Friday, May 24, 2013

GOS - May 24 - The Reveal

Back to the Marpha Public Hall Friday morning and a reunion with the GOS patients who remained overnight under the care of the monks.

Our patients showed, well, great patience, as each sat wearing eye bandages while we took photos and video for our sponsors, without whom none of this would have happened.

Then it was time for the "reveal". Fourteen patients sit in a semi-circle on hard red plastic chairs as ophthalmologists from the Himalayan Eye Hospital and New York Eye and Ear, one by one, remove the bandages, then check each eye with a portable slit lamp.

Nepalis are stoic people. They looked stunned as if realizing for the first time what just happened. They've been through much these past 24 hours.

Soon they begin to loosen up. Smiles break out as they look around and blink for a now clear view of the stark, pink-walled assembly hall and fields of wheat and apple trees outside.

Through a translator, a 50-year-old Buddhist nun named Dhawa Sanymo Gurung explains that her life at Muktinah, the nearby World Heritage site, was difficult with only one good eye. Her other eye was clouded by a mature cataract, reducing vision to just six meters.

She came to the Dooley Intermed eye camp by public bus, then on the back of a motorcycle the last 30 minutes from Jomsom, driven by her younger brother.

When asked how she's faring, I get a thumbs up and a hearty "ramro cha," which one of the Tibetan monks translates as "it's very good." Her smile reaches from here to India.

"There were no surgical complications," said expedition leader and certified ophthalmic assistant Scott Hamilton, 59.

"Every patient had their sight restored and we're very, very happy.

"I am also very pleased with the professionalism and extraordinary dedication of the entire team," Hamilton adds.

Eye drops and sunglasses are handed out, and soup is served in steel bowls - a ground wheat, flour and salt mix that our own Gift of Sight cooks have served us. 

The visual acuity tests and refraction continue for additional villagers. One man, who is illiterate, walks in and is asked to read a card with symbols, not letters  - a circle, a square, an apple. More grins ensue as a simple $1.50 pair of readers will now allow him to do close-up work. He walks away wearing them. A monk runs after him to explain the "magic glasses" are only for near vision, not far.

While eyecare is our main mission, we're doing what we can for other ailments while
we're here. Just arriving is a 44-year-old Tibetan refugee from the nearby Tserog camp. James Conole, 28, our foundation doctor and oncologist from Leeds, UK, learns the man was told he needed colon surgery but can't afford the 30,000 rupees (about $345).

Conole is concerned: "Without surgery, this man will die."

Scott and other others take up a pool and offer to pay if the monks working with us from the Pema Ts'al Sakya Monastery can transport the refugee to the nearest hospital.

Later in the day the team was honored at a community celebration presided by village elders. Ceremonial white silk scarves - "katas" - were presented to the doctors and monks. They wished us all long life, good health and prosperity.

By the afternoon we were off to Jomsom for the flight to Pokhara tomorrow and the beginning of our long trip home.

- Jeff Blumenfeld

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