Helpless Wonder: The Result of Being Human

January 25, 2016

patient story plastic surgery positive outcomes


I turned the corner to the second half of the ward while rounding with Dr. Tertius and the team in the morning and was thrilled to see a familiar face from the dockside screening event several weeks ago. However, the thrill was accompanied by a helpless feeling because some patients have a difficult road.

I was given the privilege to help with the dockside surgeon screening that happens before the patients are officially chosen and given dates. I was out there from Tuesday to Friday meeting with the patients to fill out their health histories and leverage their expectations. My secret motive was to get to know more about them so I can pray for them (just like I did with Andre).

Plastic surgery is a long road for most, and it can be risky for a few. The surgeon is stretching nerves and muscles that haven’t extended for many years. Sometimes it doesn’t go as well as we hope for.

When I meet with the patients one by one on the dock, I don’t know who will do exceptionally well, who will need extra therapy, or who might lose tissue they didn’t expect to lose.

I get flashbacks in my mind of one or two patients from January 2015 (my first time working the plastic surgery rotation) that were on the wards for months after surgery as we hoped and prayed that skin would grow and heal. I see the woman in my mind that asked the doctors, the nurses, and anyone wearing scrubs whether she’d be able to get a second surgery to fix her face. We kept telling her that we’d never be able to make her face look like it did before she was burned. There was no other surgery we could do for her. I’m not sure if she ever stopped asking.

So I can’t help but wonder when I meet them for the first time.

Before they are in a hospital gown, before the first slice of the knife, before they need pain medicine, I sit filled with hope and helpless wonder.

We had some patients who had been waiting for the past year, hoping to be eligible for an operation. Some patients from January ’15 got deferred to this second outreach (September ’15) because there was no space last year. Unfortunately, a bad stroke of fate delayed our ship twice from departing Durban. Our surgery schedule was only delayed by a few weeks, but our primary plastic surgeon, Tertius Venter, was hit by a car while cycling only hours prior to his flight for the Africa Mercy. He was unable to join us for two more weeks.

There were many patients who had already been told to return once or twice after journeying for days. They arrived and we had to tell them that the surgeon was injured and we’d have to postpone yet again.

Tsiri was one who got this discouraging news. He handled it well and I admired his grace, but I wondered what he was keeping locked inside. I wondered how the trip all the way home would feel. I wondered if he would look like a fool to his family back home coming home with nothing except another supposed date for surgery.

We all know what it feels like to be strung along.

When I turned the corner on A Ward and saw Tsiri (now we know he goes by Rivo), I was relieved.

His helpless wondering about the elusive date of surgery was finally answered once and for all. He would, and did, receive surgery.

Now, as his nurse, I am the one in a state of helpless wonder as we hope for restored function.

There is a lot we can control. However, any surgeon or nurse that can say with full assurance how each patient will turn out has a God-complex.

Even in the midst of our expertise, we still sit helplessly, wondering how God will work each story out for good.

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