We had another long day of surgeries here in Nagamangala. In total we had 15 successful surgeries. Yesterday I spent a good portion of the morning playing with the kids just before they were taken into the Operating Room. The waiting room is always full of mixed emotions: hope, fear, sadness, joy, guilt, and confusion are just some of the expressions I have seen the faces of those waiting for surgery. It is difficult to watch the kids as they separate from their parents. Some immediately start crying and have to be pried from their mother’s arms while others put on a brave face and valiantly walk back with the doctors to the operating room (clutching their handmade quilt that is wrapped around them). The amount of courage these children have astounds me.
It is also difficult to watch the parents after their child has been taken back into the operating room. In general this culture seems to be very unemotional especially in front of strangers, but once their child is in the OR they tend to break down and start crying, even the fathers. That is when I can start to feel the lump in my throat. I usually give the parents a hug and tell them their baby will be ok. They seem to really appreciate it because as I walk through the halls of the hospital I am constantly stopped by the parents who can't stop giving me hugs or shaking my hand (giving thanks), as if I actually had something to do with their child getting better.
And on that note I am happy to report that we are local celebrities here! Walking through the halls of the hospitals we are constantly followed by crowds of people. The first few days of our mission the people here just stared intensely at us but now as we walk around we’re stopped by people saying hello or giving us a big smile or hug in appreciation. Some parents even practically throw their baby into our arms.
There are three different places where they keep the patients at this hospital.
1. The Patient Ward – where they have over 100 families staying, waiting for their turn to have surgery.
2. The Pre-Op Ward – where patients and their families stay the day of their surgery and wait, typically they have about 15 families in there
3. The Post-Op Ward – where about 30 patients and their families stay for a few days after their surgery. Currently, we don't have enough beds there so once a patient is strong enough we start sending them back to the Patient Ward.
The Patient Ward is a hard place to visit. First off, because of the smell … with 100+ families staying in there you can only imagine what it smells like. Twice a day the hospital provides the families with food. They wheel in big tubs of rice and some sort of soup and set it up in the middle of the floor. The families race over to the buckets to scoop up the food before it is all gone. The young children do not wear diapers so when they go the bathroom it just falls all over the floor or on the parent that is holding them or the bed they are sitting on. Plus, a lot of people in there are sick.
But what makes the Patient Ward particularly difficult to visit is the desperation you see in the eyes of the people there. Every patient has been given a number. Each night some members of our team walk around the Patient Ward letting 15 patients know they were selected for surgery the next day. We walk up and down the ward, row after row. As we get closer to a bunk you see the patient’s eyes start to light up thinking we have chosen them for surgery. As we pass by them you can see the hope start to fade from their eyes. All I tell myself as I walk through the ward is that hopefully they will be one of the ones selected for surgery tomorrow.
Today, I was asked to go to the ward to identify patients. Amazingly it was one of the best times I have had since I’ve been here. I brought my camera with me so I could take pictures of the ward. We just happened to be in the ward as they brought out one of their daily meals. So I was able to capture some of the frenzy on my camera. We walked around to each bed identifying the patients and they all started to ask if I would take their picture. Once I took it I would flip my camera around and show it to them. They would have the biggest smiles on their faces and pretty soon I was swarmed with people wanting their picture too. Everyone wanted to see their baby, child, or even themselves on the camera. Then they started asking that I take the pictures with them. So I had to get my roommate Barbara to take the pictures. They were walking me all over the ward having me show the pictures to their families. It was an amazing experience!