Blog Submitted by Alexandra Stripp
Alexandra Stripp is a student at ACS International School, Hillingdon. Since 2000, American Community School (ACS) has partnered ORBIS to promote international education and global citizenship among its students. Every year, high achieving students go through a rigorous selection process for three internships during one week on board the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital.
In April 2012, I was lucky enough to be able to follow the work of the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital in Da Nang, Vietnam for a week, together with three other students from ACS International Schools and the Westminster Academy, and I can say without doubt that for me it was a life changing experience.
The work of ORBIS fascinates me on many levels. First of all as a human being, wanting to make a difference in the world - it was amazing to be a part of a team that each year changes thousands of lives. Secondly, as I am planning to study medicine, the actual work ORBIS carries out fascinates me on a medical level. And finally the way passionate specialists come together in a team, sharing their knowledge and engaging others while changing the life of people in great need is an amazing experience to be a part of.
Monday morning was the screening day, the day where pre-selected patients come to the local eye hospital to be examined. This is a very busy and tiring day, many patients come and leave, and as the Medical Director of the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital told me, the day is “controlled chaos”.
Each patient was put into one of three groups, depending what treatment was needed. The three categories were cataract, oculoplastics and surgical retina, with one ORBIS Volunteer Faculty member in charge of each. Each patient’s situation was individually evaluated, and about 20 from each category were chosen to have a surgery by ORBIS Volunteer Faculty and local hands-on trainees.
I was following Dr. Kutzscher’s work that day. He is specialized in cataract and had come all the way from the U.S. to volunteer for ORBIS. This is also one of the things that made ORBIS such a great experience, all the staff, everyone is so committed and it was so amazing to observe them striving for what they believe and work for. This was also shown in Dr. Kutzcher’s way of very explaining to us what he would be doing and looking for while examining each patient.
The next three days were again hard work for the doctors, nurses and the rest of the team, as the selected patients would be treated. One doctor would be located at the local eye hospital and the two others would carry out surgeries on the ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital.
The days on the plane were very exciting. I was able to scrub-in at (assist at) a surgery, which made me understand much better how it all works. I saw the importance of the many people involved both before, during and after a surgery. When not scrubbing in, one can follow the live streaming of the surgeries with a doctor explaining every move on a screen in the Flying Eye Hospital classroom.
This was so helpful and fascinating at the same time, as it was much easier to understand what was going on when both actually seeing it, but also having it explained. In the ORBIS classroom at the front of the plane, local trainees were following and learning from an ORBIS Volunteer Faculty member, and in-between each surgery other classes or lectures were held. Quickly, without knowing much about ophthalmology, one felt engaged by the passion of the doctors, showing different cases they had performed themselves in their home-country and then explaining the differences.
The aircraft also carries a simulator, used by trainees, which we were allowed to try. This was very hard, but enjoyable at the same time, giving insight about how much training and perfection the doctors need during the surgeries, where 0.5mm can make a huge difference.
The emotional moments of this experience will probably stay with me the longest, if not forever. I especially remember standing looking into the operation room as a surgery just finished. As soon the translator, told the patient that everything went well, she took the doctor’s hand, kissed it and said ‘thank you very much’ while a tear dropped from her eye. At this point, I think I realized how big a difference ORBIS makes to these people.
I feel so privileged that I got the chance of following ORBIS in, Da Nang, Vietnam. For me, the trip was an unforgettable experience. Following the work of the entire ORBIS team, feeling the passion about each person’s profession and their experiences with ORBIS, seeing patients entering the plane with bad vision, and leaving the plane the same day, with improved vision, which, for most of the patients would not be a possibility without ORBIS.
I will never forget this trip and I am so thankful to ORBIS for giving me this opportunity.