(Peru) Screen Day 1

It’s about to begin. I’ve had this thought for so many weeks now. I have carried around so much anticipation knowing this moment was about to arrive, and today is the day it begins. Today is the day I get to observe the magic of a medical mission. Patients are probably waiting already. They are waiting for us to arrive at the hospital.

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I don’t have a lot of words for today. There are only images that will forever be captured in my memory. I spent most of my day observing and learning.  I was just trying to absorb it all. I was just trying to be a friendly smile to settle someone’s nerves. I was just trying to be an extra set of hands to the people who were taking care of every patient. I was just trying to keep a child happy while they waited for hours in the sun not exactly knowing why they were waiting.

It was a long day.

We arrived at the hospital and made our way to the center courtyard where screening would take place. I don’t know what I expected. I found myself taking several deep breaths as we navigated the hallways of the hospital. When we turned the corner and walked outside into the courtyard, the deep breaths got stuck in my chest. There was no visible end to the line of people waiting for us to arrive. Within seconds, people started clapping. I didn’t even realize they were clapping for our arrival until I had walked past the crowd and into the area set up for screening stations.

A Small Glimpse of Screening Day

Every single person standing outside in the sun was waiting to be screened or was waiting for someone they love to be screened. And they were clapping. It didn’t seem fair. It still doesn’t seem fair. We should be clapping for them. Life certainly can’t be easy for them. I can’t imagine the ache in the heart of a parent when the learn that their child is born with a cleft lip or a cleft palate. I can’t imagine the feeling they must having wondering what they can do. If this was my child, surgery would be scheduled and planned before he was ever born. His birth would still be filled with hope knowing help was waiting. We should be clapping for them for showing up today.

At the end of day one, we screened nearly 200 patients. Nearly 200 individuals received a full health screening to see if they are healthy enough for surgery. The had time with a speech pathologist. They had time with a psychologist. They got help with breast feeding or bottle feeding. A nutritionist meet with them all. A dentist spent time with each patient. It’s an amazing thing to observe. It works like a machine. One station to the next. Every team has a specific goal, and every volunteer treated every patient with love and compassion.

Hours and Hours of Fun thanks to a green frog finger puppet and a two year old boy who made me love my boys even more

Tomorrow we will do it all again. There are more patients to screen, more bubbles to blow, more people to love.

“It is only with the heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince     

Still working hard long after Sunset (or maybe just Jerry!)

  

Uniting a Team

(May 14, 2015)

Most of the volunteers arrived in the middle of the night last night. Airport pickups had me crawling into bed after 2am. It’s all beginning. It is all about to start. The pieces of a successful mission are starting to fall into place.

As we waited for the volunteers to arrive, we guessed who was with Operation Smile. Did they fit the picture we had painted in our head? Did they look like a plastic surgeon? Would I know if they were a nurse? Voices I have become familiar with over the phone became welcoming faces.

Every single volunteer that got of the plane followed the same pattern – recognition that we were waiting for them, realizing I am Kristy, and a huge embrace. No one shook hands. No one awkwardly introduced themselves. We were instantly a family united in Lima.

Day 1 on our mission agenda included a tour of the hospital, reviewing hospital protocol and a team meeting. As we sat on the bus anticipating the one hour drive north along the Pacific coast, our Program Coordinator made an announcement. The hospital tour was cancelled. There was a protest at the hospital that made it unsafe for our visit. Our new destination was the historic district of Lima. We were going to tour a cathedral and catacombs.


The entire day I was amazed by how quickly everyone became friends. We were strangers from over 10 different countries. We spoke different languages. We have different backgrounds. Our differences never mattered. We are all a family connected and united by our common goal to bring hope to families.

Standing outside the Covent of San Francisco, I took a few moments to take it all in. I am in Lima. I am on a medical mission with Operation Smile. Tomorrow we will meet families and children who hope to get surgery, but today we have the chance to embrace this community. While we all learn to love each other more deeply, we get to stand in the middle of a church built in 1535. We get to stand in a library that was once considered the most important library in the South America that dates back to the 17th century and holds 25,000 books. We get to stand in the church’s choir. The pipe organ was built in 1901 and has more than 1000 pipes. We get to walk through the catacombs that is the burial ground to more than three centuries of priests, members of the brotherhood, and citizens of Lima. Surround by over 500 years of history, my presence in the world seems like only a small ripple.

While the Covent of San Francisco made me feel small, there is no denying there is importance in the ripples that Operation Smile will make in the lives of the families we can treat. We all know this. We all know that there is nothing more important than the children we are in Peru to treat.

In this moment, in the historic district of Lima, I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’m surrounded by the people I’m supposed to meet. I am where I belong. We are were we belong. We are so much stronger when we are united. Each of us bring our own unique gift to the mission and as a result families can continue to dream for their children.

My heart is so incredibly happy.

Exploring Mira Flores

(May 13, 2015)

Volunteers begin to arrive tonight around 5:30pm. After confirming a few details, the afternoon belonged to me. With no destination in mind, I wandered up and down the streets of Mira Flores, a district in Lima. The air is filled with a surprisingly comforting smell – an odd mixture of salt water and exhaust fumes. The sounds of car horns echo off the buildings. This district in Lima is an amazing blend of city life and beach living.

As I wander up and down the streets, I accept the fact that I’m noticeably a tourist. My eyes are wide as I try to take it all in. I look up and down. My eyes dart to the left and right. I am still not comfortable dodging traffic as I make my way across the busy intersections. I am okay with the label of tourists. I am content trying to absorb the energy of the city.

As I wander I notice a woman handing out balloons to children who walk by. A boy takes one and continues to hit his mom’s backside for the rest of their journey. The mom is unphased by his behavior. It comes with the territory of having a toddler. Chet would approve, and I suspect I’d be unphased too. Another boy walks by with an Angry Birds t-shirt that Cole used to wear. I miss my boys. A man sitting outside eating lunch reminds me so much of my father-in-law I almost ask to take his photo. I see my father-in-law in so many people since we lost him two years ago. A couple walking down the street holding hands makes me wish Christian was with me even if he doesn’t enjoy city life. Everywhere I look, I see something familiar in this city that is still foreign to me.

In this foreign city, I’m finding my connection. I’m finding my comfort in my morning run along a different boardwalk and a different ocean. I see people who remind me of home. Even thought I’m 3351 miles from home, I still find things that feel familiar.

Perhaps that is what this journey, every journey is about. It is about finding comfort. It is about finding the familiar. It is about finding your tribe. It is about connecting to people and life.

I’ve been here for less than 24 hours, and I already see how important it is to be connected. Tonight the volunteers arrive. We are already connected though our passion and our commitment to help. On Friday, patient screening begins. The families we will meet are just another version of ourselves – familiar faces living similar lives in a country that is foreign to me. We are all doing the best we can with our lives – separated by 3351 miles in daily life but always connected.

To Peru

(May 12, 2015)

On May 12, 2014, I started a new chapter in my life. I walked through the front doors of Operation Smile’s Global Headquarters ready to take ownership of my new job: my own personal dream job. I was ready to thrive. Exactly one year ago I began this journey. Today, May 12, 2015, I am sitting on a plane heading to Lima, Peru to participate in my first medical mission.

“She’s seeing things.

She is hearing things.

She’s so sensitive.

Read: She’s irrational.

And this I have internalized. Who am I to trust my body, my senses, my instincts? Who am I to know how to raise my child without consulting parenting books and up-to-date rearing studies? Who am I to try to find God outside of an institutionally approved, fully vetted doctrine? Who am I to think I can pursue impractical dreams? Who am I to be taken seriously? Who am I to think I am capable and worthy? Who am I…who am I?” ~Leigh Ann Henion

This has been my internal dialogue for much of my life. I’ve focused on how I’m not enough – not enough of a wife, not enough of a mother, not enough of a dreamer. I’ve never trusted myself.

As I boarded this plane, tears rolled down my face. Not sure the root of my tears – part homesick and part inspired – I am certain my tears come from a place of gratitude.

I’ve been talking about myself a lot lately. I’ve focused on how this is my dream coming true, but the truth is that this has nothing to do with me at all. It is not about me being enough or capable or worthy. It isn’t about who I am. It is about who they are. It is about the patients we will treat in Peru. It is about the mother who can continue to dream for her child. It is about the father who can exhale knowing his child will be safe and healthy. It is the story of the parents where my heart feels connected.

I have two healthy boys. We have access to safe medical treatment anytime we need it. I am grateful.

This journey is about bringing hope to these communities. It is about healing. I haven’t even touched down in Lima yet, and my heart is already transforming. My old dialogue – Am I enough? Who am I? – is fighting to make its way into this journey. Who am I to think I am worthy? Who am I to think I deserve this dream? By the time this plane touches down in Lima that dialogue is no longer welcome. This isn’t my story.

“It is showing me that I am part of a divine completion, and knowing this somehow makes me feel whole. It is in the spirit of Aloha, oneness, that I intuit divinity. We do not live outside or inside of nature. We are nature. We are not separate from each other – our fates are intertwined, always.” ~Leigh Ann Henion

This journey is about connection. It is about community. It is about hope. It is about spreading love and receiving it – unapologetically and whole heartedly. This is about seeing that fate is always intertwined.

Four more hours until Lima…..

The coastline welcomed me

Understanding Need

I sit in front of my computer screen starring at medical companies and emails every single day. All of them are filled with potential, but on my side of the screen, I sit feeling needy. The information I need to make things happen doesn’t exist inside my head. I have to ask for help. The resources I need aren’t readily available to me. I have to ask for support. The people I need to reach are not defined. I have to search until I find the right person. My job at Operation Smile, an amazing organization that provides free surgeries to repair cleft lip, cleft palate, and other facial deformities for children around the globe, is to ask for Gifts in Kind. I ask companies to donate medical supplies so we don’t have to purchase them for our medical mission.

I have tunnel vision right now. We are spending thousands of dollars on acetaminophen for every mission. No one donates this simple drug. Bottles of Tylenol are in nearly every household in America. There has to be a way to find a donation. I know I can find the right company. While I researched acetaminophen, while I researched companies, and while I reached out to anyone willing to accept my call, I sat in my chair feeling desperate.

“I’m going to have to get used to feeling needy”

This is the thought that kept echoing in my head. Needy is not a comfortable place for me. Needy is not a character trait I strive to embody.

In the middle of a development conference, I sat in a small room with all my coworkers and our co-founder, Dr. Magee. Tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat is a normal part of my work day. Every single story touches my heart. As I whipped away a tear, a realization washed over my body.

“I am not needy. The children, the adults, the families, and the communities that need acetaminophen as a very small piece of what it takes to make a surgery a success, they are in need.”

I can’t perform the surgery that will fix a child’s life forever. I can’t teach them to speak years after most children have muttered their first words. I can’t provide them information on nutrition so their bodies can thrive. There is a lot I can’t do, but there is even more that I can do. I can carry their need for them. I can sit in my chair at work and turn that need into an honor. I have the privilege of asking. I have the privilege of bringing the mission of Operation Smile to corporations around our global. I get to connect these two worlds.

When I started to feel needy, I could feel myself shrinking. If continuous online searching and dozens of asks to unresponsive receivers could make me shrink in my desk chair, imagine living a life where you’re not accepted or received because of the way you look. That is a real need. When I was reminded that I was advocating for an authentic need of an individual, I sat up a little taller in my chair.

“Love by definition is self-sacrifice. Love is a decision to make someone else’s problem your own.” ~ Dr. Bill Magee

Every single day I love what I do. I love the children around the world that are kept hidden from their communities because of their cleft lip and cleft palate. I love the mothers, the fathers, the caregivers who sacrifice so much to give their child a chance at a normal life. I love every single person who makes this possible. What I do each day is an honor. I will find a company that also feels honored to provide acetaminophen to our patients around the world. I will ask and ask and ask again because this is a real need in our world.

This isn’t needy. This is love.

smile

Heart Whispers do turn into Songs!

“Peace begins with a smile” ~Mother Theresa

This is exactly what the next chapter of my life will be about! After being broken hearted a few months ago, things changed! My hearted whispered that the no I recieved was really a yes to something else. The story wasn’t over yet. I listened. And it wasn’t over. In the following weeks, I was re invited back to Operation Smile. I worked with the same team. I meet with with more team members. I learned more and more about the organization. The more I continued to invest myself in the process, the more I knew an oppurtunity was coming my way.

Last night, my phone rang! On the other end of the line was a job offer.

My head is in a hundred places right now. My heart is singing. I gave my notice at my job this morning. Change is happening.

I’ve smiled. I’ve cried. I’ve exhaled really loudly.

This isn’t just a job I wanted. This is the first step in the right direction of creating something I’ve always wanted for my life. This job, this change, is honoring every single heart whisper I’ve had since my heart started whispering. I honestly have no words. When I think of all the dots that have connected to get me here, I’m emotionally overwhelmed. I feel so lucky, so honored, to have the chance to follow a dream.

The mission of this organization has always been my life passion. Their mission is to heal children’s smiles and transforms lives around the globe. This is what I know I’m supposed to be a part of. I get to be a key figure in making these mission trips happen. Everyday I get to go to work knowing that I’m making a difference.

I’m still wrapping my head around it all! It all feels very surreal. I’m flying high right now and smiling!

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