The following post was submitted by Dr Habeeb Ahmad, who served as the Flying Eye Hospital Harbin program's associate ophthalmologist. Dr Ahmad is currently chief ophthalmology resident at SUNY Downstate Health Center at Brooklyn. This is his first trip with the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital.
As soon as I landed in Beijing, I recalled the awe that I had felt for China during the weeks earlier when watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics. When I arrived in Harbin, China my eyes were opened to why I was there. Here, I am in a remote corner of the world in China, here to help an indigent population in need of eye care. My first encounter with the individual members of ORBIS was quite interesting. Here I thought, were people of all different backgrounds, cultures, religions and language with a common passion for saving sight worldwide. On Monday, I witnessed firsthand this passion during the screening for oculoplastics, glaucoma and medical retina clinics at the number two affiliated Hospital at Harbin Medical University.
On a beautiful sunny morning, all of the members of the ORBIS team packed a bus and set out for the local Harbin hospital. On our way, the thought that I was thousands of miles away from home in an exotic remote place hit me. Typical images of what I thought of China emerged along our bus route including a fine array of local vendors, scenic views and beautiful architecture. I did not know what to expect at the local Harbin hospital, but I was impressed when seeing the exquisitely clean tiles, signs in English and Mandarin and organization of the hospital. My first glimpse of the eye clinic reminded me of the role of cultural and scientific exchange in international ophthalmology. Images of a sprawling line of patients - young and old, men and women - were a strong reminder of the need for eye care. All were no doubt very hard working people from Harbin and its surrounding areas.
As we entered, we all felt the anticipation of our great responsibility ahead of us by the hopeful stares of the patients. One mother of a child with an eye condition cheered and yelled loudly at the promise of help for her child. Witnessing the multitude of patients, my first thought was how can we treat so many people with so few doctors and so little time? But in a blink of an eye, all that changed when I witnessed first-hand how calm, cool, and collected the ORBIS personnel were in setting up their clinics. All of a sudden, like a wave of positive energy, everything just fell in place like pieces of a giant puzzle. What was quite impressive was seeing all three volunteer faculty going through each patient, managing diseases that are scarcely studied in the U.S. with ease and precise diagnosis.
My second day was just as inspiring. My first glimpse of the hospital was nothing of what I expected. It seemed all too surreal being next to this great Flying Eye Hospital that has saved the sight of thousands of people worldwide and has educated thousands of doctors worldwide. As I entered the hospital, I was amazed by how intricate each part of the hospital was. I could not help but think how much energy, money, and devoted persons were needed to keep it running smoothly each and every day. Being able to interact with the physicians from Harbin hospital, getting involved in giving lectures, helping patients and observing surgery was a dream come true for me as an ophthalmologist. I felt a sense of accomplishment that I have only felt very few times. To be part of something bigger than I am, is a great feeling. One that I will cherish for the rest of my life. It was a great first two days.