Cleft Team Time Machine***


It’s that time of year again for the Chastain family. No, I am not talking about summertime beach trips or vacation get away. But as summer starts slipping away, and school starts to look not so far away, Dianna and I take our own special trip to the Joe DiMaggio Cleft and Craniofacial team in Hollywood, Fl. Unfortunately, Daddy had to work this time, so its just me and my big girl. For those of you that don’t know, Dianna was born with a cleft palate. Only Dianna’s soft palate was affected, not her lip. So it isn’t visible unless you peek in her mouth.


But I digress. It is something we hardly think about. Except once a year for a check up of sorts. And suddenly, as we walk through the hallway from specialist, to surgeon to doctor, I am transported through time.
As my 7 year old big girl sits down for the speech therapist I can see her shrinking right before my eyes into a precocious little two year old:

“Say ‘ PEO-PLE’ ” the therapist asked while pinching Dianna’s little nose. My toddler stared at her silently. “Say ‘ PEO-PLE’ ” the therapist requested again to no avail. The reason for the request is simple. “P” sounds can be hard for kids with a cleft palate,  but regardless, Dianna was in no mood for this test. So after a few more tries we gave up and  my sister took her for a bathroom break. It was there,in the solitude of the bathroom, that sweet little girl pinched her own nose, looked up at her aunt with those big brown eyes and blurted out “PEO-PLE” with a little grin.

Now that she is bigger, there are more words to say, but thankfully, she is more willing to say them, albeit not perfectly. There is a bit of nasal air emission possibly requiring speech therapy, hopefully not more surgery, to strengthen those stitched together muscles on her palate that you and I take for granted.
Next we meet with the 69 year old pediatrician from Trinidad. This is my favorite stop. He was a young 62 when we first met and now he is training his replacement. We talk retirement, health care reform, and homeschooling, and he beams about how great Dianna is doing. But suddenly when he mentions his hospital visits I am no longer in his office. I am passing him in the hallway at the hospital right after Dianna’s first surgery, with a tear stained face and a pit in my stomach wondering how I was going to care for a 6 month old in recovery and a toddler at home.  The flashback ended as abruptly as it started, and just like that I was drawn back to his office hugging him goodbye and wishing him a happy and family filled retirement as he makes plans for more volunteer work with cleft teams oversees.
During this busy morning there is a lot of waiting between doctors. While in the waiting room, I overheard the coordinator extraordinaire and beautiful grandmother of seven Bobby Brasher talking with a new mom about some of the realities for her six week old baby who had the same exact condition as Dianna. “The doctor said the surgery is minor, maybe about 15 minutes,” the young mom said to Bobby, and with that I was back in the hospital , but this time I was in the recovery room. The surgery was quick, that was true, but nothing could have prepared me for the recovery. They led us to her bed, her little body, tubes still attached for pain medicine, face puffy, traces of iodine and blood still around her mouth that whimpered like an injured kitten. “Can I hold her?” I begged. I was sure that once she was in my arms those heart breaking moans coming out of her mouth would stop. But they didn’t. My sweet husband looked on with tear filled eyes and prayed. I rocked her and sang, but nothing would ease her sad and painful little cry until the nurse administered more morphine upon my request.

“I used to have a special bottle too” I heard my big girl say to the mom in the waiting room, as she rescued me from my memory, her confident and caring smile giving me strength.
“Just our annual check up,” I told a friend this morning, but didn’t I know better? Every year, every different doctor, every test can take me to a hundred different places in time. But there is one thing in common with every moment to which I travel. When I remember pain, I remember our Comforter. When I remember exhaustion, I remember our Helper. When I remember loss, I remember our Provider. On Dianna’s first birthday I wrote a song that has proved more true as the days go by.

All of these things,all I will treasure.
Deep in my heart, they last forever,
Through all the joy and pain.
I won’t forget one day.

There is One who knows what the future holds
And He’s got our world in His hands
He loves you even more than I do
And its in His strength I stand
(Below is a link to the song and video)

**Blog originally written August 2012

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