stethoscopes and blood-pressure cuffs.

This hospital was nothing like any of those I’d visited before, although given the relative wealth of its patients, it could have been worse. It was like a well-polished black-and-white TV – carefully maintained, but outdated and limited in scope. The three-story main building looked like it was constructed sometime between the first and second World Wars. The recovery room wasn’t quite overcrowded – especially by India’s standards – but it was still just one room all the same. Without ventilators available for the patients, an assistant had to do the breathing quite literally by hand.

That said, I never would have been allowed to see such an operation in America, so for me this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I put on some of those pale blue scrubs and – careful not to touch anything – joined the others in the operating room.

The Englishmen actually referred to the operating room as the “theatre”, which seems appropriate given the spectacle we saw. We had to be careful not to trip over any trailing wires, but other than that the room was an oasis of modernity in an otherwise aging hospital. Four or five doctors were crowded around the patient, as was most of the high-tech equipment you’d expect in such a situation. One of the off-duty doctors was kind enough to give us an overview of the operations, talking to us about the room’s cords, clamps and clefts. The atmosphere was much more relaxed than I’d expected, but the aura of concentration remained a constant ubiquity.

But the most remarkable thing about these operations was why they were performed. Comparable surgeons were available throughout India, but at a price the families of the patients couldn’t afford. Three of England’s 25 doctors specializing in this field were in Nagpur for the project, and they stood in three neighboring rooms, implanting smiles surgically into their patients, and indirectly on the faces of the parents waiting outside.

This time, the smiley face at the end of my post has an added meaning. Because thanks to this program, that’s what 100 children will now be able to do.




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3 Responses to “Something to make you smile”

  1. Shawn Bird Says:

    Was this a Rotaplast mission? Our Rotary district (5060) regularly sends teams to do this work. Life changing stuff. How wonderful that you were able to be part of it.

  2. John Says:

    The things we take for granted.
    By the way, did you know that Mr. Stone had a cleft lip? O.o

    Great write-up, your description of the typical american hospital was vivid enough to awaken my white-collar syndrome :p

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