Did you see the 60 Minutes USA clip? My friend and co-worker Ali spoke during her interview about looking past the tumour or facial defect of a patient and focusing on who they are and not what they look like. I have been able to practice this time and time again and now it comes naturally. When a previous patient this outreach, who’s story you can read here, came out of surgery, most of the nurses said they couldn’t even recognise him and although he certainly looked different, I realised then that I’d practiced looking past the tumour for so long that he looked exactly as I’d imagined he did without the tumour. It was still him. He was still the same man I saw.
In the maxillofacial ward we have the opportunity to look past the tumour into eyes pleading for acceptance. It’s not very normal to have a patient in the ward for more than one afternoon before their surgery and the only pre-operative photo taken is for medical use, but one patient came to us a couple of weeks before her surgery because of a medical issue that needed sorting out before she could have surgery. She was friendly and happy to have a photo with a nurse.
I’m sure not how you feel seeing her photo. Stare into it. What do you see?
Do you see beauty and a fighting spirit? I do. This precious patient fought a facial flesh eating disease called Noma when she was 2 years old and has lived without a nose ever since. She has grown up and married and had two children, which she has left behind and come with her cousin to the Africa Mercy for help.
I have seen some very strange and mind boggling deformities and injuries over the past 2 ½ years, but it is the strangest thing to see someone completely missing half of their face. Movies like Star Wars have made characters without noses and it always seems weird but to meet someone face to face is completely different, to see inside their face and know what’s missing.
This beloved patient had an enormous surgery to reconstruct her face, using different skin flaps, her own bone grafts, and the insertion of an artificial airway (tracheostomy) while we wait for the new skin flaps to heal and we continue more surgery.
It’s still only the beginning of her healing process. There are more surgeries to come and a lot of healing and adjusting to a new face- not only the physical presence of having a nose but also the emotional change. I can’t even begin to imagine what a huge change that would be. She has been without a nose and palate ever since she was two years old. She would probably never have seen her own face with a nose and now she has one- although it’s not finished yet.
The waiting time between surgeries and healing, takes time and is painful. Her dear cousin is a sweetheart. After the doctors’ round one morning, I looked over to see her cousin sitting on the side of her bed, her left hand resting comfortingly on our patient’s chest, gently stroking her soothingly while telling her what we had discussed with the doctors. This cousin is always tender and loving, going the extra mile to care. Watching the two of them interact is sweet like honey.
One of the nurses decorated her bandage. Isn't she beautiful?