Elder care is a pressing issue in communities around the globe today. From developed nations to those still struggling to secure the basic infrastructure needs of their citizens, the nature of social systems designed to care for aging populations is changing. And for the population in rural India, this is no exception.
Meet Bhuri. Bhuri is 62 years old, and has lived all her life in rural India, raising six kids (3 boys and 3 girls), all of whom went on to either work as laborers in nearby villages or marry and move away.
For many years, Bhuri and her husband, together, did what was required to raise their family, but when her husband was diagnosed with diabetes a few years back, the focus of their life changed dramatically. Her husband, still technically within the bounds of his most productive years, found his ability to work and provide an income for Bhuri and himself quickly diminishing. Her children, also struggling to make ends meet for their own families, were not able to help.
The result was a quick decline in the family’s financial health. With increased medical bills, and a growing need to provide her husband with full-time care, Bhuri was forced to choose between caring for her husband and finding work outside her home. Not able to leave her husband daily in his increasingly compromised state eventually led to a drop in their standard of living, putting them officially below the Indian poverty line and in need of government assistance.
Four years prior, before her husband’s health began to take its toll on the family’s resources, Bhuri and her husband had a modest income with which they could allocate some funds to health care. It was at this time, in her mid-to-late 50’s, that Bhuri first noticed changes in her vision. She was diagnosed with cataracts in 2009 and had her left eye operated on before her husband’s health began to fail significantly. In the years following, the right eye continued to give her problems, an issue all to common for many women living in rural India. Her own health became a lower priority than the needs of her ailing husband.
As her right eye continued to deteriorate, Bhuri found herself growing increasingly concerned over caring for her husband in a compromised state. Without the resources necessary to fix it, she continued to do what she could with the vision that had been restored in her left eye. She hoped things would not get worse.
For two years, she did her best to work with limited capabilities. Until, that is, she learned of the sponsored outreach camps from friends within her community. When she heard there was a possibility that eye treatment services would be free, she immediately began making arrangements for a visit to be screened.
Rarely having the opportunity to leave the house, she made plans to have her husband’s care covered in her absence and timed her visit with a weekly trip to collect government-issued rations. When Bhuri arrived at the outreach camp (and, indeed, throughout her entire journey through surgery and recovery at the hospital) she clutched her bag of rations, holding them close by her side at all times, sleeping on them, as one would a pillow, at night).
Bhuri arrived at SSSST hospital with community companions by her side, and successfully underwent surgery in October 2014. Before surgery she wept tears of frustration, feeling overwhelmed with a life that she felt she’d worked so hard to nurture, only to have it fall apart so quickly without any sort of safety net; with no one, not even her children, to care for her, when she had cared for so many.
Bhuri’s recovery in the ward took longer than most and she came out of surgery not feeling well. The morning after, she took extra time to rest in her bunk. She ate slowly. She moved slowly. It was the first time in years Bhuri had a few days respite from caring for her husband, and instead of worrying about the needs of others, others were caring for her.
While vision restoration is, of course, the primary goal of HelpMeSee's efforts, the peripheral effects of restoring sight also yields powerful psychological benefits in the lives of the patients we treat. For Bhuri, it wasn’t only a matter of removing the cataract. It was about supporting a woman who is forever working to make ends meat as she watches her husband grow weak. It was about reassuring her that her health matters. She, in fact, matters.
With her vision now restored, Bhuri looks forward to being able to care for her husband in the best possible way. With her health in check once again, she feels ready to turn her attention back to those who need her most.