“There’s always one.” Sister Martin said looking back at me this afternoon as we hurried through the hallways of General Santos City Hospital, jumping from the OR to the PACU. We were walking fast and going through doctor’s notes, trying to figure out the discharge instructions of a post-op patient who had a total hysterectomy 2 days before. “The one” Sister Martin was referring to was baby Cyril, the little girl I will always remember. Cyril is one of the many young WSF patients that has been operated on during this mission and staying in the Pediatric PACU. Cyril, now 16 months old and her mother Marysol, traveled over 2 hours from Sarangani Province to have her unilateral complete cleft lip repaired. Cleft lip and palate repairs are usually simple procedures and are given a couple weeks after birth however in developing countries like the Philippines the cost of surgery is impossible for many. Cyril’s surgery was successfully completed on Monday evening (day 1 of surgeries) however due to a high fever she has been staying in the pediatric PACU a little longer than expected.
I’ve noticed that Cyril and her mother are usually by themselves unlike the other patients who always have an entourage of family members by their side. Due to the lack of resources and funding, GSCH does not have the same patient accommodations that we would expect to see in the United States. This makes the presence of family members vital to the patient’s well-being before surgery and recovery afterwards. During our 12 hour shifts together in the PACU I’ve heard Sister Martin, a highly experienced ER nurse, say repeatedly, “Now remember, you are the nurse now”, to family members who agree by nodding their heads as they listen closely to her instruction. The hospital does not offer meals so the patient’s relatives are responsible for providing breakfast, lunch, dinner, and water. There’s a water pump and makeshift wood stove outside next to the hospital building that families can use to wash dishes and cook food. In a small room filled with over a dozen other families, they share a bed with their loved one who is either waiting for surgery or who is recovering from it. They even bring sheets and pillows from home so their loved ones do not have to rest on a bare and dingy, thin mattress after surgery. The patients that the WSF serve are financially poor but they are rich in family however it seems to me that maybe Marysol and Cyril have neither a large network of family or money. Yesterday I witnessed a little girl run over to Marysol and kindly give her a mango to snack on. Marysol quietly whispered, “thank you”. The little girl who gave her the mango was the sister of another young WSF patient waiting to have her cleft palate repaired. At 6 years old, her mother had to pull her out of school because she was being constantly teased by her school mates for “talking funny”. Children with cleft lips and palates can not eat, drink, or speak properly, but they also face a social stigma that can sometimes result in staying home from school and isolation. Despite how hard each one of these families have it, physically and socially, they are still willing to help one another out. That is absolutely amazing to me.
From screening day until now, day 5 of surgeries, I’ve been visiting Cyril every morning, afternoon, and before we leave the hospital for the evening. Usually when I visit, Cyril is either sleeping or very fussy. Every time I try to talk to her she starts crying, clings on tightly and hides her face behind her mother’s shoulder, making sure that our eyes never meet. I don’t know what it is but I do not think she likes me! I still love visiting her. And I love visiting all of the children in the pediatric PACU but there’s something about Cyril that pulls on my heart strings. She reminds me of my daughter Sophia who is thousands of miles away from me right now. When Sophia, now 7, was Cyril’s age she was that same little girl who held her mommy tightly and wouldn’t dare give anyone else the time of day. Cyril has a head full of dark hair, big brown eyes and olive skin just like Sophia and they both have mothers who love them dearly. On Sunday during screening, I remember seeing Marysol holding Cyril in the crowded registration area. You could tell she was nervous about whether or not Cyril would be scheduled for surgery by the WSF team. When I introduced myself, she replied back quietly and had the sweetest smile. After Cyril’s surgery, I visited her immediately and exclaimed to Marysol how beautiful Cyril was. Marysol said in her soft-spoken voice “it’s true”. But the way she said it I wasn’t sure if she was agreeing with my compliment or if she was asking if it was true that Cyril is beautiful.
The most important and life–changing parts of this mission are the operations the surgeons of WSF perform but there’s definitely something gratifying about volunteering in the PACU as well. We get to know the patients and their family. We talk to them, we comfort them, we identify with them in some kind of way. Today being our last day at General Santos City Hospital, we got to leave earlier than usual and say our good-byes to the wonderful staff members and nursing students of GSCH. I made my way over to the pediatric PACU. Cyril was still there. Her mother said they would be leaving tomorrow and Cyril was not running anymore fevers and eating much better. I wished her good luck and to take care. I tried to hold Cyril for one last picture but she didn’t want anything to do with pictures or me and of course she cried… something Sophia would have done. I will miss all of the patients and will always remember my experience at GSCH but most of all I will miss Cyril. Sister Martin was right… there’s always one.