After five years of planning and politics with a communist country, Rotary’s cleft palate team which included an orthodontist (me) landed in Havana, Wednesday April 27th with $267 in overweight medical supplies we were donating to their children’s hospital, where all medical and dental care is “free” and as you might imagine not by appointment nor on time any time. Now I understand the true meaning of “patient” and the end result of a single payer system, which please pray that we will never have. We seven team members were very cordially received even though that morning’s paper quoted Raul Castro as saying the US was Cuba’s #1 enemy despite Obama’s overtures and the Ray’s game fanfare. The home runs hit out of the park in Havana were the uncelebrated RotoCleft’s collaboration and surgeries with 14 Cuban doctors. Dr. Sandra Lilo, a Seminole dentist and staunch Rotarian has been leading the Rotary cleft palate team into third world countries, at our own expense plus hefty tipping (bribes) for 15 years, and much to her credit, she is the driving force of organization and logistics, both momentous tasks.
Our team preformed three flawless surgeries (no orthodontics which comes later) on formerly disfigured faces now beautiful while our Cuban hosts observed, assisted and admired American willingness to share information and techniques. An obvious bond of respect and affection developed between us, which sure makes the obnoxious politics of world leaders the real climate problem. When doing bad stuff seems to be the world order of things, it is very reassuring to witness what doing good stuff offers. I had the good fortune to be the only one allowed to go visit Havana’s Dental College. Not only did I meet with all the faculty for a lengthy discussion of dentistry but I was given a complete tour of the entire school which reminded me of my four hot years at un air conditioned Emory, but they do not complain like we do. I left Cuba with new friends and a wish that we could get all of our classy 50’s – 60’s automobiles back; they may be belching out black exhaust but they are running in abundance.
We left on their May Day Celebration of Communism taking over a western country. The irony is that “may day” is an international disaster call. Communism refuses God’s Word and His Blessings to its own peril. I think we responded to a “may day” call to repair a cleft in relations -one lip at a time.