As I gaze out of the plane window, the pitch black slowly begins to give way to the dawning of a new day. The stunning sight of red and orange appearing on the horizon is a familiar sight to travellers of trans-atlantic flights heading back towards Europe. For me, it’s an image permanently seared into my mind because I witnessed it countless times during my teenage years. So, being that young, I wasn’t the average businessman on his way home from a meeting across the pond. It was, in fact, due to having to make many trips from London, where my family and I lived back then, to Chicago for a series of operations I had to do to reconstruct my nose owing to the various conditions I was born with.
Those days, as I mentioned, were years ago – back in the early 00s. Right now though, I’m flying back from a charity event from Chicago- a foundation I’ve been involved with for the last couple of years, which has been a wake-up call. This particular foundation is dedicated to raising money for the Craniofacial Centre to provide care for kids born with genetic abnormalities, which range from cleft palate to other disorders that affect the cranium and facial bones. I have always held the belief that everyone, from all walks of life, should try to make a difference, no matter how big or small. Given that I was born with several of the issues mentioned, being involved is a small way of helping those kids who face similar obstacles to the ones I did. Admittedly, it took some time for me set in motion my part of giving something back after all the care I’d received from countless surgeons and nurses throughout my path of multiple surgeries. But, as the saying goes, better late than never.
This was my third consecutive year attending the foundation’s annual event. Now that I’m writing this on the flight home, I hope that my small contribution helped to bring in much-needed funds to the Craniofacial Centre. However, there was a different and unexpected highlight to my visit. Every time I visit Chicago, I make a point of going to see the surgeon who reconstructed my nose all those years ago. I’ll refrain from naming him because, despite his undoubted position as one of the best nasal reconstructive surgeons in the world, his modest character is evident to me and all his other current and former patients in that he never seeks publicity like so many surgeons do today. So, as always, I passed by his office. While I was waiting, a lady walked in with a plaster over her nose, which brought back many memories of what I looked like when I was in between surgeries, as I too had to make do with one of those.
The lady didn’t appear to be in the best of moods as the surgeon was running late (a habit my family and I can remember all too well). When he did finally appear. we exchanged pleasantries and he introduced me to this lady saying, ‘Christian had his nose reconstructed just like you’re doing now’. It was a brief introduction and, after having a good chat with my surgeon and reminiscing about old times, I headed for the exit and said a brief good-bye to the lady, who was still in the waiting room.
On the day I checked out of the hotel, I had a half hour to spare, so headed to the bar for a quick bite before heading to the airport. I walked in and there was the lady again. We both commented on what the chances were that we’d both been staying in the same hotel. So I joined her at the bar and we got talking. Alison was her name and she explained how she ended up having to have her nose reconstructed. Her circumstances were different to mine in many ways, but the biggest contrast was that this was happening to her later in life.
Alison was very open in describing how her procedures had been tough so far – she’s around halfway through the reconstruction process. Some days were harder than others, she said. It was a familiar statement to me in that I endured those frustrating times too, especially going through it during the adolescent years.
That said, I emphasised to her the importance of remaining positive and leaning on your friends and family when you need them. I told her how, when looking back on those times, that it was worth all the pain and that she is aided by the fact that, like me, she is in the hands of the best, so the end result will be worth it.
Before we said our goodbyes, Alison said something that touched me. She said I had inspired her, which was very humbling to hear.
I hope our brief encounter made Alison feel better. While we only spoke for a while, I had no doubt that she possesses the strength and determination needed. But we all need a helping hand sometimes and I like to think our brief conversation was what she needed that day.
I’m looking back out of the plane window again at the seamless sunrise. That image is ingrained in my memory from all those years ago. I used to say to myself that I was chasing the sun and that I’d get to it when I had my last surgery. That day came some years ago. And it’ll get to Alison too. Just a little more patience and that strength and determination I saw will see her through.
(This article is also available on my Huffington Post blog)