I AM OFTEN ASKED HOW I FOUND TIME TO ATTEND A recent mission trip in China to repair cleft lips and palates. I have to explain that some of my favorite moments in plastic surgery have been on these missions. There is already such breadth and depth to plastic surgery, but these trips have added sparkle to those dimensions.
I was asked to be a part of this trip to Changde, China by LocumTenens.com, and having had such incredible cleft surgery experiences in Guatemala and Mexico, I jumped at the opportunity. We’d be spending two weeks at a hospital in Hunan province with a team of almost 40 American medical providers and about 20 local Chinese staff.
Spearheaded by the generous folks at the Chinese Agape Foundation, the focus of this medical mission trip to Changde was purely cleft lips and palates. Additional support came from the Jackson Family Foundation, the CARIS Foundation, and SmileTrain.
First Day: San Francisco to Tokyo, to Shanghai, to Changde
Let’s start at the beginning, which we’ll call Day One (really, it was two days, but all that traveling fuses into one in my mind). I had almost 20 hours total of flight time, not counting stopovers. Once a non-believer, I really appreciated my TED hose on this journey.
I finally arrived at the hotel in Shanghai around midnight with my woefully inadequate Mandarin, had a quick night’s sleep, then it was off to the breakfast buffet. I started out strong, with not one—but two—breakfasts that first day.
After breakfast, the team met for the first time in the hotel lobby, and it was time to get on a series of buses—one to take us from the hotel to the Pudong airport, and another to take us from Pudong to Hongqiao, where we would finally figure out how to get our boarding passes for the flight to Changde.
The amount of luggage we had collectively was staggering, to be fair almost half of it was donated medical supplies. We were finally claimed at the Changde Airport, a humble little spot that reminded me a bit of the old airport in my hometown in Ohio. Tiny, simple, and intimate.
First, we met Ron Brown, the director of the Chinese Agape Foundation, who helped us settle in at our hotel, which would become our home in Changde for the next week and a half.
Next it was off to the hospital for a lovingly cooked meal. The staff was extremely concerned about we Americans getting enough to eat. They prepared an entire feast of “Westerner-friendly” dishes for dinner. Forks and spoons, nary a chopstick in sight that night, and then, inexplicably, there was the fishball soup.
We then had an official meeting at the hospital, where we met many key people, including the local hospital officials.
They got my last name right, and since I hadn’t given anyone my Chinese name, they made a great attempt at translating “Angeline” into Chinese characters.
It was rather late when we were finally given a tour of the hospital and operating room, and we got to meet some of the tiny patients we’d be working on the next day. The parents were excited to see us; the babies, less impressed.