I don't think I have to tell you... but it's the children who really latch onto my heart and do funny things to it. Again and again, it's their stories that touch me the most. And part of the joy of running the general ward is that we get to host the blind kids. It only lasts a few weeks each outreach, because we only have one surgeon that can do these delicate surgeries... and it's just about to finish now... and that make me so sad.
No matter what blindness means in other parts of the world, here, it is a true handicap. Parents don't bother to put them in school, because they can't read. There are no special services that come and teach them how to cope in a seeing world. They are expected to be a burden. So they are.
Depending on how thick/dark their cataract is, some children can see light or color, and some see with their hands. They come on to the ward with "classic" blind-from-birth behaviour. They reach out to grab things, exploring whole areas with their hands, enjoying their other senses, listening to the way things make noises when you tap them or determining what will move when you push on it. Some poke at their eyeballs or move their heads in that "stevie wonder" head bob.
One young man came in crying. Well, I don't know if he actually walked in crying, but he spent a large part of his first evening with us crying or cranky or easily upset. If you were not his mother, he screamed when you touched him... and don't ask me how he knew who you were, but he DID. The next morning wasn't any better... especially since we weren't feeding him. And returning from surgery, he was so upset that we had to wrap his hands in gauze to stop him from rubbing his eyes or pulling anything out, and we had to do a wrap around his head so he couldn't get the protective covers off of his eyes. Don't worry, he was well medicated for pain. One of my nurses claimed she figured he was one of those kids that would "come in crying and leave crying."
The next morning, bright and early the eye nurse came in to take off his eye coverings. So we unwrapped his hands, his head, his eyes. And shortly after he noticed his own hand. Holding it inches from his face, he stared at it quietly. Pulling it away from his face, his concentration was intense, and he continue to slowly move it near, far, near far. Fascinated. He could see. We brought a small toy over, and he slapped it out of our hands. Gave him a book and he stared at it for a bit, held it, flipped pages. Fascinated. Not long after, he started smiling at us. Played with us. Danced his little booty off when the chaplains came by to play music.
In one of the most complete personality changes I have ever witnessed, he left happy, smiling, with his new fascination with the world.
And another boy we had, was both blind and deaf. We pulled off his bandages and... nothing. He wouldn't open his eyes. How do you tell a young child to open his eyes when he has no language? He would peek for a second and close his eyes again, as though the lights were too bright or it was too much for him, or perhaps he saw nothing, we couldn't tell. And so we let him explore again his way, walking around, hands out, touching, grasping, feeling the wind and vibrations and actually able to play balloon catch with his eyes tight shut. We moved on to other patients. Almost an hour after his bandages were off, as I was trying to round on other patients with other doctors, walking past our little friend to get something important, he grabbed onto the back of my pants. Tightly. Wasn't letting go. Peeking around my legs. And then I realized HE WAS PEEKING AROUND MY LEGS!!!!!!! His eyes were open. I grabbed the eye nurse... because there was someone else there paying attention to rounds and suddenly this was the most important event on my ward. He wouldn't let go, and kept looking to the opposite side of me from where she was trying to get his attention with toys to see if he would notice them. Literally, he kept switching to look around the opposite side whenever she switched. It was about ten minutes later, a few swaps of whose legs he was grasping onto, and the ingenious idea of playing with a flashlight that confirmed, he could see. His grateful father told us this was the third place that had promised them surgery... and the only ones that had followed through. When he first arrived, and even until we did the operation, he kept expecting us to change our minds. Dedicated to his son, he had been the most gentle caregiver I've yet seen, patient and loving even when his son was flailing after the surgery, confused and in pain and his only comfort was touch. He had plans to send him to the deaf school, where he could learn sign language.
I could tell you so many stories, all so special. It's been a beautiful season and I'm sad to see it ending. These children, they teach you so much, about opening your eyes to the wonders that we take for granted. About coping in difficult situations. About how you need to open your eyes if you want to see.