After our very successful mission ventures in Huili, the second phase of Operation Eyesight made its debut at the Liangshan Prefecture, Second Hospital, in China, Sichuan Province, Xichang, from November 1-24, 2002. The Health Authorities ‘trusted’ us sufficiently to allow us to get closer to larger municipalities.
They allowed/‘invited’ us to send two teams to a much larger city than Huili, to Xichang, to launch the second phase of our Operation Eyesight. At this hospital we taught 6 doctors, 3 male and 3 female. One of our goals this time was also to teach them that if everything were kept clean and sterile as possible we could do eye surgery using the mobile trailer so graciously provided to us by Gansu Inc., another eye operation working in China. The first USA team had 9 members. The second team was from Hong Kong, with 8 members.
The two teams overlapped to ensure continuity of the project. Our local consultants, Dr. Cai and his wife (Dr. Lu) joined the first team; Ms Amy Fan, MSI staff in Hong Kong, watched over the Hong Kong team. We were also blessed to have the long termers (missionaries) in Xichang to support us during our work there. Again, all members were gifted, creative, and hard working; we could not envision a happier affiliation!
The USA team gathered in Hong Kong after flying across international waters for more than 17 hours. After transiting in Hong Kong, the team flew to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, for another 2.5 hours. The team was then briefed by the long termers in Chengdu before catching the evening train and traveled another 10 hours to reach Xichang, our final destination.
We arrived at the Xichang train station shortly before dawn. After quickly unloading more than 25 suitcases of supplies from the train, we were astonished by the decked out local officials and ladies dressed in beautiful native costumes to be greeting us so early in the morning and presenting each of us a fresh bouquet of beautiful flowers.
All team members checked in at the MSI Hostel and our food (3 meals a day) was provided by the Liangshan Prefecture Second Hospital. The accommodation was comfortable. The food was fresh, delicious and plentiful. We were hosted to special banquets on several occasions and participated in local folk music and dances.
We gathered each morning for a short devotion, then, after a quick breakfast, walked to the hospital to start our work. The mornings were spent on surgery; afternoons were reserved to see patients, and have discussions & lectures with local doctors. We gathered each evening at the hostel to share and reflect on the day’s events and have evening devotions.
On the fourth day of our arrival, an official opening ceremony was held at the hospital campus before Government Officials, TV broadcasters, reporter’s flashing cameras, guests, MSI and Hospital hosts and spectators. Our leader, George Chin was given the opportunity to share about our long friendship with Xichang and emphasize why we were there: to provide up to-date-eye care to the people in Xichang and try to shift them from blindness into seeing.
Our goals of launching the second phase in Xichang were:
1. To teach them how to treat and prevent blindness, through lectures, videos and discussion of various eye diseases.
2. To try to evaluate the trailer and possibly start surgery in the trailer.
3. Train the local eye doctors and nurses through surgery in the trailer and hospital.
Initially, we had requested the hospital to line up 30 patients for us as the first phase of our operation. Prior to our arrival, the number had already soared to 115. When news of our arrival got out, a further influx of patients came and the number rose to over 300. After discussion with the hospital and careful selection, we registered 241 cases. This large number had come as a great surprise and we were ill-prepared to treat that many. During the short 12 working days, with the full cooperation of the hospital staff, we successfully ‘taught’ the staff and operated on over 100 cataract surgeries and carried out the same number of intraocular lens implants. The youngest patient was a 3 year old and the oldest was over 80. There were also cases of glaucoma which were successfully operated. All cases were without complication and the patients were delighted with their newly gained vision. The hospital administration and local authorities were very pleased and proud of our achievements. Many were also moved by the love displayed by each team member. ‘Preaching always, using words only when necessary.’
We decided to return the following year to set up the trailer. After a formal evaluation conducted with the hospital administration, the hospital presented each member a souvenir tea set. We gave the hospital a large plaque as a token of our appreciation for their friendship and partnership in the project.
Before we departed Xichang, we gave them sufficient surgical supplies and encouraged them to complete the cases registered on their list, reassuring them that they now possessed adequate skills to accomplish the needed tasks to carry on.
The following year, I recruited and convinced two of my Bainbridge Island Bethany Lutheran friends, Allen Lang and Jim Rorhscheib to go back to Xichang with me. They were instrumental in setting up the mobile operating unit and Dr. George Chin taught the local doctor in the trailer while I taught the staff at the hospital OR. Again, we had a great and successful experience. Everyone treated us sincerely, respectfully and warmly even though most of us had a profound language barrier.
Towards the last days of our stay, I asked if Allen and Jim were interested in getting a suit to take home. We surveyed several shops and settled on getting identical dark virgin Australian wool material tailor-made suits for $42 for each of us. The tailor asked me if he could charge the ‘foreigners’ a little more like $10. I told him that though most Chinese consider the white people are all rich, they are all actually hard working people like all of us and just trying to get by. I told him they are also volunteers on my team. He agreed and we got our suits ordered.
As we were leaving town we went to pick up our suits, mine was finished except for needing the buttons to be sewn on. The female doctor whom I had worked with was with us to wish us ‘goodbye’. She was scolding the tailor for ‘cheating’ us and charging us too much. I was also chatting rather loudly with his staff. My two friends Allen and Jim thought we were arguing and volunteered to pay the tailor more. He refused to accept their money and informed them that Chinese always talked like that and no matter the price, it’s always too much. He tried to convince them that we were passing time just waiting for my buttons to be sewn. We assured them that we were not in a fight! Cultural differences!!
In the rush to board our train, we were not placed in our proper bunk-bed section. I told the group that I’d go to the front of the train to get our assignment while they squeezed together and guarded our luggage. While there at the assignment station, there was a large throng of passengers yelling at the station manager and at each other. I thought I could not out yell them, and as a Christian example, I’d wait for the mayhem to die down before going forward. After about ten minutes, I finally heard my name called and I raised my hand and moved forward. When I finally reached his counter, the clerk admonished me for not being more proactive and that he’d called me three times and was almost giving my allocated bunks away! So much for trying to set an example of patience. Cultural difference, all over again!!