Friday, February 13, 2009

Day 6: Meghraj

I was told the best was for last. Did that mean the worst of the worst or the best of the worst? I could not decipher and did not realize this would now become the backbone of a new chapter. One would not believe the conditions, from patient rooms to the pharmacy to the corridor of the hospital. Many would refuse care then step inside, but the villagers valued this as their second home. This was the only hospital in a 70-mile radius, and I can only describe the conditions with pictures. I was taken aback when my camera battery died on me. I did not want to miss one moment or one shot as a renewed life was about to begin. I was set on making this my project. I wanted to become more involved, find ways to improve the care, solicit more resources, and continue to fight. At this site, my uncle and I had the opportunity to visit two patients in the village and perform an interview. You never really feel peoples’ pain and suffering until you invade their territory. You see and feel the daily struggles to survive another day.

My last day in India would be one of relaxation and reflection. What had happened that week? What was happening back home? Of all my trips to India this was the first time I did not want to leave. I made a connection; I would not say it was love, but a mutual attraction. One of a growing relationship in the fight to do better. I enter the local airport in my state and wave good bye. Or was it a wave of welcome. All I know is that I was already planning for my next trip.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Day 5: Bhavnagar

Bhavnagar is different but more unique. The creation of an eye hospital sprouted from the efforts of a holy priest. One of the priest’s sons is an ophthalmologist who is interested in offering these services. The “uniqueness” pertains to the patient population; this was the only facility in Gujarat that served leprosy patients. I have never seen or met a leprosy patient and did not know what to expect. They were no different but were looked at as outcasts in India.

One patient in particular froze me on my tracks. He had lost his finger and his toes to the disease. He could not afford medical equipment and crawled and rolled as means of transportation. He wore a Harley Davidson tee from Nashville. This was an individual who brings a smile to my face. He was why I came to India to not only do good for my country but to learn about myself. These are the snapshots that will constantly flicker in my mind as I set at my desk at home in the United States drawing up plans to further the effort.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Day 4: Sankheda

I braced myself as we drove for hours into the outskirts, the van bouncing up and down, to come to a facility hidden to the side behind the local markets. This was the only hospital in a 50-mile radius, and that was an under estimate. The director and ophthalmologist of the facility were anxiously awaiting us as they gathered all the patients from inside to greet us. They did not know who and what we were there for, but upon notification they could not stop thanking us. This was another facility we sponsored to hold an eye camp and perform as many surgeries as possible. It was here I could see, feel, hear and smell the impact and reach of our efforts. These were villagers who live off 2 to 3 United States dollars a day, and that would support a family of four. I had the opportunity to have tea and biscuits with them, as some would look down on this. I was able to interact and understand their pains and sufferings, not ones of misfortunate, but one of wanting to do good for my people and country. Upon departure, my family gave each patient either a dotti (male clothing) or a sari (female clothing). It was at this point in my trip that I realized I wanted to funnel my energy internationally.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Day 3: Sankara Hospital

This was a visit to a local eye hospital. This is one of 8 hospitals in India under the same group that performs similar outreach to CBF. However, they fund their outreach events by offering services to the general public (20% revenue) to fund their 80% outreach efforts. This seems like a sound model. I met with the director and the camp organizers to better understand the systems and processes. I read brochures, watched a video, and sat through a presentation. On one side were facilities for the paying customers and on the other were facilities for patients brought in from local eye fairs. I was excited to see that there was another foundation performing similar outreach. This would allow me to evaluate the best practices in fulfilling our mission.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Day 2: Chikodhra

I did not know how and what to feel as I was on my way to meet the “father of eye camps”. I stand outside the hospital and wonder ... if the world saw these conditions, we would not be plagued with a healthcare problem. The ambulance was a late model Volkswagen, and the walls of the hospital were being held up by the will to serve their people. As I sit next to Dr. Choshi, the “father of eye camps,” nerve pulses fly throughout my body as I feel completely empowered. At 94 (one could not tell by his poise) he bestows his wisdom and passion as an ophthalmologist.

I take a tour, snapping photo after photo. I am amazed by the scarcity of resources, as the operating room looks like an examination room, and the sterilization room looks like a kitchen with a sink. My heart falls to the ground thinking that these patients might be better off if they did not receive these free services. I was dumbfounded to learn that the post-operation infection rate is around 0.01%, literally 0.000001%. UNBELIEAVABLE!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Day 1: Bhadrva

The soft drive landed us in front of a secondary school where an eye clinic fair is taking place. The organizer approaches my family, as CBF is the sponsor. I follow as he tells me there are five stations: registration, vision test, eye doctor, laboratory test, and counseling. It looked no different than the pharmacy health fairs I have attended and participated in. What caught me by surprise was the laboratory testing station that conducted three exams: intraocular pressure, blood sugar and blood pressure. Now it was certainly no different than those health fairs.

As I walked around I wondered why there were so many villagers. Here, the elderly population is accompanied by the whole family, but miles away, I rarely get this feeling. The sense of appreciation is not clearly expressed by these patients; it can be seen in their eyes, so a ‘no smile’ is no indication. The impact of this camp began to sink in when I approached the counseling station as a decision by a nurse will dictate which patients will receive free cataract surgeries. The main intent of this work is to provide as many villagers as possible with free cataract surgery. This impact was heightened when I asked the organizer to line up the patients who had been selected so far to stand in front of the bus. This was the mode of transportation that would take the patients to and from the hospital.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Getting to Anand

I have boarded three planes, been glued to different seats, sat next to unknown family members, but 26 hours later I stepped foot on foreign land. Even though this is my third trip to India, the mental and physical separation distances me from my family’s roots. My driver, who has been hired by the sponsoring organization, the Combat Blindness Foundation (CBF), flags me down with his right hand. I get comfortable in this white Chevy van for the 45-minute ride to Anand, my place of residence for one week. I quickly shower the dust off my body and get a quick snack or “nasta,” as they say in my language, with my two uncles and aunt.