It has been two weeks since we left Colombia but the memories of the place, patients, and activities remain fresh as if they were still happening today. There seems to be some truth to the commonly-held notion that when one sense is impaired, the others gain sensitivity to compensate for the loss. In Santa Marta, my hearing was impaired in the sense that I could not fully understand the language of the people we had come to help. There was an unexpected blessing in this, as it opened my eyes to look more completely, to truly see both the patients and the team as partners in our work of changing lives.
It is wisely said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. We all revealed such a broad palette of emotions! The hope and anticipation in the families as their children were evaluated. The joy upon acceptance; the pain of those who unfortunately had to be turned away. I saw fire in the eyes of the team members as we struggled with the workload, resilient strength combating fatigue, compassion and respect as we stretched our boundaries to accommodate “just one more child”. The relief and outlet in the comedy of our short moments of downtime. The reflexive sense of gratitude was especially striking. The patients and their families for this gift of hope for their futures that we gave; and the gifts we received in even greater measure as their eyes spoke volumes that made words unnecessary. The elation of comprehending all that we had accomplished; the yearning to do even more. I saw and felt this and so much more in this place of amazing natural beauty and rich culture, a place filled with people of great heart and spirit.
Most of the time, a parent would see his or her child for the first time after surgery in the recovery room. We couldn’t help but shed tears with them – tears of joy, for seeing the almost magical transformation. There was a 24-year-old lady who had a huge growth on her lip. I never saw her smile even once on the screening day. I can only imagine her self-esteem growing up as a teenager having to deal with this physical deformity. When she arrived in the recovery room, I looked at her and her pre-surgical picture for the longest time. I felt pure joy for her. The smile in her face when she looked at the mirror for the first time was priceless.
Selflessness came so naturally from every member of the team, and it was an honor to have served with all of you. My gratitude to you for this experience is without boundary, and I look forward to the opportunities that await us; to improve the lives of our sisters and brothers across the world is truly the greatest reward.