The best item on the breakfast buffet these days is beans on toast and that has become my morning staple at the Tea Tree Hotel. It’s not as bad as it sounds as I loved it when camping and it tends to hold me through the long days working at the clinic.
After breakfast we start a two hour journey to the remote location of the clinics to be held in this area. The group splits up again today . . . some to the opening of the girls dorms at Ndenai Small Home for the Physically Challenged, sponsored by Laebon Homes and the Bontje family of Red Deer. They will also conduct a medical clinic there afterwards. We carried on to the clinic we’ve been assigned to, at Kaplambloi Medical facility which is 5 km further up the road. The first hour is on good paved roads and the last hour is on one of the worst roads we have ever been on so far.
We’ve been told that if it starts raining heavily while we’re there, we need to be prepared to pack up and leave within 10 minutes or we might not get back out for days.
There are around 35 people working on the medical team including doctors, nurses, paediatrician, pharmacist, radiologist, dentist, ophthalmologist, physiotherapist, and lay people. Nellie and I will be working with the ophthalmologist, Dr Jamie Bhamra who specializes in cornea work in Calgary, and his wife Lisa, a nurse specializing in tissue repairs and wound healing.
We’re a team of six . . . Jamie, Lisa, Lane Tomalty of Red Deer who will help Lisa with gathering the patient info and conducting the initial vision tests, Lane’s father Neil who will be in charge of the door and crowd control, Nellie and I who will fit and dispense glasses as ordered by Jamie. We have brought with us from Canada around 700 pairs of donated glasses, both readers and for distance; as well as a large number of sunglasses which will go to anyone who needs or wants them.
As we arrived we saw a large crowd of people to greet us. It was a little overwhelming, to say the least.
They’re all waiting for various services and each team gets started at setting up their assigned rooms. A very important part of the whole operation is the security people who help to keep order and prevent people from jumping the queue in front of others.
After we set up we began seeing patients at about 10am and we worked straight thru to 5:30pm taking only an 8 minute break for lunch . . . such as it was. Since our days are long and the journey to and from the clinics makes it impossible to come back for lunch it has been pre-arranged that the hotels provided us with a boxed lunch. We have become accustomed to eating primarily two meals a day because these box lunches are basically inedible. We often get a juice box with no straw, half a cheese sandwich (sometimes with no cheese), half a carrot, yoghurt with no spoon and obviously unrefrigerated . . . so we try to find something else in our backpacks or go without. . . we share the boxes with the locals . . . they love them (anything for free, I think).
Many of our patients require only drops for allergies, or for dry, itchy eyes and almost all of them need sunglasses. The older they are, the more need for reading glasses just like at home. Some referrals to local doctors are need as Jamie sees a number of patients requiring cataract surgery. We’ve been told that the surgery costs about $100 here and can sometimes be paid for by grants. It seems doubtful however, that all of them will follow thru . . . they have no means of travel other than walking and no money. The sad part of our day were those who have suffered eye injuries or previous botched surgery as these are people who cannot be helped further. We treated over 200 patients the first day.
There were some very pleasant surprises. One lady in her 70’s needed help with seeing distances and when we put her new glasses on she started laughing and jumped about as high as anyone of her age could. The glasses helped her seeing many things she had not seen since she was a younger woman. She gave us a great big smile and was still laughing when she left.
We also fitted a 12 year old girl with new specs . . . we had to try several pairs before we got it right but now she will be able to see the blackboard.
The schools we’ve seen so far feature dirt floors and very small windows so there is only small amounts of natural light entering these dark and dingy rooms. Hers is no doubt the same.
In order to return to the hotel before dark we were told we should leave by 3pm. We worked later then we should have but there were so many more patients to see that we couldn’t just walk away. We finished up at 5:30 and it took us until 8pm to arrive back at the Tea Tree Hotel. The challenge with driving here is not only the unpaved roads but the large number of cows, sheep and goats that graze at the side of the road. As well, many people here walk everywhere and often when you pass them they are closer to the vehicles than safety should allow. Along the unpaved part of our drive we saw many walkers with dark clothing and no light source . . . how they find their way escapes me.
We got back to the hotel and straight into our evening meeting. Everyone has a chance to discuss their day, discuss any problems, talk about their successes and learn about tomorrow’s schedule. This was followed by the buffet surprise which at this particular hotel often forced us to eat only rice or potatoes with a few vegetables.