A PECF (People Eye Care Foundation) team of ophthalmic surgeons (usually headed by Dr. Somsran Watanachote but who was unfortunately ill in hospital) together with nurses, porters and general assistants (the latter included my cousin Sharon Skovron and myself - Gale Bailey, Committee Member, BCTFN) arrived in Mae Ai, Chiang Mai Province on the evening on 19 April 2008 in readiness for their twice yearly visit. Mae Ai Hospital covers a wide surrounding area, including many isolated hill tribes.
Immediately after breakfast the next morning, work began with two of the doctors carrying out cataract operations on people who had been checked and evaluated on a previous visit and the other doctor started to check the hundreds of awaiting patients. In fact, Dr. Tick (Tipapan Sang-On) screened almost 400 people before going into theatre to operate for the last couple of hours and together with Dr. Man (Mantanee Pairachvet) and Dr. Nid (Naraporn Taechamaneesatit), 39 cataract operations were performed on the first day.
The second day began with those patients who had been operated on the previous day being checked and having their eyes cleaned with more antibiotic drops being applied. The doctors then began their almost ‘conveyor belt’ system of operating on the remainder whose cataracts needed urgent attention. It is non-stop for the whole team and only breaks for meals interrupt the flow.
As Songkran had only just passed, the hospital staff arranged for a special Northern style kantoke dinner preceded by a mini ‘Sawasdee Pi Mai’ celebration which resulted in many of us getting wet, as I predicted! It was great fun and singing plus a karaoke ensued but it was so good for them all to relax after a gruelling two days.
The third day was the final round up of checks on those operated on the previous day and the day before. When all had been examined, cleaned and re-bandaged, a group photo was taken and then speeches in Thai were made by two patients and whilst we did not understand a word, the gratitude they felt was easily understood. A short prayer was chanted and the patients presented the ‘team’ with roses which brought forth tears flowing from me and Sharon. It is so humbling to see the transition this operation can make in the lives of such poor people, giving them quality with the ability to see again.
Since early morning, the team had been packing away the equipment on to the coach in readiness for the long journey back to Bangkok so more farewells and hugs were made. The PECF travel the length and breadth of Thailand every month, bringing light into the families of those afflicted with cataracts thus ensuring a better quality of life for so many. We were honoured to be considered ‘one of the team’.
N.B. BCTFN have been supporting PECF for almost ten years with donations towards the purchase of necessary lenses which enable the cataract victims to see and lead a useful life again after an operation. Often the elderly take care of the younger members of the family whilst parents work and having a sight impaired parent means an added burden to the family, giving them sight is a wonderful gift.