What?! I know. The connections books makes gets my blood pumping too.
I hadn’t read the book at that time and asked her if she thought her husband would be willing to be interviewed when it was closer to September and I’d read at least part of the book so I could ask intelligent questions. He was! It is with thanks to Vivienne and her husband Derick who recently returned from a surgical trip that we get to hear from someone who would have worked on a patient like August.
Dr. Mendonca, thank you for taking time to share with us. Briefly, tell us about what type of medicine you practice and your current assignment.
I am a Plastic Surgeon, currently establishing a Complex Facial Reconstruction Surgery program in Bangalore, India. I work at 2 hospitals: Bangalore Baptist hospital (Mission hospital) and Sakra World hospital (Japanese tertiary referral hospital). I also do outreach surgical camps in India and Uganda to offer reconstructive surgery to those in need.
In the book Wonder the story is told through a variety of characters, starting with the protagonist August. We hear from his sister and friends, but interestingly none of his doctors or nurses. Is there a particular patient you find yourself thinking of, even now, maybe years later? What about this patient stays with you?
Yes, doctors and nurses do think about their patients often. It is just that we see so many people everyday, it tends to get a bit busy. I can remember one particular patient of mine, who had a major facial abnormality. She was 16 when I met her but had lived with facial deformity from birth. What struck me about her was her tremendous resilience, strong personality and inner strength to fight through life with all the bullying, teasing in school, stares from the public when walking on the roads. Sometimes we place too much importance on beauty, perfection and symmetry. I remember her profound sense of gratitude, that I was able to improve her appearance.
As a Christian doctor, where do you experience redemption as you work with patients you have craniofacial anomalies?
I experience my satisfaction and get a “kick” out of the realization that I’m using God given skills to make a difference for my patients. Often, these patients come from poor social backgrounds with limited finances. In addition, they have very low self esteem resulting in poor confidence and social isolation. After successful surgery their confidence improves so that they can face society. The patient I was remembering was so happy with her result, that she decided to enroll for college and move forward with her education.
On the flip side, what is a discouraging part of your work?
I struggle with the biological response of scar formation. Despite technological advances, scar formation following surgery is inevitable. Sometimes, it can be extensive and obvious. Another area I am particularly discouraged about is our society’s response to children and adults with facial disfigurement. For example, even today children born with cleft lip are shunned and made fun of. While this may have improved in the West, societal attitudes in India and other developing countries are slow to change. We see that in young women with facial deformities unable to find a marriage partner, or get jobs that involve facing the public. Our society tends to idolize models with perfect bodies and faces, and these attitudes have been reinforced by social media.
How has working with those with craniofacial anomalies formed and informed you as a Christian?
Working for children and adults with craniofacial anomalies is my calling. As a Christian plastic surgeon, I could make lots of money doing cosmetic surgery and pursue fame and glamour. I believe that access to life-changing surgery should not be denied due to lack of ability to pay. There are still many countries in the world that do not have access to good plastic reconstructive surgery skills and services. Jesus said that if you do anything for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it for me. I believe that in totality and want to live my life in that service.
Wow, what a gift you have offered us. On behalf of all who will read and benefit from this interview, thank you. I’m already thinking of a niece I can share this with who loves Wonder and wants to be a nurse in Africa when she grows up. Thanks again!
Not only do we have this fantastic interview, we also have three chapters to discuss. I’ll briefly share thoughts on each one.
Summer: This chapter was very hard for me to read because it brought back a girl from my elementary school: Barbara (I don’t want to say her last name because I’m still haunted by not standing up for her more.). Other kids would not want to touch her and talked about “Barbara X’s Cooties.” While I did not actively participate, I did not actively tell them to shut up and stop being jerks.
This chapter made me think about Summer being biracial and how, to a certain extent, we are all bicultural. How do we use our biculturalness to help bring good into being? How do we, like Summer, avoid playing social games?
Jack: In my notes I wrote: “Chapter on ice cream!! Now I get it.” For those of you who had finished the book before reading last week’s post where I shared how the author came up with the idea, you must have been smiling. I appreciate that she worked the scene from her real life into the book.
“Somethings you just can’t explain. You don’t even try. You don’t know where to start. All your sentences would jumble up like a giant knot if you opened your mouth. Any words you used would come out wrong.” Oh Jack, we get it. I love Jack.
Justin: For dear Justin, I wrote this in my notes: “You are in high school, please use capital letters at the beginning of your sentences.” Apparently I talk to the characters :). What I appreciate about Justin is the way he holds the space for the ripple effect in a family. There is Auggie who is most directly effected by his birth defect. Then we have his immediate family and, as readers, we get glimpses into how their lives are influenced by their ties to Auggie. We also have Auggie’s direct friends, but the ripples don’t stop there. Through Justin, we see the ripples going out.
So often, in cross-cultural life, I forget the ripples and the ways so much more is going on than I realize. This is good word to us, isn’t it?
WHEW. We’ve got a lot going on today! In the comments let’s thank Dr. Mendonca and discuss these chapters. 🙂