Day 3: By Jenny Yu, MD
It is so easy to become caught up in the daily monotony of life. The comfort of our jobs, family and environment is a place of safety. We have spent 3 days in an environment foreign in every way: language, culture and routines. Although we left our comfort zones and traveled to an unfamiliar place to provide care, what is familiar is universal.
Hundreds of people, old and young, turned out for our medical camp each day. Some have never received any vision exams in their lifetime. Others have had glasses that are more than 5 years old, drops that have ran out, vision that is not functional. We encountered close to 900 patients in the 3.5 days of our medical camp. Some are stories that are difficult to forget: moms with children looking for solutions, children with refractive amblyopia, elders who suffered from vision loss only because they needed glasses to see and more.
Jenny Yu, MD, with patients.
Source: Project Theia
By the third day, we had already seen close to 600 patients and performed several surgeries, but the number of people showing up did not diminish. This day felt particularly challenging because we have started to run out of the supplies that we brought, not knowing the turnout would be of this size. At some point during the day, we needed adapters and chargers for our portable equipment. A couple of the volunteers from the Rotaract Club took us all around the hospital hoping to find a matching adapter. They even made phone calls to others hoping something would work. I was amazed at the enthusiasm of all of the volunteers. It never wavered despite the crowds. We had an efficient operation in place in terms of screening patients who we can help, patients who needed to be referred on or patients who needed surgeries. We ran out of the limited pairs of glasses that we brought and purchased 75 pairs of readers to help some of the patients. While we kept a list of patients who needed referral, we quickly realized that it would be impossible for some of the patients to have the proper follow-up. The minimum wage take-home salary is the equivalent of $150 a month, while an eye exam can cost $35.
The lack of providers and resources was evident throughout our time spent in the region. As part of our mission for education and innovations, we realize that in order to develop meaningful impact for a community, our last 3 days is just the tip of the iceberg.