Memorable ride in pursuit of the gift of sight

The spark for last weekend’s ride was initiated three months ago following a phone call from V. Bakeerthy, who is with the non-profit organisation Sri Narayani Foundation, Malaysia.

Bakeerthy and several others, volunteer at the foundation during their free time, looking into the welfare of 60 children from B40 families in Kuala Selangor.

They take charge of the scholastic, physical, and mental wellbeing of these children. Through their work, they realise that these children might be having issues with their sight, which was affecting their overall performance and development.

Understanding the need for a formal assessment, Bakeerthy reached out to me for assistance. She was fully aware of the collaboration between Rotary Club Klang Central and the hospital where I worked – Bukit Tinggi Medical Centre (BTMC), Klang.

The collaboration involves the “Gift of Sight” project, where we perform free cataract surgeries for eligible individuals in the B40 group. We successfully completed 30 cases during our pilot project in 2022, and are currently running the second edition with 40 cases planned this year.

So, when Barkeerthy first reached out, my beloved motorcycle ‘Christine’ and I headed to Bukit Rotan, Kuala Selangor, to meet the volunteers, and assess the suitability of their premise for the eye screening.

Upon meeting them, I was overwhelmed by their commitment, conviction, dedication, and passion to serve the community. I felt we had to deliver more than just an eye screening.

For this to happen, I quickly contacted BTMC’s chief executive officer, Jasmine Lau, and put forward the idea of a full-on health assessment for these children.

Lau is a very community-oriented individual and is always looking for ways to give back to society. As such, she did not need much persuasion.

She jumped on board and helped in the planning. We roped in paediatrician, Dr Wong Weng Keong, dental surgeon Dr Elizabeth P. John, and dietician Huda Aiman to include paediatric health screening, oral hygiene assessment, and dietary advice for a more comprehensive screening.

To help us with the eye screening, in addition to my staff, I enlisted the help of my former optometry student, M. Vinodhini, who is now a binocular and low-vision expert.

I was a part-time lecturer for her undergraduate optometry programme. My OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) for timing and punctuality really left a mark on my students.

During my first class, I advised them on the need to be on time for my 8am lectures, failing which they would become “outstanding students”.

Many thought I was doing stand-up comedy. But the “outstanding students” from my second class were not laughing when they found the lecture hall entrance locked at 8am, sharp.

I have been labelled archaic and medieval in my ways, but I saw full attendance for all my classes every semester I taught.

My upbringing, schooling, and training were by men and women of the old school who did not suffer fools gladly. I have been known to leave for rides solo if other riders didn’t keep time. Of course, this did not endear me to them, but I am what I am.

They have gone on to make successful careers in both commercial and clinical optometry. A group of them even won a national-level optometry competition.

I am proud to say I played a very small part in their careers.

Vino, as I fondly call Vinodhini, brought her mother and dentist cousin to help out, too.

For those children requiring glasses, A. Thiru of TK Optometry – an optometrist with a charitable heart – was willing to get the glasses done at cost price. The cost was borne by the Rotary Club.

My heart was filled with joy to see so many willing to pitch in to make a difference. We conducted a successful health camp on Nov 27, 2022.

Sunday’s ride was to put the icing on the cake for the medical camp – to present the children with their spectacles.

But yours truly decided to make it a roundabout ride to Bukit Rotan.

This was the plan: To leave home at 3am and head to Ipoh via the trunk road. There, I was to meet Dr M. Thinakaran for breakfast at a restaurant in Gunung Rapat. We would then embark on an 88km ride to Lumut Water Front before continuing my 157km ride to Taman Rajawali in Bukit Rotan to pass the spectacles to the volunteers at 10am.

Once done, I was to head back to BTMC to review a patient and be home in time for lunch with the family.

While the planning was good, the execution was skewed.

I slept through my alarm and woke up at 2.45am instead. I missed out on my morning caffeine fix and rushed to get ready.

However, I managed to flask a strong brew of a new brand of coffee my missus specially bought for my early morning rides. I am a really lucky man who still wished that she would join me for rides.

My music of choice was Woodstock ’69. About an hour into the ride, I was losing focus. It was then that I realised I had missed my caffeine shot. I stopped for 30 minutes for coffee and biscuits. The new coffee was strong; strong enough to wake up the sleeping dead.

I messaged Dr Thinakaran, informing him of my new ETA (estimated time of arrival), so as to not keep him waiting.

Feeling rejuvenated, off I went, cruising the curves to rendezvous with Dr Thinakaran and his machine. I stopped at the Ipoh railway station and St. Michael’s Institution to take some pictures of these iconic buildings. Following a simple breakfast of hot noodles with a piping hot local brew, Dr Thinakaran and I cruised towards Lumut Water Front. We took some pictures, including a wefie with a local fisherman who identified himself as Samy.

From Lumut, it was a 157km run to the community centre in Bukit Rotan. It was really hot riding through palm oil plantations and paddy fields to reach the centre on time.

The children were excited to receive their glasses, and there was happiness and joy in their voices when they read out the test letters with ease. The episode brought tears to my eyes, and my soul overflowed with joy.

A beneficiary getting her sight tested after receiving a pair of new glasses. Image: Dr M. Narendran

The sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and happiness filled my entire being when I saw the sparkle in their eyes, and the smiles on their faces when they realised they could now see the world better.

Of the 46 children screened, 13 of them needed spectacles. If you were to extrapolate this number with the community at large, you will realise the number of people who may need help.

For me, this was a fantastic team effort from the volunteers, the team at BTMC, representatives from Rotary Club Klang Central, parents, and those who stepped up to help lay a strong foundation for these children to build a brighter and better future.

It was a 48km ride back to BTMC to meet a patient. As I reached the Shah Alam exit on the North Klang Valley Expressway, I found myself riding to a scene of an accident.

A middle-aged gentleman was lying on the road, while another was berating him for allegedly causing the accident. My medical training kicked in. The man on the road had a strong pulse but his hands were cold and clammy. He kept mumbling “hypo” (hypoglycaemia). I always carry zero-sugar electrolyte drinks in my panniers along with my flash of hot coffee and biscuits. They are my emergency rations.

The electrolyte drink is to replenish the salts I sweat out in my heavy armoured waterproof riding gear on my long rides. It was helpful today, but now, I seriously doubt the ‘No Sugar’ label, as after the drink, the man was more coherent.

This exact location was the site of another motor vehicle accident 17 years ago. I was then a newly-qualified eye specialist on my way to work at Hospital Klang, as my ward rounds started at 6am.

A young couple were trapped in their mangled car in the 5.30am incident. I was the first to arrive at the scene. I managed to pull out the passenger, who was bleeding profusely from her head. She had facial injuries, and I managed a rudimentary pressure bandage with my hanky and hand.

The driver was pinned, his leg skewered by the A-pillar. I managed to call for emergency services and called my then colleague, Dr R. Sethunath, telling him to inform my boss that I would be late for work.

Dr Sethunath even got me a shirt for me to change into, as mine was drenched in blood. He initially thought I was injured. I still can picture the look on his face.

Unfortunately, the girl passed away due to her injuries.

Thankfully, there was no fatality in last Sunday’s accident. I was able to resume my ride to reach home safely at 1.15pm.

Overall, it was a great and satisfactory ride, completing 522km. I spent time with a dear friend, served the community, empowered several children, attended to an accident victim, and was there in time for the family.

In the words of American author Helen Keller: “When we do the best that we can do, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.”

Today’s article is dedicated to every individual involved in the Bukit Rotan project:

Sri Narayani Foundation
K. Vasudevan Krishnan (founder and president); Balakumaran (chief executive officer); A. Malani (academic coordinator); V. Bakeerthy (spiritual coordinator); S. Pannir (sports coordinator); Jac Vilasini Nair (social development coordinator); S. Revathi, S. Kumutha and K.Krishnavany (academic officers).

Rotary Club Klang Central
V. Navanithan (president); P. Era (immediate past president); V. Ratna (past president); V. Mahandran (past president); K. Kesavan (club admin director); M. Rajoo (Rotarian)

Bukit Tinggi Medical Centre
Jasmine Lau (chief executive officer); Dr Elizabeth P. John (dental surgeon); Dr Wong Weng Keong (paediatrician); Dr Lilian Tay (health screening medical officer); A. Pavithra Aruchunan (optometrist); Huda Aiman and Chong Shu Shen (dieticians); Chong May Lin (clinical sister); Siti Zakiah Raja Muhamad, B. Krishnaveni and G. Kalyani (nurses); Sheila Shaari, S. Sivajothj and Muhammad Haziq Haris (marketing)

M. Vinodhini (optometrist); M. Rajeswari (Vinodhini’s mother); Dr S. Sharmini (dentist); A. Thiru (optometrist)

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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