13 February 2009

OMG @ the OMEC

The first time I saw surgery I was almost physically ill. The skin peeled back, a chisel pulled out and some bone chipped away. I’ve seen videos of cataract and other eye surgeries being performed as part of my assignment that I would liken to a game of billiards. But in Banepa, a small trading town on the road to Tibet, in a makeshift operating theatre inside a school classroom, Dr Ruit made cataract surgery look like an art form – 67 times.

Last weekend, I departed at 7am Saturday morning for my very first surgical camp (Outreach Microsurgical Eye Camp). We didn't actually travel far for this one. At an OMEC there are a lot of activities, all of which I sort of helped out with, sort of interfered with, all the while trying to keep my jaw from dragging along the ground. I could go on for hours about all the different parts of it. Most of that I am going to save for an article I am writing for our magazine, but I'll give you the main ingredients:

Departure and unloading - leaving Tilganga at 7 sharp we travelled the relatively short distance (as far as OMECs go) to the town of Banepa (somewhere Mike and I passed through on our Tibetan adventure), we unloaded all the makings for an anaesthetic room and an operating theatre and ate breakfast...mmmmmmm curried soybeans and oily deep fried bread! Sorry, I accidentally deleted the photos!
Screening camp - much like the trip I have already written about, I travelled on with a few of the boys to Dolalghat,

a nice little getaway another 40-50km or so on from Banepa. Many Kathmandu families go here for picnics and the area is famous for its fresh water fish (yuck). Here we screened more than 300 patients, 22 of whom needed cataract surgery.

I was in the counselling room "explaining" about their surgery and what was going to happen. In all honesty, I was writing down their details, while Ripon's brother (with no training qualifications or understanding of what, in fact, a cataract is) told the patients that we would be taking them to Banepa to "clean" their eyes.

[one of my favourite photos]

Apparently, mentioning the word surgery causes a kind of mass exodus that doesn't look good on our statistics.

Or to our donors.

I took a photo of one lady before stupidly trying to show it to her. She politely pointed out that she was effectively blind, and couldn't see the photo I was showing her.

I am constantly amazed at the ability of 80 and 90 year old Nepalis to wait patiently in this position for hours.

We returned on Saturday evening to finish preparing the "operating room", which was actually a classroom, and do final tests on the 22 cataract patients we identified and the other 30 or 40 the other screening camp group found.

Surgery Day 1 - Sunday was the start of surgery. From 8am Suha-daai started anaesthetising patients. Dr Ruit and two American doctors, Matt and Paul showed up and got straight into it!

One of the most amazing stories was an elderly mute man with bilateral "hand motion" visual acuity. Meaning, he could effectively only see you waving a hand in his face and not much more. Constantly frustrated in waiting around for he knew not what he often yelled out angrily, banging his stick on the ground.

[waiting for anaesthetic for surgery 1]

The surgeons got through about 60 patients on the day and we didn't get back for dinner until about 8pm.

[surgery 1]

I popped over to the hall where the patients were staying. That was it, a hall. With blankets and pillows.

[post surgery 1, not a happy camper]

Food, Cards and Good Company - As last time I found the field trip to be a great friend building experience. People I had previously only seen around the hospital were now joking around and making fun of my lack of Nepali. The girls would say stuff to me and then giggle hysterically. Pemba-daai gave me a new nickname. "Aloo Rob". Apparently "rob" also means "plant" in Nepali, I asked "what? like a potato (aloo)?" This caused a huge burst of laughter from the girls and solidified my new name. Pemba still thinks its funny a week later.

Surgery Day 2 - The second day of surgery, all the bilaterally blind patients (first eye operated on the day before) went back for their other eye to be done, following a post-op inspection. The eye-patch put on following surgery the day before is lifted and the ophthalmic assistants check the position of their new lens. It was a very special moment when my special guy's patch was lifted. His son stood at the top of the stairs and held up two fingers. He held up two in response and yelled excited nothings. I don’t know that there are many points in life where you feel the way I did in that single moment. I could not help but giggle as a wave of welcome happiness rushed through my entire body.

[post-op from surgery 1, yelling and pointing at his son]

Surgeries continued as did the screening downstairs. The patients had to wait calmly as each of them had their turn 'inside the room'.

Last Day - It was the last day, we had to finish up our post-ops, pack up and get back to Kathmandu. The patients needed instructions for any problems they might experience and we checked their visual acuity so we can analyse the camp for its level of success later.

[post-op surgery 2, laughing while everyone pointed at me and said "white man"]

The camp was such an amazing experience. I'll have to do another post to tell more of the special stories.

[the man in the beanie was a gorgeous gentleman that always gave me the thumbs up when he caught my eye, he was so happy to be able to see again {massive understatement}]

I was quite amazed to see people the DAY AFTER SURGERY with unaided visual acuity better than mine! Lucky buggers.

[one cool cat]

In total, we did 110 eyes and screened more than 700 patients. Less than 4 days work. That still amazes me. I'll put some links up soon for those of you that want to be able to contribute to this amazing phenomenon. For as little as $25 you can give one of these people their sight back. ;)


po said...

Geez that is an incredible story Dash. So cool! Getting back your sight is just incredible.

Amy xxoo said...

Freaking awesome!
See, this is something that I, as an optical dispenser, would like to see. Its cool enough when someone with a really high script comes into pick up new glasses i dispensed and says they're great...

Yeti said...

daddy ramro!!

this all sounds so amazing. and you took some fantastic photos. what great opportunities you are living.

Kez said...

Wow, what an amazing thing to be a part of!

Tim said...

Hey Spud!
You are definately having an amazing life over there. Wish I could share in it. I'm very proud of you big bro!

Dash said...

thanks guys, it was so much fun. i will put up a slideshow soon, when my computer starts behaving itself...

for more information, visit the fred hollows foundation www.hollows.org. They do work in asia, africa and remote parts of australia. give if you can!

Isa said...

So great to hear such a positive AYAD experience, I'm really glad you got to be part of such an amazing thing! Good work, Rob-ji!

Tamara said...

Wow... awesome story and pics! It must be so cool to be part of somehting like that - making people's lives better.

Way to go, Dash ;-)

aniahime said...

That's absolutely amazing. I can't even imagine how incredible it must have been to experience something like that. This is definitely something I would love to donate to. ^_^

Dash said...

btw, in the background of one of Mr Tamang (the mute man)'s photos, you can see another patient reading his outpatient card. READING! Pretty cool.