From Bill Aplington, I Care International Board Secretary
The last I Care clinic at which I had the pleasure to work alongside Dr. Phil Ortiz was, surprisingly, way back in late February and early March of 2017, when our team set up shop in Agua Escondido Guatemala for a typical 4 day affair. It was a privilege to assist Phil in planning and organizing that clinic. He had done it sooo many times before and I hardly knew what I was doing. For months he might reach out to discuss something or other, as I recall, or I would call him to ask something and to tell him again how nervous I was about most everything. He was almost always a very calm and reassuring person with whom to work! And it is a very sad moment now to reminisce about those better days, when for me, he was as big as life itself…
Anyway, what I am trying to say here is that I Care’s upcoming clinic in San Lucas Tolimán is a chance to have a kind of living tribute to Phil, who seemed to disappear so suddenly, and to the entire Ortiz family. It seems important, even while navigating through the reality of this Covid pandemic, that our humble organization shakes off the dust of inactivity and gets back to the work that he began so long ago.
Our plans continue to take shape with many many people providing support. We received the official letter of invitation some time ago and have held several meetings via Zoom with our partners at the Monseñor Gregorio Schaffer Hospital identifying the space required for our clinic activities and making plans for scheduling the 1,500 patients who will benefit from them. In case you were curious, this is the typical process for an I Care clinic patient:
- A patient enters the clinic and sits with the intake worker to complete a one page intake sheet.
- Next, a team nurse checks for blood pressure concerns and screens for diabetes, both issues that impact vision health.
- Then the patient goes to a volunteer operating an auto-refractor, an almost touchless optical reading and measurement that is important to developing a good corrective prescription.
- The next step is to stand for the acuity test, the “language-free eye chart hanging on the wall test”, yes, from larger to smaller! It also provides important information.
- The patient then sees an optometrist for an evaluation and a full vision health assessment and receives a prescription for eyeglasses as well as any additional relevant health care observations and guidance.
- The patient turns in their intake sheet with the new prescription on it at the picking station and takes a seat. The pickers need to search our inventory carefully and to consult, perhaps with the optician or an optometrist, who both work with the pickers, to locate, hopefully, 1 or 2, maybe 3, possibilities from the 8,000 pairs of glasses that we pack in and pack out of the clinic.
- Once the options are ready, the patient’s name will be called and they will sit with one of our lens fitters to determine which pair of glasses will improve their vision to the greatest extent. If the improvement is satisfactory, they will, we hope, smile!
- An I Care clinic also dispenses a limited number of readers or magnifying glasses as well as a limited supply of sunglasses.
At present our team of 44 volunteers, which includes five optometrists, two 4th year optometry students, an optician, and three nurses, is almost ready. On February 24, there will be 21 volunteers traveling from California with as many as 17 duffle bags containing our inventory of 8,000 used glasses that were prepared for the trip by our hard-working friends in San Luis Obispo, California, and another group of 20-22 volunteers will be traveling from Chicago with duffle bags containing optical and nursing instruments, equipment, and supplies.
Thanks to the support of our friends at the Rotary Club of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, we were able to purchase the new Spot Vision Screener shown below and are ready to put it to good use. The biggest benefit is that the patient can be 2.5 feet away which helps with the prevention of Covid and it is also very accurate and sized right for travel.
For lodging, we will be taking over the beautiful Tolimán Hotel, not more than a block from Lake Atitlan. The Gregorio Schaefer Hospital, our clinic site, is located a short 10-15 minute walk from the Tolimán Hotel. We will have a dinner party on Thursday, March 2nd after our long workdays have been completed, with a flourish, of course! A photo from a dinner at our most recent clinic in El Salvador, in 2020, is attached….it took a lot of long tables to fit all of us. We will have some well-deserved downtime after the clinic to perhaps do a little local shopping, take a boat ride to visit other Lake Atitlan pueblos, or just relax at the hotel pool! Take your pick…
So, yes, we are very excited to get this next I Care jornada underway and to help our friends in Guatemala. We will represent the values that our founder, Dr. Phil Ortiz, and the I Care community believe in and espouse. Treat all patients, teammates, and local citizens with respect, dignity, and kindness…