Having spent two weeks on the bikes, we have spent the last five days in hospital. Thankfully this was not due to Oli’s saddle sore getting too angry, nor was it to treat the injury Matthieu sustained to his pinky finger in what can only be described as an unspectacular crash. We in fact had arrived to witness Operation Smile in all its glory.
Strewn with nurses, doctors, volunteers, governors, government officials and around 250 families from all over Henan and surrounding provinces, the scene was set in the car park of the People’s Number 1 Hospital of Zhengzhou for our first mission.
It would not be an official event in China without speeches, banners and a general sense of not having a clue what was going on. We were honoured to be invited rather unexpectedly onto the stage and receive a “Road of Smiles” velvet flag from the Director of the hospital and from Miss China who is a supporter of the charity. We will endeavour to bring it (the flag, not Miss China) back to London, though at the time of writing we have already managed to snap the pole (ditto above).
Having heard speeches from the Hospital Director, the local Party Leader, Sir David Akers-Jones, the ex-British Governor of Hong Kong and Chairman of Operation Smile China Medical Mission’s Board and around 12 others, the real work began. Over 50 Chinese and international volunteers began to screen 250 kids with cleft lips, palettes and facial deformities.
Each one went through a rigorous examination by a plastic surgeon, anaesthetist, paediatrician, speech therapist, dentist and others to determine what could be done. Every case is totally unique and needs to be examined individually because many of the patients that come cannot be operated on for various reasons (under six months old, other health issues etc). This is no job for an intern practicing their Excel spreadsheet skills; this is a logistical quagmire that requires minute attention to detail, checking and re-checking to ensure everything is recorded exactly correct.
It was a long day but help was on hand by the two performing monkeys to keep the kids and families entertained.
Towards the end of the day we came across a little chap called Jin Hao and had the privilege to spend time with him over the next few days (see video in next post).
The following three days saw 107 operations conducted. Both of us were truly in awe at the professionalism, talent and passion shown by all the volunteers that took part. It was humbling to see the Chinese surgeons working so closely side by side with their international counterparts. Bringing highly trained professionals together from different parts of the world can often be the cause of egos clashing and a “my way is better than your way” attitude. Both of us have seen this in our respective careers, however the Operation Smile experience really shows that having one, single-minded, wonderful ambition can make any barrier, language, ego or other, simply fall away.
There are so many stories to re-tell, people to mention and thanks to be given that this post could be turned into a book. However, there is one person that had a profound impact on us during the experience and who we wanted to say a special thank you to. This guy was so cool under the most intense pressure he makes James Bond look like Mr Bean. Despite the fact he was in charge of the entire anaesthetic team and thus all the kids that were having surgery, he made sure that he took time to walk us through everything step by step and even give us a lesson in Shaolin Wushu Gong-Fu. As a man with the greatest humility, we know that he will not want us calling him out here, but Dr G, we really admire you and thank you for helping make this amazing experience even more special.
If you have smiled reading our story please consider giving a small amount to Operation Smile via our donation page.
Every penny, cent and mao will go directly to the charity and not in anyway towards the Road of Smiles journey.