Student Volunteer: Mei Lin Nall
School: NIST International School, Bangkok
Mission: Mae-Sot Mission 2015, 3-5 November
It’s truly amazing how much the doctors can accomplish in 45 minutes. Initially I didn’t understand the problems that came with having a cleft lip or palate, but the Smile Club at NIST helped me see that cleft lips and palates are actually incredibly dangerous. The fact that most children with a cleft lip and palate won’t live to see their first birthday was possibly the most surprising part. The doctors that volunteer their own time are truly our modern day superheroes.
I had nerves when we initially got to the hospital; I’ve worked with kids since I was 4. I’ve been doing service in many different places for the past 11 years, in orphanages, day cares and underprivileged schools. I was feeling so many different things; it was like nerves mixed with excitement. As soon as I walked into the ward and saw all the smiling faces along with the scared faces, I knew exactly why we were there and what we were going to set out to do. Initially the kids were a little hesitant about who we were and why we were there but as soon as we brought the toys out, the barrier was broken. The kids were excited to just act like kids and not think about their operations. It was equally as hard on the parents; we tried to make them feel as comfortable as possible. Not only were they preparing to send their child into surgery, many were Burmese so they were also in a completely new country where they struggled to communicate with anyone except through the few translators around.
I built a great relationship with this one boy and his aunt who took care of him while his mom worked in Bangkok. I can’t remember his name, we had some trouble with communication, but that didn’t stop us. I can remember that his Operation Smile number was #176. I remember he was hesitant at first and didn’t know why I was handing him stuffed animals, but then he became more comfortable around me when we brought out the balloons and slinkys. That was when we were no longer volunteer/patient, we were just two people playing a fun game.
The first day he was prepared for his second overall surgery. He had had a cleft lip surgery on a prior Operation Smile mission and was waiting for his cleft palate surgery. I believe in creating a trustworthy and safe relationship between families and it is important to make sure that the kids and parents are as relaxed as possible. The second day when we went back to the hospital, I found the same kid and spent more time with him. He was prepped for surgery and waiting to go into the OR. I initially was against going into the OR since I was more comfortable playing in the wards. After I saw how scared he looked, I knew exactly what I was going to do. I followed them into the waiting room and changed into scrubs. I stayed in the waiting room with the aunt and the boy and then followed him into the OR. The boy was scared when the nurses started coming in, to comfort him his aunt told him that me, his “big sister” was going to go with him and he smiled and gave me a huge hug.
That was possibly one of the most life changing experiences of my life, I’ve had so many experiences that have opened my eyes, but this was different. I saw how thankful the aunt was and how much more comfortable she felt when she saw that I had changed into scrubs and was beside her nephew the entire time. The boy also was so happy to hold my hand and looked a lot happier when I walked into to OR with him. Afterwards, I waited in the recovery room with his aunt while we waited for him to wake up. We had to leave before he woke up but I left a small elephant with him and his aunt. Hopefully one day when he looks back, he’ll remember this amazing week where Operation Smile changed his life. I know it changed my life.