Friday, March 26, 2010

Trying to get back on my game

Slowly getting my groove back. key word slowly. Because in the last two weeks I have been sick twice. And oh how i hate to be sick, anything that cuts my productivity=arch nemesis. First with this terrible stomach virus which left me 4 lbs lighter in 36 hrs- by the end of three days eating maybe 400 cal a day I was ready to eat a small village. Then when I was finally better I was slayed down by this terrible respiratory infection. Last night I totally could not breathe- you know that total panic air-hungry feeling. So if you call me today don't hang up it's really me behind that voice! Despite feeling most miserable for the last 8 days or so I have perservered in getting a few things done: 2 paintings (new one in the domestic series and commission piece for rebecca menzie), wrapping up a few small projects and the town ed foundation dinner dance, mystery reader, Wayne Thiebaud art project for preschool. I have also been on a three week straight sem. teaching marathon. So lots of life has been falling through the cracks. So barring further plagues maybe next week I'll hope to be back on my game. Right now I would be very happy to find myself on a tropical island with a book, a swimsuit, a clean bill of health, and some of that jordanian fresh lemon with mint.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Why I go

If you talk to anyone who does Operation Smile Missions they will tell you how addicting they are. Once you go you really can't stop going. It was the hardest thing for me to give up doing when I had little babies at home. One of the fringe benefits of them growing up is being able to go again. In fact if I were very honest, I think one of the saddest things for me would be to think I could never do them again. (So I am glad that isn't the case) I would practically realign the stars if I had to in order to continue doing these throughout my life. I always hope they won't suddenly be flooded with child life specialists and not need me!!
It is amazing how close you get to people in a week and a half. Also how quickly you adapt to a new environment. By the end of the trip it all feels natural. You are used to the intensive schedule, the food, the people. It's like you reach a new normal and it feels like home? In fact you have to remind yourself you don't really live in a hotel in Jordan and won't be at the Vinaigrette at 5:45 for breakfast the next week. I was also talking to my friend Jamie (a NP from Texas) and my friend Heather (who is an OR nurse from UT) we all agreed these trips are like pressing the reset button on your world. There are so many things I take from going on these trips.

1. You get to immerse yourself in another culture finding it's flavor. It reminds you we (Americans) don't have the corner on the market of all good things.

2. You are reminded that happiness doesn't come from things.

3. You realize how easy it is to bond with people who live half a world a way and whose lives are very different from your own especially when you are all coming together for a single goal. You gain so many friends.

4. You gain a great appreciation for your health and the health of your children and your access to medical care.

5. You realize how a few people coming together can create a big change in the lives of others.

It's funny because you always get comments from others when they hear you are going, telling you what good work you are doing, but really in a sense it almost feels selfish to go. The experiences are so rich and personally rewarding you sometimes feel what you receive from it is greater than the benefit the children receive from the surgeries.

Yes, I am already getting my suitcases packed for the next one. I figure realistically and logistically I can only do about 1x a year now...I wish I could do it again tomorrow, but home duty calls and my family is my first love. But already dreaming whats next? Egypt? India? Bangladesh? Ethopia? Although I'd easily go back to Jordan in a heartbeat. I have never gone back to a site I have done a second time and that would be a fun experience.

My family really is so supportive. People always say, "Your husband's okay with this--?" Especially when I told them I did 4 missions the first year we were married. He doesn't get threatened by it. He knows it's important to me, and I wouldn't be the woman I am if I didn't do these things. He knows how passionate I am about it and supports me 100%.  And my parents support me too, my mom came to help Allen with the boys (who by the way got seriously sick in my absence- which actually made me feel bad about being gone however cleaning up after 5 days of sick kids- secretly glad I missed that) and if you know my mom you know my house is now cleaner than ever and my freezer is filled with dinners and (seriously I should take a picture) over 30 homemade lunches in containers for my husband. I also returned to blissfully happy children. I have spent the week reassimilating into life, catching up on all the mail, bills, school papers, everything else that went on hold for 2 weeks.

There is a certain let down factor when you are done. It always feels kind of like a dream. It's sad to see it end. To know that in reality you will likely not see those families and people again. You go from being so busy and focused and connected back to ordinary life. It take a week or so to sort of recenter yourself back in your everyday world.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The rest of Jordan

First of all these posts might be long and tedious, but I have to record the trip...I would try to write it in a more interesting or humorous way but I am still so tired my brain isn't yet to a level of functioning that can be interesting, creative, or humorous.... yes --no jet lag going, but as you can see it's killing me on the way back-- 4 am anyone?...really I even dream in Jordan (complete with people speaking arabic- if this tells you how tired I am my subconscious can't even remember where I am -- or that I don't speak arabic-- maybe it's trying to tell me I know more arabic than I think-- shokran? afwan?) also it's about time for the new blogger editor to get the spell check feature??)

Day 6 (surgery Day 3) Day three was another full day of palate surgeries. So lots of 2-3 hr procedures. It makes the progress of the day feel a little slower- especially by about the 3rd case of the day. By this time too post op is full of patients from past surgeries so it's usually one of the really busy days of the week. Sometimes you feel like the pied piper when you walk through post op because a stream of children start following you around in post op. The students who helped me so much during screening were visiting a school, and orphanage, and a refugee camp as well as following kids through the surgery process so I was pretty much on my own. Dusty, the clinical coordinator was excellent. She kept things running so smoothly. We had an excellent system worked out with the charts and dbl checking patients as they went in. I did try to write my name in arabic on the playroom wall -I asked if it looked like a 5yr old's arabic- they told be no- It looked like a 7 yr old's so that made me feel good.  

Marty, on of the pedi anesthesia docs and I started to plan ahead an ciculate a time to meet up for anyone who wanted to go out. When everyone heard they decided to plan a team dinner, which was great so we went to Marsa Beirut. I should've taken more pictures. Because the architecture was amazing (you know my love of modern architecture) So gorgeous. Again we had course after course after course of the most delicious food, all family style. We ate for a few hours. I felt bad though as some of the team had to go back to check on a patient and the post op team wasn't able to come.
Day 7 (surgery day 4) This was the last full day of surgeries so another fairly full day. This trip had very few primary lip repairs. Most had already had their lips done and needed their palates repaired, or scar revisions, we were also doing nevus and burn patients.  This night I promised the pre -post of nurses I would wait for them for dinner because they hadn't been back in time for dinner for the last two nights. Hasan and Abdallah two of our favorite translators (they are medical students in Jordan) offered to take us out around Amman (Abdallah has a hilarious "bachelor doctor" sign on his car- I promised to give their numbers out to cute single girls headed to jordan). The last bus arrived in time so Jamie came with Amanda (student sponsor), Lisa and Taylor (the students), and myself. The other people opted to stay home. The guys were so nice and drove us all over Amman, They took us shopping at the Mecca Mall (and really we were lucky because we were the only people who go to go shopping on the trip- thats how busy we were) they even negotiated for 10 minutes to get us into a closed store. We got to join in the party after a Jordanian soccer team win (they was much honking, singing, flag waving) and they made reservations for us for an absolutely fabulous dinner out at Rajeen. They also told us alot of about the history of Jordan and the culture and customs. We ate so much of the most delicious food, I couldn't even eat breakfast the next day I was still so full. They we sweet and hospitable and wouldn't let us pay for dinner, despite our best efforts to sneak the money back to the them in cards (this involved a quite a comical event involving 5 of us in the hotel elevator a trying to sign cards and it turning off while we were in it and going up and down to the same floors and opening 3 times on the same workers who couldn't not figure out what all these american women were doing covertly in the elevator). All I can say I every evening on this trip if you were with me something funny/memorable happened and there was alot of laughing!

Day 8- Surgery day 5 (shorter day) The surgery schedule is lighter the last day and then it's time ot pack up and pack up the ORs. It's always a sad day because it means the trip is over.Really I get teary eyed when I take down the playroom. As I throw away the signs where all the patients signed their names, where we recorded the high scores from our playroom basketball games, and all the personal notes from people wishing us well in our work. We had some adult cases later on the schedule so we finished up with the kids fairly early. I did have the best soccer game in the outer or hallway with a 9 yr old boy. I made tape goals on the floor. One of the fathers was quite disapproving of such wild riotous behavior in the hospital (and tried to let the air out of the ball)  but I assured him I was allowed in fact this was my job to keep the kids calm and happy and comfortable and engaged in developmentally appropriate activities. It was a really fun game especially when I fell on the floor and the 20 parents couldn't help but laugh. (it was really funny). They made knafah for us at lunch. It's this really interesting pastry-- it's cheese on the bottom then this orange colored cake on top soaked in a sweet syrup and sprinkled with pistachios (it sounds odd but actually really good- a mix of sweet and salty).
After we got back I went to the Food City with Khadija, the most delightful anesthesiologist from South Africa. I bought fun foods and drinks to bring back for my kids. (of course some lion bars as I got addicted to those when I was doing study abroad in Jerusalem and Egypt)  That night was the final party. A bunch of the girls came to my room to get glammed up for the party. So I was dolling out clothes jewelry, curlers (set of 5 dual voltage curlers- these are the secret to fast hair on intl trips), and makeup for the occasion. I really am not glamorous on missions but I was voted the glamorous one... I just bring lots of black that was you feel more glam than you really are.
The final parties on missions are the best, it's just the best celebration of the friendship and work of the week. There is always a ton of picture taking, food and hours of dancing. We tried some dubya dancing- can't say I totally mastered that but I can still still get down and party. It's so fun to go dancing in other countries. Every country has it's own style- kenya, siberia, the philippines, morocco, you name it- different cultures use different rhythms and dance from different parts of their bodies- it's always fun to watch (like middle eastern is more up and down and shoulder based). So a late night getting back from the party.

Final day- Team Day in petra. Friday we left early for Petra it's about a 3.5 hr bus ride from Amman. I never realized Petra was so big. Everyone is used to seeing the pictures fo the treasury but not much else. Really we spent over 4 hours hiking and still didn't get to all of it. And how it's all carved out of the rock- well it's really amazing. As an artist I can appreciate it alot (probably because my attempts at sculpture carving from plaster blocks were quite pathetic!). I remember going places like the temple of karnak and luxor in egypt and think how hard it would be to carve such giant things, because if you mess up it's ruined. Still when compared to petra that feels minor (a statue is one thing if oyu mess up you can get a new chunk of stone, but when it's all carved out of one wall of stone- that would be tough. There are horses, burros, camels. I think they camels like me especially- after  riding them in Turkey, at the pyramids in Giza, and for a few hours up mt sinai on a camel- I am cool with them.
We rode the bus back to Amman and quick changed clothes no time for a shower and headed straight to the airport. I must say the security in the airport is thorough in Amman- 3 rounds, 2 xrays, 2 full body pat downs, full carryon searches. Still even after 8 hours on a bus 5 hrs of hiking, and smelling like camels jordanian hospitality still shines through and you still get winked at my at least a few of the passport guys...who remind you that you are always welcome in Jordan. All I can say is after only 5 hhrs of sleep every night. I was out before the plane took off from Amman. I got a middle row all to myself. (shh down't tell I even wore my pjs on the plane-- I don't think anyone could tell- they were gray microfleece pants) slept through all 4 movies.and woke up just before JFK. Made it it through customs said good byes and boarded my plane back to BOS. I was greeted by my boys bearing their newly earned pinewood derby trophies and a giant "we missed you mom!" sign on the door!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Jordan Continues Day 3-5

The good part of being up at 3 am, with jet lag, is I can use the time to work on the huge task of writing all about my trip. I wish I couldn've done it as I went along but, I was already getting about 5 hrs of sleep a night so keeping up the blog became non-essential. To see a bunch of pictures from my trip you can go here. I can also tell you there are pictures of me on hundreds of phones all over Jordan. People were constantly taking pictures of us, pretty funny.

So Jordan=rain. Well at least while we were there. It rained I think 75% of the time. Which they tried to tell us was unusual and that really the amount of rain we had while we were there was more than in 15 yrs. But it was good to see the sun when it came out. They also have amazing instant fog there! You'd look out you window and in 2 minutes the densest fog would set in.

Day 2 continued- We had dinner at vinagrette-- the resteraunt at the Al Qasar where we stayed. (Can I just say I do love the Al Qasar- the nicest of any hotel I have ever stayed in on a mission- I am afraid I will go soft after staying there... satellite TV, comfortable clean beds, endless hot water, really nothing but love and kisses for the Al-Qasar and staff-- and even the intersting security procedure entering the hotel!) It has a gorgeous view of Amman. I love city lights at night. I must say two thumbs up for the chicken and mushroom crepes as well as the creme brulee. Also I have give a special shout out to the bartender at Viniagrette who at breakfast every morning would make me the best hot chocolate with frothy milk (although he couldn't understand why we liked to drink it in the morning-crazy americans). By the end of the trip he brought it to my table at 5:45am without even asking!)

Day 3 (day 2 of screening) started early. We screened 208 patients (well that is how many went through pre-screening). Again each of those with about 3-4 other people- so lots of people in a small space! However this day it was a more steady flow so it felt a little less chaotic. We screened Palestinian patients who had made the trip over the border to come and were staying at a nearby hotel as well as more Jordanian patients. One of the great tasks of screening is to be sure the toys don't walk away. I did pretty good except for a few puppets that walked away as well as pieces of large foam puzzles. Not quite sure why you'd want a large foam puzzle piece or what you'd do with it but none the less the fish and sesame street puzzles both lost pieces. Again much more coloring, chain making, bubble blowing, ball playing, parachute, throw me a bone, jenga, and puzzles for the cast of thousands. 

I also sorted all the child life boxes that got shipped with cargo- separating out cloth dolls, stuffed animals and the random toys that get mixed in. I have to say there were a few unusal items in the boxes- like scantily clad barbies (which we quickly put away as they would have been highly culturally insensitive. Also these very bizarre ronald macdonald makeup kits for children which included ketchup like packets of flourescent orange hair dye- which was I am sure exactly what the anesthesia team would've loved for me to use on the kids pre-op.)

We had a big team dinner that night at Jafra. It was a cool old building. I of course got the coolest seat at a fish table. Yes it was this giant round vat with fish swimming in it with a plexiglass top. We had the most delicious dinner- course after course after course, after course really --Like over 14-15 different dishes and drinks. Also Jordan has great drinks- their fresh juices are fabulous- especially fresh lemon with mint- yes it's green and doesn't look like anything we drink but it is delicious- it's like a subtle mint flavor followed by the best fresh lemonade- a must have and something I will definitely have to try making at home this summer! Also they have sodas named "Linda" and "fizzy wizzy"  as well as black currant fanta. Jafra served the best after dinner hot cholate which felt like you were drinking a belgian choclate bar. Food is served family style and I love the communal atmonspeher of the meals. There was a musican so much singing by our Jordanian team and our first introduction to the infamous OSJ chant "Operation (clap clap clap) Smile, Operation(clap clap clap) gives you a smile" only fully appreciated with and arabic accent.

Day 4- Day 1 of Surgery- We were running 5 tables, 4 general and one local. My playroom was set up right outside the OR. The space is kind of small and there was water that dripped down from the ceiling in the middle of the room so you had to be careful where you sat. Also the lights didn't work until the last day-so you can imagine my surprise and excitement when they turned on the last day.  One day I was playing basketball in the dark with one of the kids and wishing for flashlights or glowsticks.

I have to say I had the best translators and helpers ever on a mission!!  Operation Smile Jordan is well established in country and really it made my job so much easier. My poor translators though- get so used to translating the pre op teaching speal. I am sure they can all, in their sleep, demonstrate with my teaching puppet all about the masks, the ivs, tongue stitches (for cleft palate cases) and even rectal tylenol.

During surgery week, my day is spent prepping all the kids and playing with them until the last case goes on the table, then I clean up the playroom, pack everything up for the supply closet and then go check on the day's patients post op and check on the newly arriving patients for the next days surgeries.

Really I have the best job on the team because I get to get to know every single patient. Especially on a relatively intimate mission like this one where we did only did 104 cases. I play and talk with them for hours during screening. I talk to each one of them and their parents before surgery. And they get so excited to see me after surgery because I am the fun one. I am the one constant person through the entire experience.  While I also have the dirtiest job (crawling around on dirty hospital floors amid markers, playdough, and toys), the most chaotic (me+prescreening area =800 people) and the most schlepping (try packing an entire playroom for this many kids 6 mo to adolescents in 50 lbs.)  but it's also the most personal.

Amanda, Lisa and Taylor and I went across the street to a chinese resteraunt for dinner because it was getting late and it was recommended on a list in our hotel room and said there was a discount for operation smile. The meal proved to be quite comical, there was the part where they were dustbustering the table, a bad lost in translation experience involving my name badge being taken back into the kitchen where the entire staff discussed for 10 minutes, then taylors name badge, and dicussion of an all you can eat 15Jd offer (not the offer we were talking about) and ending with a round of complimentary chinese tea, which was quite funny becasue it was the exact same tea they had given out earlier. Peking certianly goes down on the list of memorable dinners.

Day 5 -- day 2 of surgery
The hotel was about a 35 minute bus ride back to the hotel. They would leave in 4 different shifts, as people finished. This is little tricky though because everyone isn't back all together. I got back to the hotel and planned to go out to eat, but I worried people were alone in their rooms with no where to go but upstairs. And as the child life specialist, the psychosocial and emotional needs are my responsiblity I decided that applied to the rest of the team as well as the patients so I embraced my role as the love boat social director and asked the front desk for a room list of all the op smile team and went door knocking inviting everyone who was back to go out with me. You know how I like a party! We rallied a nice group and Omar, who is originally form Jordan agreed to be our guide. So we walked a little ways from the hotel to a resteraunt. Where we had the best fruit smoothies, fruit salads, lebanese fajita wraps. So I decided I wanted ice cream, and the only offering was in 1 kilo. I asked if this indeed was 2.2 pouds of ice cream and omar assured me it was. So I decided to order it because when else do you order it by the kilo? Well the waiter then said just for me he'd give me an extra half a kilo- not sure what I did to merit such generosity and so he said he'd bring me every flavor they had. So he arrives mith my 3.3 pounds of ice cream and we all dug in attempting to identify all the flavors of Jordan. which ranged from cantaloupe (that took some sleuthing) to arabic, to galaxy, to blueberry cheesecake, and many others. It was a night of many laughs (thanks also to the movie The Core which was showing on Dubai one channel before we left)  and it earned me the nickname Mrs Ice Cream from Ammar one of the Post/op nurses as word of my ice cream excursion became legendary. 
The rest of the week to follow- as I am sure i'll be up early again tomorrow night!