Recuerdos de Riobamba

by Virginia Settle, VHI translator

riobamba13_027Senora Laura arrived at the VHI clinic in Riobamba, Ecuador, with one of her grandsons and more than a few problems. Laura is diabetic. She underwent a corneal transplant in her left eye three years ago and cataract surgery in her right eye one year later. But during the past two years her vision gradually but perceptibly diminished to near total blindness; her life transformed from one she described as being full, busy, and rewarding to one that, she laments, is distressing and stressful.

“I am the matriarch of my family,” Senora Laura explained, tears welling. “I used to cook for large family gatherings, and I babysat for my grandchildren while my children worked. I used to sew and do embroidery and crocheted ponchos, which helped supplement my family’s income. And now I am a burden.”

Laura is a woman of faith. “I pray that I can accept God’s will in my life,” she explained, her tears unmasking the dismay and frustration that came with her loss of vision.

Dr. Randy Rottman performed successful cataract surgery on her left eye, and predictably, the tears keep falling; this time out of sheer joy. Senora Laura can see again. Though advised her vision would be limited, Dr. Rottman let Laura know she should be able to read and perform some needlework, with the aid of eyeglasses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGratitude comes in large doses during VHI post-op rounds. Senora Laura and her grandson expressed theirs, as tears and well wishes were graciously and abundantly dispensed to the doctor, his thankful interpreter, and anyone within hugging distance. To know there would be, once again, “light” in Senora Laura’s world was as rewarding as it was humbling, for it gave all of us a sense that it was we who should be grateful, just for the opportunity to have met her.

Senor Rene entered the VHI clinic in Riobamba wearing sunglasses and none too sure of his step, not surprising as he had no vision in his left eye and only limited perception in his right.

“It was a farming accident,” said Rene. “I was cutting brush two years ago and two palillos (sticks) flew up and went into my eye, the right one.” Compounding his diminished vision, a recent auto accident disabled his knee and left him unable to work in the fields.

Senor Rene is a proud man. He is married, with eight children. His two accidents made it difficult to keep his family fed and his children in school. Social assistance allowed Rene to buy a truck and start a mobile shoeshine service to supplement his disability allotments. But then things took a turn for the worse. He developed a cataract in his left eye, it becoming so dense he could no longer drive or even distinguish shoe colors. Senor Rene had to stop working. The VHI clinic in Riobamba was his best and perhaps only hope for restored vision.

Senor Rene smiled guardedly when the eye patch and shield were removed from his left eye during post-op rounds the day after his cataract surgery. Not one for overly emotional displays it appeared, the firmness of his handshake and his hug said everything he needed to express; gratitude for Dr. Rottman and the VHI team of volunteers and what they’d help him recover was written all over his face.