Here's the truth friends, I was only supposed to come to Guwahati for one week last February. That one week turned into moving here for six months, somehow those six months became one year. At some point, I realized that being here for one year is unthinkable so this week one year has extended into one and a half years. I was asked to stay on in Guwahati and continue my work at the cleft care center. This was everything I had been hoping for for quite some time! My current visa expires the last week of April, so I will find myself stateside the month of May and back out here from June for another six months. This decision comes after a week that was nothing short of magical at the center. Last Monday I had my first day back after being in Nepal, which is always a little hard. I was dragging my feet a bit when I asked Rosie if she'd like to walk down the road to a street food walla for some lunch.
As we were eating we noticed a young boy and what appeared to be his father sitting on the curb. They both had cleft lips and of course we knew they must be waiting for our team to do surgery on them. The little boy immediately pulled on my heart strings with his sweet smile and bright eyes. Later in the day I saw them in the center being screened, I found out that yes, they were father and son and both had cleft lips (the young boy also has a cleft palate.) They had travelled together from their district in the hopes of having their lives changed. I showed the boy our special hand shake and he coyly smiled at me. The deal was sealed, they were the only patients I had eyes for that week. Two days later after some testing the son received his surgery. I sat with him in the recovery room, he woke up perfectly, his surgery result was amzing, quickly I brought in the father. His dad was so hard to read and had a very usual reaction, he seemed slightly shocked but remained stoic. He sat with his son, encouraged him to drink and held a mirror for his son to check out his new lip. My heart did flips inside my chest as my head swam with questions, wondering how the father was feeling in that moment.
Downstairs they went for the boy to recover. Two days later, I excitedly noticed that the father was on the surgical list! I worried though, I knew they had come by themselves and wondered what the young boy would do as the father was in surgery. I had one of the local nurses explain that he could come upstairs while his dad was waiting, play in child life and then spend time with me until the surgery was complete. Soon it was time, his father was headed back to have his operation. I treated the son to a slice of cake, he sat in the conference room with me coloring, playing games and watching the people outside on the busy street.
Two hours later, an OR nurse came in to tell me the father was finished and to prepare the son. I quickly learned long ago that there are never huge, emotional reactions in this country. Families do not swoop up their children here and cry tears of joy at the sight of a post-operative patient. They tend to quietly take everything in, and remain very reserved. So despite the movie like scene that I wanted from their first sight of each other, I had a feeling I wouldn't get it. I held the boys hand as we walked into the recovery room. There was a moment of uncertainty from the boy as he saw his father in a new way. They shyly greeted one another, the father placed his arm around his son and they took each other in. The closest experience I have to relate to this is a time when my own mother changed her hairstyle from a shoulder length cut to a shorter pixie style. My little sister was only four or five at the time and when she saw my mother for the first time, she had no idea who she was! My sister was so overwhelmed at seeing our mother's physical change that she burst out in tears and wouldn't allow my mother to hold her. Can you even begin to comprehend seeing your father with a changed face, knowing that you too have undergone the same transformation?
We stood around clicking our cameras away but soon the excitement dwindled and people went back to usual business. I remained in the room with Kelly just gazing at them. As we watched, the young boy walked to the table where the nurse had put down the mirror, picked it up and held it for his father just as was done for him two days prior. The look of awe in his eye, the way he studied his father in that moment has forever marked itself in my heart. They stood this way, shared their new found selves as Kelly and I silently cried. It was perhaps the single most tender hearted exchange I have had the honor of witnessing in my time here. Reflecting on it now, almost one week later still gives me goosebumps, I can't wait to see them in their post-operative visit and to see them again for the son's second surgery.