Thomas Vecchione '63 | November 6, 2018
It is 6:30 a.m. and the sun is resting low in the east. We all speak in quiet tones as our bus pulls up to the hospital.
We see pickup trucks and old cars and small, green-and-white taxis idling endlessly along the dusty, cobbled street. A huddled line of shawl-covered mothers and wide-eyed children extends from the hospital’s weathered front door to the second turn around the corner. Several hundred people are waiting.
They wear sombreros or straw hats, the women in bulky jackets or dresses to preserve body heat in the foggy morning’s chill. We walk through the crowd scanning as many faces and expressions as we can absorb. We look for children with cleft lips, for burn-scarred necks and chins buried in chests, for swollen blood tumors (hemangiomas) and dark birthmarks (nevi), for extra fingers and toes, for deformed hands, for scarred limbs. These are our patients. Our mission is to help them.
The tension, the stare resulting from hours of waiting, of planning, of getting on buses, of calculating the cost of travel to this clinic, is palpable in this group. A profound anticipation hovers behind the gentle smiles welcoming us as we make our way into the clinic stations to start screening patients. This is our first contact with them, and we’re excited.
Out of the crowd, some 250 or 300 indigent children, teenagers and adults will come to the operating room over the next four days, and a surgical procedure will correct a defect that some have suffered for many years. One child in particular catches my eye — a small boy of 8 or 9 with a strip of electrical tape shielding his upper lip.
My examination station consists of a small desk, a flashlight, tongue blades, examining gloves, liquid hand disinfectant and blank charts ready to be filled in with vital statistics and surgical plans. We arrange to see the youngest patients first so they do not go too long without taking anything by mouth.
I am working with a scheduling nurse, a local translator and an operating room nurse. We bring in each young patient with one or two family members and ask questions about the child. Many of these children have been screened by Mexican health authorities. We examine the problem and the medical history. We ask about previous surgeries and what the families want for their child.
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