Blog submitted by Dr Grace Prakalapakorn. Grace has been an ORBIS staff ophthalmologist onboard the Flying Eye Hospital for the past year.
Hello and Welcome aboard ORBIS!. Please find your seats, ensure your seat backs are in the upright position, tray tables are stored and your seat belts are fastened. Sit back, relax and enjoy the flight!
A year in the life of a staff ophthalmologist aboard the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital was a busy one. There was always a lot of work to do and never a dull moment. When we were in plane mode, the days began early, often ended late and we would sometimes work for three straight weeks without a day off! Even when we had a “day off,” we would on occasion hold vision screenings or community outreach projects in schools or within a community. Off the plane, the work did not end. I conducted clinical reviews of surgical patients, helped with hospital based programs, evaluated local eye centers and hospitals and worked on program planning for upcoming programs.
This year, I wore many hats alongside that of a staff ophthalmologist, including but not limited to a biomedical engineering assistant, ER doctor, tour guide, plane custodian, circulating OR nurse, community outreach volunteer, patient advocate, Cyber Sight® contributing author, character in a documentary, educator, student, goodwill ambassador, and even flight attendant (would you like some cream and sugar with your coffee?)!! ORBIS offers opportunities not only to the patients and doctors that participate in its programs, but also to its staff: how many people can say they’ve been to Nigeria 4 times in 8 months?! :)
Being a part of the Flying Eye Hospital was a very unique and rewarding experience. The most memorable part of the year was the people: the patients and their families, host doctors, crew members and our fabulous volunteers. One of the most memorable moments of my year was hearing the cries and tears of an elderly lady as her patch was removed the day after cataract surgery. She had been living with bilateral cataracts for many years and had become dependent on those around her due to her poor vision. Another is watching a young infant take those first few steps and walk around by herself after cataract surgery, whereas before surgery she was too timid to leave her mother’s arms because of her severe visual impairment. These are not uncommon stories you will hear around the world and to reflect about the difference we made in their lives and those of their families and communities by making them more independent and less of a burden on the resources of those around them. It always brings a smile to my face knowing that I was a part of that. But the work we do goes beyond these two individuals, we work to build capacity and enable and empower the local community, doctors, nurses, engineers, and technicians to care for those around them and hopefully teach others.
Thank you ORBIS for the work you do and for a wonderful year!!
Photos by Perry Athanason