Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem.”
On Friday, May 25, I, Yash B. Bisen, had my first, of hopefully many experiences. I was in my freshmen year of high school, and through multiple biology classes, started thinking about a career in that field. I formulated the idea that I wanted to shadow and assist a doctor. Not only did I want to learn more about the field, but also help different people with adverse problems. After a couple of months of searching, through assistance from family and friends, I was able to find my first opportunity: Dr. Jeff Rutgard with LIGA International who did not know me at all but graciously accepted me as young adult and was incredibly kind and willing to invite me to join him in one of the most exciting experiences of my life. Dr. Jeff Rutgard, a prominent eye surgeon, allowed me to assist him in Tijuana, Mexico on a medical mission expedition over the Memorial Day weekend observing and participating as a member of his eye team which included eye examinations and eye surgeries. I learned a bunch!
Not knowing what to expect or who we were going to work with this Memorial weekend, my dad and I headed out of our home in San Francisco, California to meet Dr. Rutgard in San Diego, California. After an eight-hour drive, we reached Dr. Rutgard’s home in La Jolla, San Diego. Jeff started to talk to us about how for the last decade he had donated himself in order to quote, “make a difference in the eyes of the world.” After an hour of introducing ourselves and having some laughs, I met another doctor, Anne Hornby, and a volunteer, Jody Goodenough. Them, being veterans in helping the blind, told me about their experiences and what to expect. We talked about the food, the people, and the hard work that was needed in every operation. Even though butterflies were flying in my stomach, I had a good feeling about this trip.
After packing up all the equipment in a minivan, all five of us headed to the border. At the border we met the head of LIGA and other friends, who ended up taking us across the border. After a relatively quick drive, we drove up an ally to an authentic Catholic Church Hospital overseen by Sister Christina and a dozen other Sisters. I learned two things about Dr. Rutgard really quickly: he is all about smiles, and everyone loves him.
The sisters greeted us and were especially psyched to see Dr. Rutgard. After setting our backpacks down we got right to work. Jody and I went upstairs and started to set up the Operation theatre. It seemed like I learned a new word every five seconds. From sutures, to lenses, to crescent knife, to super sharp knife, it kept on going. I set up my table, which was going to be the un-sterile table, and helped Jody set up the sterile table, while Dr. Jeff and Anne took care of patients outside.
Dr. Rutgard diagnosed these patients’ problems with two things: high tech equipment & smiles. He connected with patients as if he had known them since childhood. Dr. Jeff taught me that a warm smile is the universal language of kindness. He also taught me how to use the equipment, and measure the length and width of an eye in order to determine which lens we have to use. After diagnosing various patients, we figured we had about 4 cataract surgeries happening tomorrow. With a quesadilla and some chocolate-flan we satisfied our stomachs and went to sleep. It was an interesting first day, but it would not even be close in stature to the second day.
“DINNG-DONGG-DINNG-DONNG-DINNG-DONGG,” the church bell rang at 6:00 a.m. It was time. The time had arrived for me to “float” an operation. Whispering a soft prayer for the day to go well, or in other words not screw up, I got out of my bed. I met everyone in the dining room, and ate some cereal. We all put our scrubs on and went to meet the patients. I had the job of inserting eye drops into the eyes of four patients. Each patient was given a numbing eye drop and an antibiotic drop, which kept the eye protected from infection.
After finishing the drops, I met up with Jody and Dr. Jeff in the Operating Theater (O.T.). All was ready, and Anne sent the first patient in. My heart was pounding as I remembered the lecture Jody had given to me on being very careful. I had learned that I was un-sterile, but Jody and Dr. Jeff were sterile. So in other words, I could not have any contact with anything that Jody or Dr. Jeff touched, and if I did, I would have compromised the whole operation. My heart was beating so hard, and I kept whispering to myself, “Don’t screw up, don’t screw up, don’t screw up.” After correctly placing the various knifes on Jody’s table, I started to get a hang of the job. The 4 surgeries went by fast, and on the last one, Dr. Jeff let me prep the patient by applying the antibacterial Betadine swab on the patient’s skin in preparation for the surgery. Thanking God for helping me, I started cleaning up the O.T. with a large smile on my face for an amazing day! We quickly took an inventory of all supplies and then met the patients outside in the pre-operative examination area. They had been taken care of by Anne, and Jose a translator explained Dr. Jeff’s post operative instructions to each patient, to insure they knew how to use their post-operative eye drops, sleep properly, and the overall hygiene they had to keep during the healing period. As I think back to that scene, I won’t be able to forget the smiles on the faces of those patients and the sheer gratitude they had for Dr. Rutgard who humbly gives all of the credit to God for restoring sight to the blind.
Even though this story is a short one about my Memorial Day weekend, it really is much more. This memorial weekend I helped save four people from blindness, and opened my gateways to help other people as well. I feel extremely lucky and honored to be able to help in such a great way, and the only people I can thank are my family, Dr. Rutgard, and God. This is the first piece to a puzzle of amazing experiences helping the blind with Dr. Rutgard.
Thank you very much Dr. Rutgard!