23 April 2008

Nobody going to cuss me

He held the mirror in his hand, tilted it just so, trying to catch the top of his head, and smiled a lopsided, knowing smile, laced around its edges with the unvoiced "Aww yeah" he would have said had he grown up in New York.

Simon* is a ten-year-old boy, born with a small, cystic mass exactly at the top of his head. His friends at school used to call him knot-head. They probably still do; he only went home today.

His next-bed neighbor in the ward was another boy, Roger*, a thirteen-year-old who was born with a bilateral cleft lip. It was repaired two and a half years ago on the ship, but, as is routine with bilateral clefts, he was left with a secondary deformity of his nose, to be corrected when he was older. His nose was stuck to his lip—in technical-speak, he had no columella; he needed a new columella and a bit of projection. Unsurprisingly, the kids at his school also made fun of Roger. Kids are cruel, no matter which dialect of English they speak.

Both Simon and Roger were sent home today. We often give patients a mirror so that they can look at themselves after surgery. I rarely get to be on the ward when that first look happens. I got to be there today for Simon's first look.

At the same time that we had told Roger he could go home, Simon's mirror was whipped out. As he smiled that edgewise smile, his mom caught on. And Roger's brother did too. They joy was muted (for Africa, that is...no one danced), but it was nonetheless real. Simon's mom started the refrain: "Nobody going to cuss him," and Simon, Roger, and Roger's brother all took it up. "Nobody going to cuss me no more." It became a litany of past hurts, and realizations that those hurts were no longer reality. Knot-head was no more. A nose had been crafted.

And Simon and Roger were done with being cussed.

*Not their real names.