Blog #4: All Good Things Come to an End

Talish, eye clinic, ArmeniaHello again, everyone!

I cannot believe it is almost the end of August. It has been one week since I returned from my 10 week internship in Armenia. It was a huge kind of a shock for me to step into America again and immediately feel the differences from the place that I had left behind. But nevertheless, I am thrilled to be back with so many great memories and stories to share with my family and friends… minus the jet lag! :)

My final two weeks in Armenia were very bittersweet for me, since I had to wrap up my work at the eye clinic in Armenian clinicGyumri. It was hard for me to say goodbye to the doctors, nurses, and the patients who I had deeply connected with during my work there. In the clinic, I was able to observe patients’ eyes through the slit lamp and ophthalmoscope, as well as giving away the donated eye drops to them. In addition, I took the time to make an educational poster for the patients waiting in the hallway. The poster contained descriptions of various common eye conditions in Armenian including diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, age related macular degeneration, and glaucoma. There is also an anatomy of the eye diagram in the center of the poster.

Once I left Gyumri, I spent my last five days in the capital, Yerevan, where I was able to visit the S. Malayan Ophthalmological Center. Currently, the center has over 200 specialists and 7 different vision departments including trauma, pediatric, and glaucoma. While I was there, I was able to observe the contact lens specialists and see how they performed contact lens fittings. The fittings are very similar to the contact lens fittings optometrists do in the US. I was also able to observe how they make RGP hard contact lenses with an optical technician. It was an interesting experience for me because he was using old Soviet style devices to make the lenses. Each pair of hard lenses costs about 25,000 dram, which is about $60. The doctors prescribe hard lenses to those patients with severe astigmatism and keratoconus. Most of the patients end up ordering soft lenses since it is cheaper and more comfortable.

After observing at the Malayan Center, I visited a non-profit organization called the Armenian Eye Care Project (AECP). AECP was founded in 1992 by an Armenian American ophthalmologist, Dr. Roger Ohanesian, whose mission it was to eliminate avoidable blindness and to provide eye care for all Armenians in need. Throughout the year, a group of doctors volunteer and travel in a mobile eye truck and perform eye surgeries on people in different regions of the country. I have been invited to work with them in the near future. I look forward to applying what I learn at NECO to help them out during my next trip to Armenia.

Overall, my 10 week experience in Armenia was very fulfilling. Not only was I able to work somewhere related to my field, but also I was able to do other projects and make friends with other volunteers from around the world. I am privileged to have been given this amazing opportunity and I am looking forward to going back to do more great things!

I also have to thank NECO, especially Dr. Jamara, for all the help and donations that they provided for me on this journey. I am so grateful to be studying at a wonderful institution that gives back to various communities in need, whether in America or abroad. And that’s a wrap! Hope you enjoyed my series of blogs this summer. I wish all of you a great start to the new school year! Best of luck… Cheers! :)

Blog #3: Many Smiles and Boxes of Chocolates

Barev dzez (“Greetings” in Armenian) from Gyumri, everyone! :)

It is very hard to believe that my internship here is coming to an end soon. However, I know I will leave this country with so many great memories, experiences, and new friends. Since my last blog, I have not only worked at the S. Malayan Eye Clinic, but I have also taught English lessons to young Armenian students and  conducted Zumba dance classes. Recently, I have taught dance to young children in wheel chairs with other volunteers which was a very touching experience for me.  These amazing children will actually be performing their dance routines that they have learned this week. I am looking forward to their performances. 

At the clinic, I have been seeing more patients with eye problems and sometimes on my own, since our optometrist is on vacation for three weeks. Of course, I ask them to return to see the doctor if their condition is something other than simple treatment. One interesting experience I had recently was assisting the ophthalmologist in a cataract surgery. Participating in the surgery was such an unexpected experience, and one I feel privileged to have taken part in. A lot of patients I have seen lately at our site have had severe eye infections due to the dust and dirt in the air here. A few of the patients even have fallen on the sidewalk because the roads and sidewalks are not well maintained in some areas and rocky in some others. It really frustrates me to see that these patients hurt their eyes in ways that could be easily prevented. In many cases, we prescribe different antibiotic eye drops such as Tobrex to treat their infections. Sometimes we also have to prescribe three different types of drugs to a patient, but many of them cannot afford to buy all three drugs at once since they can be expensive.

So, to make the lives of the patients less difficult, I thought it would be best if I communicated with a couple of optometrists back at NECO to donate some eye drops to Gyumri.  Thanks to Dr. Richard Jamara, we received eight different kinds of antibiotic eye medications. When I brought the package to my clinic, the ophthalmologist was very appreciative and put them right into use. I had an interesting conversation with him last week during a coffee break. He explained to me that many of the patients at the clinic would go to the local pharmacy and would only buy two out of the three medications they were prescribed since they could not afford the third medication. Now, with the help of NECO, we are lessening the burden of the cost of eye care medication; many thanks NECO. 

To show their appreciation, many patients bring us boxes of chocolate, something I only see during the holiday season in the states. It is so fulfilling to see them leave the clinic satisfied that their eye problem was addressed. They never cease to thank us for our help. I am honored to work with these people who have taught me so much about kindness and gratitude.

You will see the last blog of my trip in a few weeks. Until then, enjoy your summer! :)

Estesootyoon (“until we meet again” in Armenian)