Saturday, May 25, 2013

One Final Patient

GOS - May 25 - One Final Patient

Our mission finished in Lower Mustang, we're up at 5 a.m.  for the flight from Jomsom back to Pokhara. Conveniently, the Hotel Marco Polo is located across the street from the Jomsom airport. In fact, the entire town lines the runway.

There are solitary cows and donkeys walking down the street, two dogs are sleeping on the side of the road, and a group of devout Buddhists are celebrating the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha. Burning juniper fills the air, as prayer flags flutter in the cool breeze, each flag "activated" on the spot by a Buddhist priest chanting prayers.

Our 19-passenger Twin Otter appears from out of the wind, makes an impossibly sharp left banking turn and roars onto the tarmac.

We're thrilled to see the plane arrive because it means we'll now get our day back and not have to endure seven hours in a Toyota being Maytagged over the boulder-strewn road to Pokhara.

Scott Hamilton and I are belted into a bench seat in the second row taking photos out the window of both Annapurna and Dhaulagiri as we fly well below their peaks through a mountain pass.

We enjoy a ringside seat just behind the open cockpit, pleased to see they have a GPS, altimeter, and other modern avionics. The co-pilot is even wearing driving gloves, which I take as a good sign.

I smile when a Nepali member of our team taps the pilot on the shoulder and asks to take a scenic photo over his shoulder. You gotta love flying in Nepal. Try that on the Boston Shuttle and you get hauled away.
This is flying as it used to be, just a step above barnstorming. As the pilot and co-pilot make banking turns and steeply dive into Pokhara Airport as if on a giant slide, I'm thinking how much these guys are really flying. Apparently, in the Himalayas,  an autopilot is for wimps.

We arrive in Pokhara to steamy, jungle-like conditions, a departure from the cool alpine weather we enjoyed at each eye camp.

Later that afternoon, adventure  filmmaker Daniel Byers of Skyship Films wraps up a week-long documentary shoot with one-on-one interviews with our Operation Restore Vision doctors.

Nothing fazes Daniel; the guy can sleep on a pile of rocks. I call him the hardest working man in show business and look forward to the follow-up documentary to his 2012 film, "Visions of Mustang."

We're out of the hot city, up in the hills at the breathtaking  Pema Ts'al Sakya Monastery, home of the 16 monks who were the true workhorses of the Gift of Sight project.

A group of brown monkeys show up during the filming. We learn they often break into the monks' rooms and wreck havoc, especially if they see their reflection and think they're looking at a rival monkey.

Although our field eye camps have completed their mission, and we're back in the city, the project continues with a follow-up examination of a 10-year-old child in Pokhara who suffered traumatic injury to the eye at age two. Now the child's eye can only perceive hand motion. Sanjay Kedhar, M.D., the Operation Restore Vision doctor, tells the father that the potential exists for the child to have improved sight after further testing, better refraction, and possibly future surgery.

Close-up images are taken with an iPhone attachment to use for consultation with pediatric ophthalmologists back in New York.

The Gift of Sight doctors leave Sunday, but if they can examine one more patient before departure, they're thrilled to do so.

- Jeff Blumenfeld

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