The GBS group left early this morning for a long day of fittings scheduled at the school. I was eager to see the patients I had worked with only a short week ago as today was the first day we were able to see the orthoses we worked hard on over the past weekend fit to each individual patient.
My first patient came early in the morning in his vibrant yellow school uniform. It felt special to realize he recognized me and immediately felt comfortable playing with the same games we did last week. As other students and mentors poked and bent his legs and arms in all directions, he smiled through it all and giggled when the ticklish calipers measured his waist.
Today was not what I had expected in that it was a very different pace than the last ime we were at the school in Zhuhai.
The left hemiplegic patient, GaSun, was able to try on his left foot and hand orthotics made with love by Barrington and me (with a lot of guidance from our PolyU mentor Hin!). Tools such as heat guns, hammers, and pliers were used to make adjustments on the orthotics to perfectly conform to the foot and sit right for comfort when walking.
I found myself somewhat in the dark for a lot of the fitting process today because of the language barrier and the limited amount of time we had with each patient to get the perfect fit. There wasn’t a lot of time for translation or explaining of the modification process so we really seemed to take a back seat in the process today.
Even though I couldn’t understand the conversations from mentors to PolyU students and between parents and teachers, I felt this made connections with the patients more valuable. I could not understand the Mandarin murmur surrounding me, and GaSun couldn’t understand me either, but with no doubt I could tell what we both understood was a beaming smile across both our faces. His disability does not change the fact that just like any other kid, we can interact and play with building blocks, popsicle sticks, and even a measuring tape. No language is necessary for the comforting connection brought across by a genuine smile.
We took a break around 1PM for lunch and walked to some nearby Zhuhai restaurants where local residents ate outdoors on a humid day. Some of the group broke off to eat at a restaurant specializing in dumplings, and some others wandered a little bit further down the road. Apparently, the eatery we ended up at did not serve the food they showed in the pictures on the menu, so without Harvey there to help and being the only one in the small group with Mandarin speaking skills, Vishal definitely felt the pressure! Jack’s request for beef was shot down and we all ended up ordering the same dish, chicken and rice, because that’s the only thing we could figure out how to order.
Walking back to the clinic after our meal, we were surrounded by lines of local children walking back to school after going home for lunch. You would think we were celebrities if you saw us walking by with all the kids waving and saying “Hello!” and asking “What is your name?”
We went back to the clinic to finish seeing and fitting the rest of the patients and sent off many happy faces, both of parents and children, with new custom orthotics in hand (or on feet). It’s weird to think that I will never see any of the patients again or ever figure out how they are doing. I will always still wonder if GaSun makes any progress walking without reaching out for his mother’s hand after a few steps or if he is able to clap without a flexed wrist. I guess the only thing I can do is hope that his life was touched by my actions in the same that my life was touched by his. I know he won’t forget me though because we both have some pretty fire Snapchat selfies to remember each other by!
There was no time to take a break after the fittings as we were in a race against the clock. Our lovely hotel in Zhuhai informed us that all of the water in the building would be shut off tonight by 10PM. We barely fit but all managed to squeeze on the already packed public bus and rode downtown to the mall where we got to eat a delicious spicy chicken meal. Luckily Jack’s suggestion to get extra spicy chicken got overruled and we were all able to enjoy the food while connected to a very much missed youngMIX_wifi.
If you haven’t heard from any of us in a while don’t worry too much. We are all alive and well but struggling to deal with the crusty wifi in Zhuhai!!