May 26, 2010

First Time Volunteer

Blog submitted by Mr. John Brookes

Mr. Brookes is a volunteer ophthalmologist from the United Kingdom. This is Mr. Brookes first time volunteering with ORBIS.

Having just returned from my first ORBIS program in Dalian, China, I would like to thank the whole ORBIS team for making this an incredible personal and professional experience in my career to date.

I have been involved in several charities over the past 10 years; I try and spend at least 2 weeks each year doing some surgical work abroad and this has taken me to India, Palestine and Egypt on many occasions. Having received several invitations over the past two or three years to take part in an ORBIS program, in my specialty of pediatric glaucoma, I finally succumbed. Admittedly, because first of all, I’ve never visited China before but secondly, I have always been an airplane fanatic having obtained my private pilot’s license in 2004. I was obviously very excited therefore of combining my love of ophthalmology and my interest in all things airborne!

I was incredibly surprised however at the size of the city of Dalian when I eventually arrived. Having never heard of the city before, I expected something a little less enormous. The people were incredibly warm, generous and grateful for all that we were able to offer.

Dr Brookes outside the Flying Eye Hospital
I met my hands-on trainees on the screening day at the base hospital, He Eye Hospital. They were incredibly eager to learn with a constant stream of questions and never seemed bored with my endless lectures, videos and other teaching material.

Following the screening day, I spent the next two days at the base hospital with my hands-on trainees, carrying out glaucoma and cataract surgery on the patients we had identified on the screening day. I was however, extremely anxious to get onto the plane!

The fourth day arrived and I was at last going to board the iconic ORBIS Flying Eye Hospital at Dalian airport. From afar, I could see its majestic outline and the characteristic livery. Boarding the plane for the first time was a truly memorable experience. All my childhood dreams had come true. I sat in the captain’s seat and the maintenance engineer gave me a truly extensive tour of the plane, even going into the bowels of the plane beneath the cockpit and seeing the miles upon miles of electrical cables and wiring, which somehow get this plane in the air.

Setting my excitement aside I had to go into the operating theatre for my first experience of ‘live surgery’, broadcast to the 30 local doctors sitting next door in the lecture room. Fortunately, all went well with the surgery and I ended up quite enjoying myself.

The rest of the airplane was truly amazing; state of the art operating theatres, clinic space and audiovisual equipment we could only dream of at home! Overall, I had a wonderful experience as a medical volunteer and I would like to thank all the staff who organized these programs, which must require so much background work to have them running so smoothly.

Of course I would like to do another mission…..perhaps next time I could fly the plane?

Photo by Perry Athanason