I never gave my hands much thought until a few years ago. They were never pretty, but they were functional serviceable hands that did what they were asked—I could examine a patient, type fast and accurately enough, and everyone always told me that my handwriting was outstanding. That has always been a point of pride for I knew that I was never going to kill a patient because a pharmacist could not read my prescription. I sign my name with the broad sweeping rounded cursive of a 10 year old child.
Perhaps because my hands are no longer young, I realized with a start a couple of years back that they look exactly like my father’s hands. I was not thrilled to realize this, but it certainly explained the reaction I would always get when trying on rings at a jewelry counter—the salesperson would always say, with great surprise, “Your ring size is SO SMALL!” Why wouldn’t my ring size be small? I am a short person—just never grew much. What I realized was that I have broad palms, and short fingers, and the proportions are all wrong for a person with a size 5 ring finger—yes, I dare say it—because of the proportions my fingers look fat. This was a huge disappointment to me, since I have always desired the long delicate fingers of a nail polish model. It does not matter if your ring size is a 5, if your hands are broad and your fingers are short. Of all the things I could inherit from my father, the green eyes were welcome; the short fingers were not.
My father is eighty seven years old. Never a tall man, he has lost several inches in height as he has aged, and now barely reaches five feet. He is a plastic surgeon, once world renowned for his work in maxillo-facial surgery, where surgeons must truly be artists to repair the faces of children with hideous birth defects, and victims of terrible accidents. Although he has been “retired” for many years, he never stopped working. He travels the world with various charitable groups who send surgeons to the far reaches of the globe to repair birth defects and accident and burn victims, allowing them to lead the normal lives that others take for granted. Yesterday, he returned from Zambia where Surgicorps volunteer plastic surgeons and teams of scrub nurses, anesthesiologists, physical and occupational therapists performed miracles at the Beit Cure Hospital in Lukasa for 60 children in desperate need of surgery to repair their birth defects and burn scar contractures. This time, for the first time, he took my daughter, the fourth year medical student with him.
My daughter, like me, has chronicled her life in photographs. This trip was no exception. She took pictures of the parents and of the children who patiently waited for hours on the hospital lawn, just to be seen, to be evaluated, to have a chance at a better life. Despite the cleft lips, the cleft palates, the fused fingers and toes and the burn scars, there is happiness and joy in her photographs, and there is patience and forbearance and acceptance. One photograph, in particular struck me with a force that brought tears to my eyes. It is a photograph of my father, seated across from a tiny girl. In this picture, the little girl’s hand, tiny and plump, has closed its fingers around my father’s right index finger. They are gazing into each others eyes and they are smiling.
Today, I was proud to have my father’s hands.
Miranda Fielding is a radiation oncologist who blogs at The Crab Diaries.