Written by Shuhan Wang, MS4

My eyes popped open with an inexpressible excitement before my alarm could go off this morning. My phone read 6:10am. Outside our window, the mountain town of Riobamba was just slowly waking up.

It was difficult to fall asleep last night, thinking about what was in store for us this coming week. With the clinic all set up, we are ready to operate today! Our goal is to complete 20 cataract surgeries each day, along with an outreach program to distribute 1000+ prescription reading glasses in the neighboring communities. Nevertheless, to David as well as our surgical team, it is not a quantity that we seek in making a difference, but truly the quality of care that we aim to provide for those in need.

By 7:15am, our bus had arrived at the clinic. Taking a deep breath as I stepped into the crisp morning air, I was greeted by the pleasant scent of the mountains that quickly saturated my lungs. Still, the moment David pushed open the gate to the clinic, I was stunned by yet another uplifting and plainly unforgettable greeting – in the small courtyard there had gathered more than fifty patients and families standing in lines for us to be seen! Fifty pairs of earnest dark eyes simultaneously cast on our faces the instance the door swung open… Everyone held their gaze with such heartfelt sincerity and profound respect. Although those eyes might suffer from poor sight, they spoke to us with so much fortitude, hope, and goodness. Not knowing for how long they had been waiting, we jumped into actions without further ado.

The first day of clinic is always a bit of a challenge before our team could develop a rhythm, settle into our roles, and get used to a workflow in a brand-new environment. Working with an unfamiliar set of tools and equipments that might be considered “obsolete” by developing country standards increased the difficulty. However, we quickly managed to function very well as a team, helping each other out wherever and whenever possible. Overall, we did an amazing job today, completing 19 surgeries non-stop. At around 7:40pm, I walked our last patient out of OR to her family after her blood pressure had normalized and sneaked an extra juice box into her pocket for her long trek home. Afterwards, we all gathered to debrief on what went well and what could be improved about today.

When we walked out of the clinic, a beautiful full moon hung low in the cloudless night sky. I was reminded that today was Mid-Autumn Festival! A traditional Chinese holiday where loved ones reunite to celebrate harmony and unity. I missed home. In particular, I thought about my grandpa, who suffered complications from an unsuccessful cataract surgery in China that left him blind in one eye many years ago. He is the reason why I came to Riobamba to help others who suffer from cataracts. He is the reason why I treat our patients the very way I would want him to have been treated. I found it comforting to know that despite being 10,000 miles apart (literally) and regardless of where we are in this world, I could always look up to admire the same moon that illuminates his sky tonight. I also found it consoling that many of our own patients would soon be able to enjoy the same beautiful view!

While being away from our own families, we had each other here in Riobamba. In the late evening, our team ventured out into town and rewarded ourselves for a full day of hard work with some delicious pizza and entertaining impromptu dancing. Indeed, between bus rides, chifas, scalpels, slit lamps, and overdoses of positive vibes all around the clock, our mission team is transforming into a small family unit that we are all growing to know and genuinely care about.

Before I close my computer and go to bed tonight, I just want to give a special shout-out to our entire nursing staff, OR techs, administrators, and sterilization personnel who barely had a chance to sit down or have lunch today in order to perform what was necessary to care for our patients. And I wish to express my respect to our surgeons whose technical expertise, patience, finesse and grace under pressure I find truly inspiring. Needless to say, I am in complete awe of each of my team member’s diligence and dedication.

Tomorrow morning, those 19 patients we operated on today will return for post-operative checks and we plan to perform 23 more cataract surgeries. I cannot wait to see our patients again soon and find out about how they are doing! Goodnight for now. Hasta mañana!