Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Theme of the Day: Pretend You Understand, and then Maybe You Might

As we were told, Wyatt and I walked across the street to the clinic to be there are 6:30 am. There were already about a dozen people waiting outside for the doors to open. After maybe 10 minutes, the guard asked us what we were doing there and told us we could wait inside since we were volunteers.

Eventually someone let the patients in (the clinic does all sorts of medical stuff, not just optometry) but we still didn't know what was going on. Someone inside the clinic eventually introduced himself to us, but also said that someone (language barrier) was in the US and isn't back yet... Wait... what? We waited some more and then asked someone else about it, just as Dr. Flores came in around 7:15. The clinic director is in the US for a talk and will be back on Friday. Ooooh okay. Dr. Flores gave us a quick tour of the bottom floor, which is the eye clinic part, and while he did exams left us with a couple other clinic workers to help with visual acuity exams.

As some patients may not be completely literate, we used the above chart, and asked people "Cuál dirección se indique las patitas?" (Which direction do the legs go?) and some people would say up/down/left/right, while others would just point. I did VA exams in Philadelphia during my training so there was a slightly different system, but it's more or less the same and pretty interesting.

Once Dr. Flores finished his exams, I had volunteered to observe surgeries. For Unite For Sight's accounting, a volunteer must be present for and sign a form after every surgery that is furnished by UFS donations. The price of a cataracts surgery in Honduras (for all the materials used, there are a lot, I saw 11 cataracts surgeries today) is $34.29USD, which means that from the money I raised because of all YOU generous people (thank you thank you thank you!), that's about 50 people who go from being blind to being able to see. Pretty cool! Today there were 12 patients who had been brought by Javier from their town 4 hours away to get surgery in Tegus, for free!

Dr. Flores is really nice and funny, and before we went into the OR he asked me if I was going to faint. I don't consider myself a really squeamish person, and although TV surgery definitely grosses me out, clinical settings are kind of a different bag. I said probably not, but he said about 25% of volunteers do. Haha, great odds.

It turns out, I did almost faint. I watched the first two surgeries (one for cataracts and one for pterygium) no problem. During the pterygium surgery I was even congratulating myself silently on being okay with watching it and being fascinated instead of terrified. Oh, yeah, where's that girl who couldn't handle Nip/Tuck a few years ago now? I have so progressed, I thought. Pterygium surgery is even kind of bloody as far as eye surgery goes. However, the third one was rough for me. It was in no way different than the first surgery I saw... although I was standing closer and saw more details... and I was dehydrated... and whatever, I started feeling faint and went to sit down. The surgical aids in the room asked me if I was okay but I just said, "Sí, sí, solo necesito un momentito!" and stuck my head between my knees.

This was also the surgery that Dr. Flores decided to start show and tell. So he kept calling me over to look at the cataract he pulled out and the eye without the new lens and the post-op eye... dear lord. However, I pulled it back together, and watched the next 9 cataracts surgeries no problem, in fact, seeing more of what was happening and starting to learn about the process. In one patient whose cataracts had built up for 9 years, Dr. Flores extracted the cataract, which was about the size of an m&m split vertically and dark brown too (early cataracts are yellowish, then go amber, then brown, then dark brown), and handed it to me on a gauze pad. "For your dad," he said. "It's like an m&m."
"I will never eat an m&m again," I said. (Re: the dad comment, I told Dr. Flores that when I told my dad about the graphic details of eye health he told me to stop talking because it freaked him out.)

Think about it.

Horrifying eye fact of the day: Did you know cataracts can get up to 5.5 millimeters?! That's huge! Something that big can be in your EYE. Go to an eye doctor!

So it was a really interesting morning! Around 1pm he finished all the patients from the brigada (the trip out of the city) and it was lunch time. Actually, that was all Wyatt and I had to do today. The pre-trip materials say that the clinic is "calmer" in the afternoon, but don't really say what that entails. But by 1pm everyone had cleared out and had gone home or were doing administrative stuff. And Wyatt and I were let loose.

Thing about Tegus that I am realizing: not a tourist destination. By the time we figured out where the art museum was, it was 30 minutes to closing. Tourist resources are not rich for this part of Honduras; most of them focus on the beaches to the north and south. A former volunteer left behind a Honduras tour book which has been pretty helpful as I said in my previous post, but obviously not good for things that are happening right now. While in Philadelphia it might be easy to google a list of interesting events happening in the city, this is close to impossible in Honduras. I have been to so many dead-end websites. For like three hours we tried to figure out what we could do with all this TIME (other than watch The Simpsons dubbed in Spanish) before finding a restaurant not that far away that sounded good and was not expensive. So we rushed out the door so we could walk there before it got dark.

We went to Café la Milonga, which is an Argentinian restaurant with good reviews. And uh... it was. It was a very cool atmosphere too, plus the food was awesome. I love a good soup and I think I just had one of the best of my entire life. Tomorrow is looking up as far as activities go. We have figured out some museums to go to during our free time in the next 8 days, and it is helpful now that we know typical hours, and tomorrow there is a free music festival at a park contra la violencia. Sounds cool and safe!

There was a lot of confusion today. Fortunately, most of it ended in comedy and not anything else. We're actually still kind of confused by what is expected of us, but everything is an emerging design so... we definitely know more tonight than we did this morning. And tomorrow will get more pieces to the puzzle of being a volunteer. Probably. Maybe...



  1. Wow Liz, you are so cool!!!! Stay safe and conscious, and some fun too. We miss you at Caroling, but from the sounds of it you are having a much cooler adventure.

  2. I died when I got to the part where he dedicated the cataracts to your dad! Oh man, classic! Also, good for you for being so strong, my squeamish little angel!