Picked up on Wednesday morning in the giant Eye Clinic van ten patients hustled and bustled in to the back, ready for the long ride to Good Shepherd Hospital. On arrival their visual acuity was measured, and biometry calculated in order to decide which lens would be best for each individual. Following a night in the eye ward, they came, one by one, to the operating theatre where the revolving door of cataract operations was taking place. One more night in the eye ward was followed the next morning by a review of their new vision. Next stop; home! First step, getting everyone (and their luggage) in to the van… and we were off again across the country to return each of them to their homesteads to greet families and friends.
Johane, aged 68 from Khuphuka, had surgery on his left eye to improve vision from ‘hand movements’ to ‘counting fingers.’ This seemingly small difference in visual acuity can make activities of daily living far easier. He was met by his two daughters as we pulled into St Theresa’s Clinic, Manzini . Johane was lucky enough to be a neighbour of Sikhelala, allowing his poor sight to be discovered and subsequently improved.
Our next departure was Isabel, aged 63 from Bhekinkosi. Cataract removal of her left eye has improved her vision from ‘counting fingers’ to 2/60 (6/9 with pin hole). Isabel’s vision was tested by the RHM (rural health motivator) in her region who was the first to discover her visual acuity was so poor in her left eye.
Thoko was next, a 60 year old from Mdumezulu who again was referred by her RHM when she was unable to see 6/60 on the mobile Snellen Chart used by the rural health motivators. After cataract removal in her right eye her visual acuity improved from ‘hand movements’ to 6/36!
We then began to journey further into the Swazi countryside with our remaining passengers. After some time journeying off road we stopped outside a homestead perched on the hillside where 73 year old Dondolo was met by her mother in law. Dondola had been found by Sikhelela at the pension point last month when he had carried out a quick mobile visual acuity test on those queuing up for their pensions. Dondola’s vision improved from a pre-operative visual acuity of ‘hand movements’ to a post-op VA of 3/60 (6/18 with pin hole).
Surrounded by luscious green hills, as the sun started to fall, we climbed up to Hlatikulu to drop off Silwane. This 72 year old gentleman was discovered to only have a visual acuity of ‘light perception’ in his left eye, and 1/60 in the right, by Sikhelela who carries out a monthly cataract screening outreach at the local hospital. The cataract in his left eye was removed, and his post-operative visual acuity was 6/36.
Last stop; on our way back down the mountain we reach the homestead of Liphilinah a 70 year old Gogo who, at the same clinic, was found to have a visual acuity in both eyes of only ‘hand movements’. Post-operatively, however, the right eye had been restored to 6/36, making for a joyous reunion with her family.
It is such a blessing to see the immediate changes in the lives of the passengers of Sikhelela. While the improvements may at times seem slight, even the smallest change means drastic improvement to their quality of life. The gift of sight allows these elders to continue being the foundation of their family and leaders of their community!