A series of captivating stories of our Beneficiaries.
She was nicknamed Snow White because of her head of snowy white hair. She lives in Guangxi, a notoriously poor area where she made her living as a farmer. At 86 and blind, she is Snow White with a twist. One eye was blinded by an earlier botched cataract surgery and the other eye eventually, also succumbed, to cataract. After a bad fall, her children felt she should not be living alone. She went to live with her son, a very busy butcher with his own family. Snow White felt that she had lost her independence staying with him. She knew he was busy so she did not complain when she was not always cleaned nor fed, many times, eating only plain rice.
Yet, even at 86, she continues to harbour dreams. She craves for independence and desperately desires to be able to see the birds, trees and the river close to her home. She needs to feel productive and wants to return to what she does best, farming. She knows that to make this happen, she will need another cataract surgery to restore her vision of the one “good’ eye left but alas, medical fees are completely out of her equation. Forsaken and forlorn, she just waited aimlessly.
Then, imagine her surprise when she heard that a team of doctors from Hong Kong was coming to a hospital near her, offering free cataract operations. Happily, off she went for pre-screening, and hoping against hope that she will be selected as a candidate for corrective surgery. Indeed, she was finally selected and she exclaimed to a volunteer : “My spirits soared”.
On the day of the surgery, she arrived at the hospital, accompanied by her daughter. The doctors found that her cataract was very dense or mature. Her shoulders slumped as she waited with both anticipation for her eye to see again and with trepidation of bad memories of a previously failed surgery. She was the last patient for the day and it was a very long wait. However, she shared that hearing the joy and noisy jubilance of numerous successful operations before her, gave her energy and confidence. She finally started believing that her second chance was now here and it was real.
After her surgery, she opened her eyes, the darkness dissipated and she could see shapes. She knew that people from Hong Kong could not understand her dialect, so she expressed her gratitude and happiness by hugging everyone particularly, the surgeon. She did not want to let go. She was led out of the operating theatre but went back again and again to hug the surgeon. He did not only banish her blindness, he gave her back the life that she had so desperately wanted.
It was a long, tiring but fulfilling trip for everyone, and a fairy-tale ending for Snow White.
“We got down to work immediately as we knew that we had to complete a total of 62 cataract surgeries over 2.5 days… I had never encountered so many dense cataracts in one single day. The operating theatre was noisy, like a wet market, but I focused on the patients in front of me. The most memorable patient was the last patient, Snow White, whose operation was demanding and challenging. The risk of complications was high. Since we were operating on her remaining “good” eye, we realised that her last hope at sight restoration was now in our hands. Although I was tired and drained, I ignored it and pressed on.
I held my breath several times during the surgery. After what seemed like a long time, the surgery was completed smoothly. When Snow White opened her eyes, she got down from the bed and started hugging me and did not want to leave the theatre. I could literally feel the pain that she had been enduring… !
I think of Snow White often and I hope to bring my family to meet her when we next return to Luzhai.
Before the surgery, a glum 86 year old woman was in front of me for registration….When I visited her the next day after the surgery, her face had brightened and she smiled, showing her straight white teeth. We hugged each other and both broke into tears. I could feel her pain and frustration draining away…She received a new lease of life.
Although I do not read nor write Chinese, nor speak Mandarin and least of all, cannot understand the local dialect, it didn’t matter because we all speak the language of love. I understood her message of gratitude and hope…her life is now filled with promise and anticipation.
Poh Lee Tan and Dr Hayden Jon