When I am talking to people about my experiences in Haiti a question I am often asked is “what is the worst thing you have seen on a mission trip?” I believe it is just a part of human nature to want to know the answer to questions like this. Unfortunately I don’t know how to answer this question. Instead I always offer to answer a different question. That question is “what is the hardest thing you have ever had to do on a mission trip?”
To answer the question I tell a story about a five-year-old boy that I met on a trip to Haiti in December 2014. The boy was brought in by his mother because he could not see. We examined him and he had a very advanced white cataract in each eye reducing his visual acuity to the level where the only thing he could see was the difference between light and dark. His mother told us that he had been like this for about a year. She told us that they had been looking for help but that no one could help her son. The boy was very cautious and quiet, he was unable to go to school and had stopped playing and exploring the world the way healthy children of his age do. I told his mother that fixing his cataract could be done with a fairly simple 15 minute surgery and that as long as the rest of each eye was healthy that the vision would be restored. Then I told her that I did not have anyone with me on the team that could provide anesthesia, and because of this I could not help him. I promised to return in the spring with a team and I promised to fix him then. Then we said goodbye.
Saying goodbye was the hardest thing I have ever done on a trip. I went on with my day. I helped other patients. I finished the work and I flew home. I enjoyed Christmas with my family. I watched New Years Bowl games. I learned how to ski. I went out with my wife for Valentine’s day. I enjoyed my time spending time with my children. During all of those activities I remembered that there was a little boy in Haiti that I had promised to help. I wondered what it was like for him and his family. Did they believe that I was coming back? I worked on planning a return trip to Haiti. I gathered supplies and I spoke with volunteer anesthesia providers. The planning went well, and we returned in April of 2015. I was joined on that trip by Dr. Amit Tandon, a cataract specialist from Ohio State. On that trip Dr. Tandon successfully performed cataract surgery on both eyes. The difference in this child was profound. Before we even fixed his second eye he was running around our clinic acting like a normal kid again. Dr. Tandon later told me that treating this child was “the best surgery he had done in his entire career.” – Matt
This story has a happy ending. There is another story that I would like to share in part 2. Hopefully that story will also have a happy ending, but right now, I am not sure how that story ends.