Our sterile cotton tip applicators that we use during surgery to dehydrate an extraocular muscle prior to suturing were quite handy in squashing ants that frequently made it onto our sterile surgical field.
Lots of mosquitoes in each OR succumbed to one of the volunteers expert swatting.
As there were no surgical stools to sit on, we stood while operating and sweated profusely in the 100+ degree humid heat. The circulating nurse would wipe our brow sweat from time to time as our surgical caps quickly became saturated. Every hour or so, we would drink 250 cc of water with added electrolyte powder. At the end of each O.R. day, the sweat came off pretty easily with a cold shower (no hot water in the hotel). On the first O.R. day in Ben Tre we operated 10 children, the second day 14 and the last day 16. We then moved on to Saigon where we operated 21 patients in one day.
Incredible good behavior and stoicism in these children. Not one child we encountered was manipulative or ornery. We suspect the parents instilled the fear of God in these children to be on their best behavior so they don’t ruin this rare opportunity to have their strabismus corrected by the American team.
The most fun was conducting rounds in the post-op ward the morning after surgery. A room full of straight-eyed kids and smiling, grateful parents. The fruits of the team’s hard work were quite apparent and dramatic.
One of our roles was to instruct local eye MDs in contemporary strabismus diagnosis and management – one of the ophthalmologists in Saigon did express her gratitude for our operating via the “invisible incision” technique as she had read a lot about it but had been forbidden to use this approach by the hospital administrators. As the admins have now seen the excellent results we obtained, she explained that she will now be approved to employ this cutting-edge technique. The local ophthalmologists were particularly receptive to learning from our extensive experience performing eye muscle surgery on patients with nystagmus.
This was an incredible experience for us on many levels. We were absolutely inspired by the selfless dedication to humanity of the people with whom we worked. These folks traveled half way around the world volunteering to work extremely hard under poor conditions. We were honored to be a part of this fantastic surgical team. Obviously not travelling as tourists, we become privy to real life conditions for the people in Vietnam. We can never be complacent about our wonderful modern conveniences from which we all benefit within and apart from our hospitals and clinics.
Photos courtesy Jeffrey Brody