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Massage Today
May, 2004, Vol. 04, Issue 05

Mission to Peru: Giving and Receiving

By Eva W. Jones, LMT

I entered the massage therapy field in 1988 after teaching classical ballet, dance and exercise for 30 years. The world of massage has opened so many wonderful doors for me. The 1996 Paralympics gave me the chance to work with disabled athletes, where I learned how important it is to work hard with what you have and not spend time worrying about what you do not have.

Every year, a dentist in my hometown gathers a team of other dentists, oral and plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and paramedics, and travels to Peru on a project she founded named "Rotocleft." The families of children with cleft palates cannot afford the expensive corrective surgery.

And these children are at a disadvantage because of the negative societal implications of having a cleft palate. Sometimes they are ignored, shunned and even hidden by their families. Some may even be killed. How proud I was this past spring when this dentist called me. They needed a massage therapist on the team to work on the staff, and asked if I would I like to go.

"Don't Sweat the Small Stuff"

We were each issued two medical bags to check in at the airport, and we could only take one carry-on bag and backpack for our personal needs. "What about my massage table and supplies?" I thought. But I was told not to "sweat the small stuff"; we would see what we could put together when we got there.

We left on Feb. 27, first to Miami; and then a five-hour flight to Lima. We were greeted by the Rotary Club of Huacho when we arrived. They were so happy to have the team come and perform this valuable service for their people. We rode a bus for the two-hour trip to Huacho, where the team would perform its work. Huacho is on the coast and it is much like a beach town: sunny and warm.

Our hotel was nice. I had my own bathroom, hot water and a towel - but no washrag. Here again, I had to remember to make do with what I had and not to sweat the small stuff. At one point, I wondered if I had made the right decision to come. I had seen the grass, cloth houses of the town. I was told it never rains - at least not very often. So, what happened on Friday night? It rained. That is when I learned to never say "never." After checking in to the hotel, we toured the town. And during the course of the week the locals got to know who we were. I learned how to have conversation and ask questions in Spanish with lots of hand signals.

On our first morning we met for breakfast and got our duties. The team was to examine the patients wanting to have the corrective surgery. We walked in and lined up against one side of the hallway waiting for the hospital personnel to meet us. The children and their families were lined up on the other side of the hallway. We all just stood there and looked at each other and smiled. I looked at one little girl and smiled. She ran over to me and gave me a big hug and kiss. At that point, I knew I had made the right decision to come; I was so glad I had been asked to join this team.

The doctors were already performing visual exams and discussing the faces they were seeing; it was interesting to listen to. The doctors examined each child and chose their candidates for surgery. It was hard; every child could not have surgery because of the limited surgical supplies, the inability to perform follow-up corrective surgery, and the health risks and health limits of some.

Each patient had to have his or her history taken, a check-up, and examinations with the three surgeons and the anesthesiologist. They set the days and times of surgery, deciding to work on the babies and young children in the mornings, and older ones in the afternoons. A few adults were scheduled, as well, and were so thankful. One young girl had carried a hankie in front of her face all her life. When I saw her in recovery a few days later, she looked so pretty. It would be about six to nine months before the swelling would go down completely, but there would be no more hankies for her.

Surgery Begins

We started bright and early for the hospital for the first day of surgeries, and I was so excited. I had to wear a mask, scrub hat, and booties over my shoes while in the surgery suite. We all looked like light green fluffs walking around. The main room for our supplies was like a M.A.S.H. Unit. We lived out of boxes and it was "hunt and seek" for a couple of days. I was a gofer and helped in different areas. I sterilized instruments, which was an eye-opener for me. It was amazing to see the various instruments used to repair the lip and palate. CranialSacral Therapy (CST) is a favorite technique of mine; I thought about how it could be beneficial to a cleft palate patient for the process of healing.

Two surgeries taking place in one room. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Two surgeries taking place in one room. We ran into a hitch on Tuesday, when one patient's surgery that was supposed to last an hour turned into a six-hour ordeal. This changed the lineup for the other doctors and patients. Some trades were made and things worked out, but the result was another late night getting back to the hotel. I was beginning to wonder if I was going to get a chance to perform massage at all. We were all beat that night. When I went up to my room I intended to lay down on the bed and rest a few seconds; I woke up the next morning in a daze. I still had my scrubs and shoes on. I had slept in them all night and in one position!

I showered quickly and took a taxi to the hospital. I wondered if I would get the chance to massage the staff. I knew the surgeons really needed it. I had observed some surgery and could tell that they needed work. I was amazed at the amount of hard work these medical professionals performed with enthusiasm; they never complained and were always so happy to help.

One surgeon and his assistant wife have completed 58 missions. Another surgeon from Greece described what he was doing during surgery as though he was teaching; I learned so much. I was amazed at the process of opening the face, making the repair, and piecing it back together, layer by layer. When the last of the stitching is completed, a face appears that was not complete before the operation.

Another young surgeon carried his patients to the operating room in his arms and then back to the recovery room. His caring heart really showed. I watched the nurses, too. Some had given up their vacations to aid in this wonderful work. I've received awards for work I have done in my community; I thought that I had done my share of giving and helping others, but compared to these folks I was way behind.

Massage at Last

In the M.A.S.H. room, one of the doctors asked me to massage her temples. "Wow! Yes! I am getting to do my thing," I thought excitedly. I massaged her cervical muscles and performed CST. As I was working, others began to line up. I was finally needed for my art. We used a packing box of medical supplies for the sitting massage area and it worked fine. I was working with what I had and not worrying about what I did not have.

The author massages one of the surgeons on an operating room table. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark The author massages one of the surgeons on an operating room table. The last patient came out of the operating room and into recovery when we were cleaning up for the day. I was called in to massage and I was set up in one of the operating rooms. I learned how to raise and lower the operating table - once again, I learned to work with what was available. I was thankful to have the table to work on. I had three clients that evening, and I was so energetic when we left for the hotel. I had been able to massage and it felt good.

Our final two days went quickly. I got into the routine of helping with sterilization and giving massage as needed. I am glad that I studied sports massage and CST. Those skills sure helped! I could not slow these surgeons down, yet I had to relieve their spasms and discomforts, and still give them energy to keep going. This was the same as working at a sports event.

We left the hospital on Friday afternoon. I had made friends with the nurses and workers at the hospital, and I realized that I might not see them again. It was really emotional. We hugged and cried and let each other know how much we cared for each other. They thanked us for helping their people. The surgical team had performed 42 surgeries and the dental team had completed 1,000 dental procedures. That evening, the Rotary Club of Huacho had us over for a fiesta, where they recognized each one of us, and gave us a certificate and a flag. By the time they got to me I was crying. I realized what wonderful work this was and was so thankful for the many volunteers that gave their time and talent to help so many people face the world without shame.

Massage does this in a way. Have you ever noticed the face of your client when he or she comes in? After the massage session you notice a different face - one of relief and relaxation that says, "I can face the world better now...look!" Our work is important and should be highly respected. We need to take a look at our peers who are working hard to bring relief to those in their care. Let's support them. We are given the gift of caring, and sharing of our knowledge and support is so important; not just to our clients, but to our peers. We need to think like a team, and not sweat the small stuff.

We left for home on Saturday. I had a hard time sleeping. I just wanted to think about those whole faces. Because of our group, 42 faces would wake up on Sunday and be able to smile and not hide. The massage world led me to this work. I have learned to do with what I have available - and not to sweat the small stuff.


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