January 25, 2014
It is 2:50 AM and I am at 36,000 feet with an airspeed of 581 miles per hour. The Captain says there are strong winds and my thoughts drift to the beloved character of Mary Poppins. And like her, I too am being carried to a place desperately in need of organization, discipline and love, though I am not headed to 22 Cherry Tree Lane. My east wind is blowing me to Ghana.
What is it that inspires philanthropy?
What life experiences propel one’s desire to create a greater global good? I think about these questions as I stare out the window into the darkness, for here I am embarking on another Right To Sight medical mission.
Mary Poppins used a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. If only it were that easy! The recipe fashioned for our medical outreach was quite a bit more involved and in need of many ingredients. In the end, however, it went sweetly down as if it too were sugar coated.
Recipe For A Right to Sight Outreach
2 cups enthusiasm
2 cups determination
1 cup commitment
large handful perseverance
1 bunch motivation
pinch of frustration
2 heaping tablespoons humility
diligence to taste
sprinkle with patience as needed
Mix together enthusiasm and determination. Add in commitment. In separate bowl, beat together a large handful of perseverance and bunch of motivation. Blend into first mixture. Season with patience as needed and simmer with diligence. Add in a pinch of frustration and 2 tablespoons humility. Cover with cloth to keep out dust and mosquitoes. Let mixture bake under the hot Ghana sun.
Serve with education, good intentions, and friendship.
Should keep fresh for one year without refrigeration.
Each of the above ingredients were necessary to make the outreach a success and yet none could stand alone, for it was the sum of all the parts that created the real magic.
Dr. Judith Simon led our team through her hard work, dedication and commitment. She attempted for months to pull together resources, contacts and organizations as she laid the ground work for outreach approval in the Northern region. It was a daunting task to piece the mission together and coordinate the decisions from the many personalities needed for our approval…..Village Chiefs, hospital administrators, medical directors, district mayors, Tamale Teaching Hospital staff officials, Swiss Red Cross, Ghana Red Cross, interns, students, nurses, and friends. Long hours, inconveniences, misinformation, and bureaucratic run-around continually plagued her good intentions. I felt her upbeat attitude beginning to waiver and her faith in accomplishing this mission wearing thin. With no clear answers, I flew to Ghana determined to keep pushing and working towards the outreach approval.
There is an old saying…”sticks in a bundle don’t break”. I would add my fresh perspective and “energico” which I concluded were critically needed. Judith had confided in me that if an outreach were to happen, we probably wouldn’t know until most likely the day before. I may be mistaken, but I sensed the “powers that be” just got tired of us asking and pushing, surprised we had not given up (does a Jersey Girl ever give up??). Then true to her prediction, we received our “go ahead” on a Wednesday night. Within minutes, she contacted a new intern optometrist, Dr. Collins, and extended the invitation to join our outreach. He agreed with enthusiasm and was sent out to the rural community of Zabzugu and Tatale to begin prescreening some 24 hours later. Mr. Razak of the Swiss Red Cross helped coordinate transportation of patients, and Mr. Alidu arranged the meeting with the village Chief at his palace (Kola nuts the traditional gift and a must for formal introductions).
Our team functioned with mutual respect for each other, creating a deep sense of camaraderie. With the help of the Tamale Teaching Hospital eye nurses, Lucianus, Imaculate, and Momed, we packed and loaded supplies from the clinic, hospital operating room, as well as including packing personal and donated supplies. We then traveled some 3 hours to the rural community of Zabzugu. There in the district hospital we unpacked and organized our pre op, post op, and operating room supplies…. gloves, drapes, dilating drops, steroidal drops, instrument sets, blades, microscopes, intraocular lenses, IV fluids, cannulas, syringes, needles, sutures, antibiotics, q-tips, gauze, tape, sanitizer, cautery, basins, autoclave, eye charts, scanners, ophthalmoscopes, flashlights, antiseptic, alcohol, water, and don’t forget the duct tape! The hospital seemed much like a ghost town, with many empty rooms and wards. Though a fine looking facility (though it could have used running water) there are few to no doctors to fill this place (2 ophthalmologists for 2.5 million people in Northern Region). The setting provided the perfect conditions for me to educate the Ghanaese healthcare workers. Sterile technique, infection control, patient processing, skills that enhance the safe delivery of care, and finally compassion…an often overlooked virtue necessary when taking care of the elderly.
It was an awesome outreach with a great learning curve. We accomplished so much in a short amount of time even though frustration and politics clung to our actions. District’s medical directors refused to send prescreened patients to our location because they wanted the notoriety in their own village’s hospital. I must mention it was the owner of the A.B.M. Hotel we stayed at who aided our fledgling efforts by providing a vehicle to help transport those patients stranded in the outlying villages. We did 10’s of surgeries instead of 100’s, yet I am not disappointed.
There is another old saying…”to save one life is to save the world”. It is a miracle to restore someone’s sight and be part of that process. I will never be able to put into words the look of joy you see flood in someone’s eyes the day after surgery when their eye patch is removed. I will never be able to explain the feeling of humility when someone bows to you or kneels at your feet or kisses your hand with pure unadulterated gratitude. I only know that at the exact moment when our eyes meet, we both see something wonderful…for it is not necessarily sight we have, but insight. When you can see past color, race, religion, or culture…when everything disappears from sight except one human helping another, what you are left with is the best vision of all.
Eventually the winds changed and a west wind carried me back home again to New Jersey where I find myself dreaming of another Right To Sight outreach. I wish to personally express my deepest thanks to the 2014 Ghana team. One at a time we really are changing the way the world sees.
Beth Weston Knotts, R.N.