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by Dexter Rose in Havana

What is the cost of sight regained? That, one can only fully appreciate if you had spent years with a vision of life blurred, with a dimmer view than the majority of us normally see the world around us.

A very emotional and excited group of 46 Vincentians touched down at Cuba’s Jose Marti International airport 9.45 the evening of Thursday July 21 to a rousing welcome. They were the first would be beneficiaries of Cuba’s extended kindness of free medical care extended to St.Vincent and the Grenadines and other nations of the sub-region dubbed Vision Now.{{more}}

On hand to greet the group were Cuba’s Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Rafael Dausa and officials from the State Council. Also on hand, a brigade of social workers, young university students assigned to ensure the needs of the visitors were taken care of at every turn.

The welcoming ceremony, held in a special lounge at a distant and quiet end of the massive airport complex, produced its own surprises. The Cuban musical ensemble, playing traditional rhythms, was spontaneously joined by one of the older visitors. Leopold Anthony, rising from his chair, began to improvise on his violin and flute and shocked the Cuban musicians with his prowess. Ailments were not going to stop this musician from an opportunity he obviously relished as he launched into “Guantanamera”. He told Cuban TV in an interview afterwards, in part Spanish, that he always takes his violin along when he goes to hospital.

The Vincentians were afterwards taken in their air-conditioned tour buses to their hotel located in the world famous yatching resort haven, the Hemingway Marina on the western side of this sprawling city of 2 million persons to spend the night.

But by midmorning Friday 22nd, they had been transferred to the towering ultra modern Almejieras Hospital where, from their new 19th floor base, they were prepared for surgery. Those who were ready underwent surgery by the afternoon while others, who suffered from other ailments, were treated for those problems even as their preparation for eventual work on their eyes was undertaken.

In some cases laser surgery was done, while for the majority it was cataract removal through invasive surgery.

On Saturday morning, the first 22 patients were released from the hospital for their Hotel Aquarium base at the Hemingway Marina.

Recovery is a process that takes days and that allowed those first patients to return home ahead of their counterparts.

Among the patients, members of the delegation had been rallying around was one former sailor who was blinded in both eyes. There is hope that he will regain his vision now.

So one asks, what is the cost of sight regained? Priceless.