A smile came upon my face each morning as I approached the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital during the latter days of the Harbin, China program. Each morning I thought - how many ophthalmologists get a chance to participate in this great program and help transform eye care in poor regions? I can only be thankful to witness firsthand the joy of patients and their families after getting care from ORBIS. During these days, I assisted the volunteer faculty consisting of Dr. Rosalind Stevens, Dr. Sandra Johnson and Dr. Timothy McCulley.
They all did a phenomenal job with the tremendous support of the staff ophthalmologists, anesthesiologists, nurses and personnel. While one of these volunteer faculty was in the operating room, another faculty would be giving a lecture to an enthusiastic and attentive group of local doctors, while yet another volunteer faculty would also be doing laser surgery. Overall, the faculty performed critical operations, ocular injections, lasers and post-op checks during these days. It was an enormous opportunity for me, since I was able to volunteer my help as well, whether it was giving a lecture or assisting with lasers or performing retinoscopy. Moreover, I was able to learn an immense amount during my interaction with all of the faculty and staff.
All of my experiences with the patients that we had done surgery and laser remain vivid in my mind. I particularly remember a face of a young girl. The girl had undergone glaucoma surgery and had looked great post-operatively the next day. I was asked to escort the girl and her parent back off the Flying Eye Hospital and back to land. The amount of gratitude, hope and joy on the face of the mother was unforgettable. I thought to myself, how universal medical care is and that the eye care we were giving transcended language, beliefs and culture. I did not need a translator to understand how much of an emotionally gratifying and life changing experience this was for these families.
The final day of the program was the symposium. It was during this symposium that I felt how much the local hospital and community had valued ORBIS. Officials from the city and hospital welcomed us as if we were presidents of nations. The ceremony was filled with ceremonial speeches, laughs and tears of joy. During the ceremony everyone on the ORBIS team received flowers in a display of coordinated gratitude given by the patients themselves. It was about this time that I started seeing the big picture of ORBIS. ORBIS differs from other volunteer organizations in some ways. The biggest difference in my view is that they not only have international faculty perform surgery which is an immediate fix, but they teach the local doctors to develop a self efficiency which will lead to a profound and lasting impact. This concept is embodied by the proverb - if you give a person a fish, they will eat for one day, but if you teach a person how to fish, they eat for a lifetime. This was essential, particularly in China where 70-80% of eye doctors practice in urban centers, yet 70-80% of the 6.6 million that are blind in China live in rural areas.
Overall, this trip deeply influenced me in a manner that has sparked a passion to volunteer for years to come. This amalgam of experiences has allowed me to learn a great amount about Chinese culture, humanity, international ophthalmology and even about myself. I was able to make friends, which I hope to keep for life, with members of the ORBIS staff and also with the local eye doctors in Harbin, China. I now realize that ORBIS is not just a collection of health care professionals, not just an idea, not just a Flying Eye Hospital. It is a symbol of hope to combat blindness in all of the world. I’m glad I was able to have an incredible opportunity to participate in this humanitarian endeavor - to save sight worldwide - known as ORBIS.