Denver Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Zwiebel, Discusses Pre- and Post-Op Visits in China

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Aug 12:Each day, I meet new children for preop evaluation, brought by smiling family members huddled at bedside in the Pingliang People’s Hospital. In the faces of the parents, I see a combination of fear, concern and hope.

Although I anticipate the answer, speaking with them through an interpreter, I ask what they want me to do for their child. Rather than reply verbally through the interpreter, the answer is almost always made by pointing to the obvious cleft of the lip, or by opening the child’s mouth to point to the gaping opening of the roof of the mouth, a cleft palate.

It is so easy to feel a bond with the patients. Even though we do not speak the same language, the instinctual parental sense of attraction and desire to protect and nurture is irresistible. This seems common among my fellow American teammates who continually comment “how cute” the children are and the nurses are quick to want to hold the babies and play with them. These seem unusual, even extraordinary and unexpected reactions to a child with such an obvious facial deformity.

Later, I notice those same feelings manifest in how the crew is playful and caring for the baby as we bring the baby into the operating room and prepare to begin the surgery. My mind shifts to focus on the steps of preparation, administration of anesthesia and the technicalities of the reconstructive procedure. With cleft lip surgery, the challenge is in the planning. I wear magnifying lenses as I measure and mark with needle and ink the relevant anatomic points that are crucial to the precision of the ensuing incisions and surgical rearrangements of the repair. It is a unique sort of puzzle: finding the hidden pieces and moving them to complete the aesthetic solution.

An hour passes without my notice, my consciousness engulfed in the conceptual and technical challenge before me. Finally, we place the last stitch and pull back the drapes.

Then, I see the cute little baby, again.

Only now, without deformity the cute baby can be seen by every one.