"Walk With Me"
By Ginger Robinson, BSN, RN, President
She arrived alone with her six-month-old son, Truong, from Dong Nai Province not far from Ho Chi Minh City. Dong Nai Province is a monsoon tropical zone that receives between five and nine feet of rain during 120-170 days of rain each year. The inhabitants of this province live among 60 rivers, rivulets, and canals where rafts are built and shrimp and fish are caught and sold.
She was a tiny mother, perhaps weighing 75 pounds and being around five feet tall, like many Vietnamese women, quiet, and watchful. Forty-four prospective patients awaited screenings during the morning on April 5, 2008 at the Odontomaxillofacial Hospital (OMFH) in District 1 of Saigon. She patiently nursed Truong as three other mothers with "cleft babies" sat together and did likewise. Truong, an otherwise healthy boy, managed effectively to eat despite his cleft lip and palate deformities.
She held Truong for the obligatory pictures, handed him to Dr. Randy Robinson simply for his pleasure of holding a precious baby, and then yielded him to Dr. Jeremy Williams for Truong's cleft lip repair on April 7. When Troung's lip closure was completed (his cleft palate repair will follow in the next couple years) he was returned to his mother.
She regarded his upper lip, now a fine line with reabsorbable suture and covered with Indermil, a type of skin glue donated by Covidien Healthcare. She shed no tears, but began to sing a version of a high-pitched lullaby spontaneously sung by many Vietnamese mothers. She propped one leg up in the chair and rapidly patted his lower back, commonly seen in the recovery room.
Days passed. More surgeries were performed. Whenever my eyes met Truong's mother's eyes in the patient ward, she bowed respectfully. Truong looked wonderful. On April 12, the day of our departure, we did final rounds, received generous tokens of gratitude, and bowed repeatedly to many.
Bringing up the rear, I walked down the stairs and stepped into the parking lot where I encountered Truong's mother. Without hesitation she wrapped both of her arms around my right forearm and we assumed an "Off to See the Wizard" pace. Wordless, she beamed, all the while holding to my arm, as if to bid, "Walk with me," on this victory stretch of her Yellow Brick Road.
I had not noticed how beautiful her hair was, but now it was down nearly touching her waist. Tensed muscles relaxed and with careless hair, we did happy figure-eights in the parking lot. Never any words, just smiles. And more smiles.
A brief series of thoughts passed through my mind. "What has her walk in life been?" "What will it become?" We have no common tongue. Yet we share common bright yellow hopes.
She wanted the best for Truong. His cleft lip was repaired, thanks to Dr. Williams, plastic surgeon, Drs. Pepper Denman and Amy Ortman, anesthesiologists, Jenea Robertson, surgical technologist, Patsy King, RN, circulator nurse, and Gabi Stoeger-Stevens, BSN, RN, post-anesthesia care nurse.
She and Truong soon would return to monsoonal conditions in Dong Nai Province and live in the midst of the fishing industry. Hope had turned to joy.