High in the mountains of north eastern India at an eye camp which attracts residents from hours in every direction, Chandra was another face in the crowd.
Most of the patients in the crowded stuffy waiting room at Jamgon Kongtrul Eye Centre in Kalimpong had at least one cataract, a few had both eyes clouded. But Chandra is different. She sits with her head lolling back against the concrete wall, her husband gently stroking her hand. When the doctor comes to look at her eyes she doesn’t react. She barely moves. As well as the bilateral cataracts which have left her blind, Chandra is deaf and mute. She has none of her key senses and is isolated in her own world.
Since going blind more than a year ago Chandra has been unable to communicate with her husband of 35 years, Suresh. “After she lost her sight in both eyes she changed, her nature changed completely. It was unbearable. Very painful for the whole family,” Suresh says.
As well as looking after her house and her husband, Chandra had been caring for her four grandchildren, left with the couple after her daughter died. When Chandra went blind Suresh had to dramatically reduce the time he could spend farming maize, lentils, beans and vegetables so he could care for Chandra and the children.
He doesn’t complain, but it’s clearly taken a toll on him. “The grandchildren are all very young they can't help much, so I have to prepare them for school, manage the house and try to earn an income,” Suresh said. Suresh is hopeful that the dedicated team of nurses and health workers on the two-day journey from Nepal will be able to restore Chandra’s sight.
Dr Sanduk Ruit, who is a world-renowned ophthalmologist and responsible for Chandra’s operation, says Chandra is totally blind, cannot make out shapes and can only see light and darkness. As Chandra is prepared for the surgery to remove her dense cataracts it’s clear she has no idea what is happening.
The medical team and the local Monks who are helping prepare patients for surgery struggle to get her to lie still while they dilate her eyes and administer the anaesthetic. At first Chandra struggles as the drape goes over her face, but the nurses comfort her.
In a delicate operation, which lasts no more than 15 minutes, Dr Ruit removes the cataracts from each of Chandra’s eyes. Chandra doesn’t understand what’s happening but lies still and lets the doctor do his work. Suresh is in the waiting room, anxious but hopeful. As Chandra is led out from the operation to recovery he’s there to take her hands, brush her hair and reassure her.
Early the next morning with the stunning Himalayas as the backdrop Dr Ruit carefully removes the patches from Chandra’s eyes. It’s clear immediately that she can see. Her expressionless face lights up in a broad smile as she sees the doctor and then her beloved Suresh. She mouths the word “husband” and even the experienced surgeon can’t hide his joy. Suresh laughs and smiles in delight. He says he is very grateful to everyone who made this happen.
“I never expected it. It was a totally unexpected thing. “I didn't hope that both eyes can be done. It is a big blessing for me.” Now that she has regained her sight Suresh is confident Chandra will go back to her old nature. “She has her smile back. I am confident her nature has changed.” Still caring for her he brushes her hair up and ties it on top of her head. He strokes her cheeks and says he is very happy to have the other half of him back and his two hands are ready for work.
Dr Ruit may have seen thousands of people have their sight restored, but he says every case is exciting. “It’s the change in the personality, the change in the attitude, the change in the face that takes place within hours in somebody who is blinded. I would say it’s an extremely powerful moment. It makes you energised, emotional, and sentimental.” For all of the 178 patients who have their sight restored during the three day camp at Kalimpong it is an enormous change. But it is difficult to estimate the difference having sight will make to Chandra’s life and that of her family.
Be part of the change today. Support our work to restore sight and change lives.