I watched the man with great curiosity. At first he was tentative, as the bandage was removed from his eye. Then he blinked several times while his eye adjusted to the light around him. Then he smiled. His smile grew wider as he realised what was happening. After nineteen years of darkness he was seeing the world for the first time. He grabbed the man next to him, exclaiming loudly in an animated fashion. I couldn't understand what he was saying but I imagine he was saying, "I can see, I can see". He began patting objects in the nearby vicinity and naming them in French, "Stool", "Fan", Seat". Then he held his fingers in front of his eye and stared in wonder, like a child who first discovers their hands. He stood up, took a few steps, the smile never leaving his face, his joy overflowing. He looked over at us and we gave him the thumbs up
I don't know why it has taken me so long to watch the unveiling of the eye patients. It is a miracle to behold. The patients have surgery one day, usually cataract surgery on one eye. Because of the huge needs of the countries we serve in, surgery is offered on one eye only so sight can at least be partially restored. If there is time and the need, the second eye is done. The following day, the patients come back to the ship to have their eye patch removed. The vast array of emotion is unusual and certainly interesting to watch. From wild celebration to stoic disbelief. From quiet, shy smiles to loud, rambunctious laughing and singing. Some stay seated and some get up to hug the nearest individual.
However, the results are not always as positive as my friend above. We also witnessed several unsuccessful surgeries. It made me feel like crying. As the patients eye patch was removed and they began to rapidly blink their eyes, I was hopeful but then their eye began to stare blankly at a fixed point and then I knew. As hard as the surgeons try, sometimes, for whatever reason, things do not work out. How painful it must be for those patients as they slowly realise that they are condemned to a life of darkness, their last hope gone, while the person next to them is celebrating, tugging on their sleeve to share their joy. I can't imagine. But for those whose lives are transformed through a simple surgery we give thanks to God.
Follow the pictorial story of Albertine (below), our first cataract patient in The Congo, and 63 year old Celestin who had bi-cataracts.