“Helping with Glasses”: Eye Clinics in Khumbu

In recent years, LED has started to carry out basic eye checks in the remote communities Val visits when distributing LED solar lights and medical/school supplies, and while on trek. This has been down to the invaluable guidance and support from “Eye Doctor” Pat Booth who has provided instructions and charts and glasses carefully labelled and packaged.

In November 2022, Pat headed out to Khumbu with Val and a small trekking group. Here’s her write up of the trip.

It was with some trepidation that I agreed to go back to Nepal in November 2022, after missing three years with COVID restrictions. But it turned out to be the best trip ever!

We started off at Chhahari Eco Resort, just outside Kathmandu, as a group of nine trekkers. I got a box of glasses out and showed them all how it works – as most Nepalis and Peruvians have really good distance vision you can give them reading glasses based on their age. The next day four of us went up to Nagi Gompa to check some of the nuns and screen the schoolgirls staying there.

Pat preparing to start eye checks at Nagi Gompa

Then up to ‘Remote Khumbu’ via Lukla. One of our first visits was to the hospital at Kunde. They had some donated reading glasses there already but unfortunately mainly too strong; +1.00 and +1.50 suits most people, if you would ever like to bring some along with you. They had an ophthalmoscope (for looking in people’s eyes) that we borrowed as I had had to leave mine behind because of the weight restrictions on the flight to Lukla. The best thing was the news that they had an Eye Camp coming in the Spring to do cataract surgery, so we were able to advise people to come back then.

Dr Kami, Kunde Hospital

We then went on to Thame where we were treated to a display of Nepali dancing by the pupils at the school. We were then able to screen all the children who were boarding at the school, using an alphabet poster as a chart. Even the youngest children could do this easily – they all had fantastic vision. We had so many helpers we were able to work in two teams.

Dancing, Thame School

In the afternoon we were booked to do eye checks at the Thame Health Post. Again, we were able to work in two teams as we had a retired GP with us who was also able to use the ophthalmoscope. That turned into a long session, and it was getting too dark to see by the end. My scribe was side-tracked by the guides’ and porters’ tales of how many times they had summited Everest and Ama Dablam etc. They would all have been world famous if they had been westerners.

When we were in the more remote areas of the trip, we pretty much did eye checks in every place we stayed. As ever, the people were incredibly grateful for our services. We were all laden down with prayer scarves by the end.

I was re-acquainted with Tsering from my Manaslu trip, when he was a very helpful primary teacher in Sama. Here in Khumbu as one of Val’s team, Tsering did most of my optical translation for me, as well as being my personal porter. From his point of view, he became recipient of my Most Improved Optical Assistant award and graduated to Fully Trained Sight Tester!

The sun is very strong in the mountains and can cause eye damage; Tsering embraced the need for change and we took every opportunity to get people to wear a hat or cap with a brim, and sunglasses if possible, especially for the guides and porters who spent time on snow and ice.

We were in an area near Everest which had a lot of infrastructure supported by The Hillary Foundation, which means there is lots of Wi-Fi – and so lots of mobile phones. There unfortunately seemed to be an associated increase in distance vision problems. So we also encouraged youngsters to follow the 20/20/20 Rule: for every 20 minutes on a screen or device, spend 20 seconds looking at something 20 metres away.

In total we saw over 300 patients, mainly for reading glasses but also some distance, conducted vision screening in youngsters and a basic eye health check. We also distributed some safety glasses (it was alarming to see stone masons at work unprotected) and gave advice to two families whose very young children had squints (not previously diagnosed).

Three of the trekkers also spent a couple of enjoyable hours repairing and servicing some non-functioning solar lights that LED distributes, and we all were amazed by the solar reflecting panels used to boil our tea kettles!

It was such a rewarding and satisfying trip, I had forgotten how much it meant to me to be able to give something back. My heartfelt thanks go to all my helpers, especially the doctor and another trekker who helped me with my Diplomacy Course, as I can be a bit blunt at times!

“Eye Doctor Pat” conducting an eye check

And, of course thanks go to Val and all her team without whose help nothing would be possible…and for all the extra work ‘Helping With Glasses’ has created. In the end, we had run out of glasses, but were able to keep records and hopefully we will be able to send out what is needed next time.

And thanks to my husband who puts up with all the brainache this creates!