Denver Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Zwiebel, Visits China For Cleft Lip Reconstruction

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August 3: I just finished the first case of our schedule here in Pingliang, China, reconstructing a cleft lip and nose deformity in a 12 year old girl. The team is relieved that the case went well: there is a tension until we get the first case done and know we work well as a team and with the local hospital staff.

As is typical for these surgical trips, the schedule doesn’t go as planned. Most of the scheduled cases for the morning are delayed for a variety of reasons.  Adapting to the conditions and the unexpected is critical and never-ending: even as I write this, I overhear one of the nurses, “The boy for the next case has a cold.”

The hospital here in Pingliang is much nicer than expected: the nicest medical facility in which I have worked on any mission trip.

China is certainly exotic and the realization that I am half-way around the world (14 time zones!) still strikes me as remarkable, even after the 28 hours of travel time to get to this north central location in China, just south of Mongolia.  There is not a chance I will begin to have the slightest understanding of the language during this 3 week trip. The cultural differences are intriguing, and I am grateful for the very tolerant hospitality and good humor of our hosts.

Some of the differences are in the realm of medical procedures and protocols: for example, here, proper operating room attire is to wear plastic flip flops with bare feet!

Yet, through this interaction of this international/intercultural group of patients, families, nurse and doctors, I quickly feel less the stranger with fewer barriers of any significance between us.