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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Seeing Eye-to-eye

Submitted By Jonathan Porter
As promised to the people in our 'alpha village', Battorkope, we took an eye specialist to the village today. Temi arrived at the field today, Tuesday the 27th, and her eyes bulged in disbelief at what she had agreed to do. "I did not realize the plane was THIS small" were her greeting words as she walked towards the briefing room...

We get used to these comments in the work that we do, so we also have a list of responses....
'This plane is three times stronger than a 747.... a 747 is stressed for +2 / -1 and this little plane is stressed to +6/-4'

'Big planes need big places to land, small planes are practical for landing in small places'

'These planes can be built AND maintained here to high standards - BECAUSE they are small planes'

'How big do you want the plane to be - it is just you and a few kilos of equipment'

So we select an appropriate tirade and then go to the 'why don't you do the pre-flight check with Patricia, and then we can see if you are still interested'.... for those who have done a pre-flight with Patricia, it takes a time and you are flooded with information about control surfaces, hot cylinder, cold cylinder, why the exhaust springs are wire-locked, how much she loves the plane, how it was born in the loving arms of hard working African girls, how many hours service, the thickness of the metal, the tensile strength of this and that.... and before you know it you are also in love with the plane.... she has a manner that assures, and encourages (that is why I don't do the pre-flights with passengers or new students.... Patricia ends with 'So now you get in here, settle down and do your seat belt up.... and we are ready to go... Temee, had the treatment, was happy and secure in her seatbelt with her bag (heavy enough to represent a gold bar or two) stowed in the bagger area.

Now, for the first time in my life, I decided to fly in Wellington boots - rubber boots for those who lack the knowledge of British history. The plan was to reduce the Bilarzia risks when wading in to tie up. Flying in wellies is interesting and requires an adjustment in rudder feeling over flying in my usual safety boots. I tried not to let on, and think I kept the skids and slips hidden quite well, but Temee was a great passenger as we climbed out over the ridge and descended down to splash into the water - the waves were higher than I had landed in before, and the water level was very down compared to previous flights. This needed a new approach, with a ''first timer' sitting next to me. I reassured her and selected the area with the least waves, obstacles and obvious depth - which was a challenge... but, with the undercarriage up, we had a super smooth splash down between two waves and started a challenging water taxi with a lot of wind, drift and current to contend with to the beach..

Once beached, Temi was given the Royal treatment with a canoe and quickly whisked to the 'Clinic' site (the big, incomplete church). As she entered and saw the multitude, her smile slipped for a moment - 'is THIS where we will see the patients' - I looked and reassuringly said 'Yes, everybody will watch.... of course...

Temi smiled, a not very reassured smile - but her confidence in the situation was impressive and after the usual 'greetings and exchanges' we started on the patients... 25 out of the 43 selected cases were seen. The others all had a common complaint of itchy eyes and watering eyes. We established early on that there appears to be a lot of conjunctivitis in the village - and it seems to be related to a particular area. It is also common to wash faces in the lake - a source of potential infections.

Anyhow, Temi's first 'client' was Isiku, a 67 year Fulani man who was a challenge to communicate with. Totally blind with extensive cataracts in both eyes. A lovely smile and a warm, caring handshake, we told him that we would see if we could find a cataract surgeon at some point in the future.

Beatrice, 50, has early cataracts, and the story is the same.
Abiba, 10, is short sighted - needs glasses (we will source some potentially suitable ones for the next flight

Yaw, 12, itchy eyes - the commonest complaint in the village

Dorcas, 1 1/2 , sore eyes, referred to the hospital (some swelling and not possible to diagnose in the location)

Victoria (Dorcas's mummy), 24 with 'itchy eyes'

Mawuli, 15, left eye effectively blind from corneal scaring from birth or an early age (nothing we can do in Ghana) - we told him the story of Nelson and how a man with one eye lead the British Navy - and in a fishing community he could also lead... this made him and the whole group smile

Temi, looked at me, her eyes grew and she realised that there was so much that we could not do, and so many people crowding closer to seek her 'looking at them' - I think that I was more overwhelmed than Temi, but tried not to let on.

We set up two children holding words of different sizes to help with diagnoses - but when the patient cant read or tell letters or speak clearly, it was at times a challenges and innovations came in - Temi learned to innovate very well, especially since she was on a day of many firsts...

Mamana, 4, had a blocked tear duct, possibly an infection, but hard to tell in the environment.

Elijah, 7, Itchy eyes (again)

Afan, 7, Itchy eyes

Mordifa 66, needs glasses ( we are working on getting some)

Felix, 20, eye infection/irritation - probably from the same 'itchy eye' syndrome.

Lynda, 6, Conjunctivitis - possibly related to the itchy eye syndrome

Steven, 77 cataracts

Michael, 50, needs reading glasses (it is good that he can read and wants to read)

Ebenezer 30, eye infection/ itchy eyes

Amelia 35, eye infection, itchy eyes and dry eyes (needs eye drops)

Jacob 48, needs glasses

Mason, 36, dry eyes, possibly hi pressure - referred to the hospital for Glaucoma tests to see if there is a problem.... we will follow up to see if he goes (it will cost him about $7, but we cannot give the money, he must make the effort to save and go himself - it will take him a whole day... but at least he has been referred).

Bismark, 27, (a fisherman) needs reading glasses (he features in an earlier blog for his life jacket when fishing).

Rachel, 20, dry eye, infection, itchy eyes

Chief Bosoka, 90, Temi said his eyes are old, but we translated it to 'he has been a wise chief watching over the village for many years, and now his eyes are tired'. Temi will arrange for some suitable eye drops to be taken in to relieve the symptoms of this gentle leader...

Sodzi, 40, a driver, suffers from symptoms of night blindness - Temi was really excited by this. Her questions started to rattle at the rate of a machine gun as she tried to establish the severity, and smiled at the 'interestingness' of the case. She referred him to the hospital, but we are unsure as to how seriously the hospital would take the case - but there is nothing else we can do.

Keto, 40, a regular 'interessted party' was keen to be seen and have his picture taken with Temi.... His large eyes smiled from just in front of his ears to the tip of his forhead as he got the attention. He needs reading glasses - which may be necessary for fixing nets or looking distinguished and the like for those who cannot read. But as seen here he still is able to make eyes at young ladies!

Finally, a little old chap called Olympio, who claimed to be 60 hung around hoping to be seen, and Temi, quietly told him that he had cataracts, and that there was nothing that could be done without surgery.

Exhausted, we had to seek permission to leave and struggled to get away from a community that asks for nothing and tries so hard to improve themselves. We walked back through the groundnut fields to the waiting Alpha Delta, moored on the sandbank. I could swear that the little plane smiled at me as I waded into the Bilarzia rich water to set her free to fly again. I am glad that our visitors get the canoe treatment... but laugh at the fact that I am seen as a local yokel who can cope!

Getting the plane clear of the sand was not easy and some water slurped over the top of my boots. No such problem for 'Eye doctor Temi' - she was given the canoe treatment AGAIN!

We launched off of waves that were clearly at the limit of the capabilities of our little amphibian (a reason for the airstrip need) - but Temi simply laughed as we got a thorough soaking from the bow waves that broke high over the wing!

An incident free flight back, via Akosombo dam, to land in 18knot winds with undercarriage down!
Thank you Temi - you have made many happy today, and helped to help find solutions to needs. You were such fun to fly, you have to come back (those half closed eye / half smile glimpses that I caught during turbulence should have been caught on camera for all to share....!).

We are looking into the source of the infections (sometimes it seems that we need to be everything, including detectives) - and solutions to the current state of affairs - even if only to relieve the itchy eyes of some 30 odd people. Temi naturally suggested flushing eyes with clean water - but that commodity is a rare, there are no bottles of mineral water, no bags of water even, in the area. Temi also, sensibly, suggested boiling water - a good idea, but then we would need to explain to some people, who may not understand, to let the water cool, without getting contaminated... This really highlights the little things we take for granted in the developed world. Nonetheless, we will find a solution, and deliver to the site of the need - because that is what we do!

Temi gave up a day of her holiday (from the UK) to do this wonderful trip, we only provided the catalyst to bring it to fruition - but I can see on Temi's smiling face and the many smiling faces on the people of the community, that this short time of action, that she generously donated, will have long-lasting effects in all of our hearts and minds.

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