Wednesday, 20th April
We had organised to meet Siew Yian and the other volunteers at Changi Airport at 9 am. Here is a group photo we took before checking in at the airport.
Our flight to Surabaya was at 10:50 am and we arrived at Surabaya airport at 12:10 pm local time.
After we had arrived and had completed immigration we travelled to our Guest house stopping of at a restaurant first. We met up with some of the core team from A New Vision. After our meal we travelled to the guest house together.
We arrived at the guest house after a two hour drive. Initially we were assigned a room with two single beds but we swapped our room to one with a double bed. After putting our belongings in the room we went to visit the lock up so we could organise supplies for the next day. We opened up boxes and sorted them into different piles, pre-op, surgery and post-op. Some of the medicine had different expiry dates so we organised them so we use the medicine that will expiry soonest first.
We had our evening meal at the guest house.
Making Eye Patches
After our evening meal we started making eye patches from gauze. It took a really long time, in total we made about 700 eye patches. While we were making eye patches Effi explained how to do the visual acuity test. This test is carried out on all patients both pre op and post op so we can access the effect of the cataract surgery. In some cases it would not be useful to do surgery either because they do not need cataract surgery, just glasses or because the condition of the eye has deteriorated to such an extent we can not help them.
Thursday, 21st April – first full day
In the morning we went to the Army camp. The army helped A New Vision by providing transport from local villages to the army camp where we can do our screening. Patients who are suitable for cataract surgery can make their way to the hospital later.
The Visual Acuity Test
The Visual Acuity Test is used to assess how well the patient can see. The volunteer starts by pointing to a number or letter on the top row of the chart and asking the patient to read the symbol, local translators stand next to patient to hear their answers. The translator lets the volunteer know if the patient got the right answer. If they did we go to the next row and continue down until we reach the bottom row which means 20/20 vision or the patient gives the wrong answer.
If the patient is unable to give the correct answer for the top row the volunteer advances one metre and holds up their fingers (changing the number of fingers held up each time they advance). If, after advancing to 1 metre of the patient they are still unable to answer correctly the volunteer slowly waves their hand in front of the eye being tested. If the patient is unable to see any hand movement a light is shone into their eye to see if they can detect it. If not we record a value of NPL (Non perception of light which means the nerve is dead and there is nothing we can do to restore their sight). Both eyes are tested and the result is recorded on a card, each patient has their own card which they carry with them at all times.
When we arrived a large number of people were already waiting in the main hall. My observation was that patients were well behaved and there was no unruly behaviour other than some queue jumping.
We had lunch at the Army Camp. Xie was not feeling well and returned to the guest house with Grace. They both came back later in the day.
Arriving at the Hospital
In the afternoon, once we had completed screening at the army camp, we went to Hospital Ploso. This is where we would do the cataract surgery, for the rest of the Eye Camp we worked at Hospital Ploso.
I was assigned the task of giving patients eye drops before they went into surgery. Two different eye drops are given, one in the eye that will be operated on and the other in both eyes. Some of the patients were confused by this and kept pointing to the eye that was to be operated on when I put an eye drop in their other eye. The eye drops are antibiotics to kill any bacteria and anti-inflammatory, they are administered to patients before they receive a local anaesthetic.
Friday, 22nd April
On the second full day we went straight to the hospital and I helped assess the visual acuity of the patients. It take a while as they were many people queuing up. It was a bit chaotic to begin with but we had security staff and translators available and the patients were well behaved.
Post op visual acuity tests
In the afternoon I helped with post op VATs. These are patients who have had cataract surgery the previous day. Their eye cap (or eye caps if they had an operation on both eyes) were removed and we assessed if their eye sight had improved. Same patients had a remarkable improvement, going from hand movement (only able to detect a hand moving directly in front of them) to 20/20 vision!
For a few patients there was no immediate improvement. Sometimes it can take a couple of days to a couple of weeks for their vision to return.
Afterwards I was in the stockroom and Effi came along and remarked what a mess it was. We started to organise the medicines and medical equipment a little better to make it easier to find stuff. We had some limited success.
Post op bags
In the afternoon I helped pack the post op bags. The bags contain gauze, eye drops, tape and instructions on how to use the items.
Saturday, 23rd April – last full day
In the morning on our last full day at the Eye Camp I helped with face painting. This is where the eye lid and the surrounding area is swabbed with Iodine to disinfect the area. During surgery we don’t not want any bacteria to enter the eye.
I also had time between face painting to help administer eye drops to the patients waiting outside. The eye drops help reduce inflammation. We also administer antibiotics to the patients before they receive a local aesthetic.
I managed to grab some lunch before starting on post op visual acuity tests in the afternoon. A new batch of volunteers had arrived and we were reassigned.
All the patient data needs to be entered into an application for future reference. This include name, contact info, date or birth, occupation, address, visual acuity results and the doctor who operated on them. Data entry allows us to track the number of patients operated on and the improvement in their eye sight. Useful information both for A New Vision and any funding organisation, it helps to have a proven track record.
Sunday, 24th April – travelling back to Singapore
In the morning after leaving the guest house for the last time we travelled to the hospital to pick up a patient who was also going to the airport. Took some more photos at the airport and then got on our flight back to Singapore. Our flight was mid day and we arrived back in Singapore around 4 pm.
First of all I want to thank Effi for inviting me to the Eye Camp. It was hard work but totally worth it. Effi worked tirelessly through out. None of this would have been possible without her hard work and dedication.
I would also like to thank the doctors, anaesthetists, translators, other volunteers and every one else who helped to make this eye camp so successful.
The total number of patients who had cataract surgery was 691!
Random thoughts in no particular order
Not suitable for people who like to be micro managed
Communication is a problem – people were speaking at least the following languages: English, Malay, Bahasa, Javanese, Chinese, Nepalese (probably other languages as well)
Be flexible and go with the flow
Very hot and humid. Bring breathable clothing otherwise you will be covered in sweat all day long.
Guest house was nice. Had a double bed.
Food and water were available at the Eye camp.
Patients were well behaved.
Chance to take photos between duties.
Opportunity to do many different roles
No set time to eat, grab food or snacks as time permits.
Most volunteers were single, there was one couple (myself and my wife Jacqui)
Age varied from 20s to 40s.
Most volunteers were Singaporean Chinese
If there is any other questions you would like ask about volunteering please leave a comment below. I will answer your questions as best as I can.