Mr Matthew Lollback

Alcon Technician, Cambodia Field Trip 2018

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My allocated 4am pickup time wasn’t a problem. What was a problem was the fact that I reside in a cul-de-sac, which turned a three point turn into a twenty three point turn for the unfortunate bus driver, Mr Thach. Volunteers in Sydney who opted to be picked up in the bus would know that there was a trailer attached to the bus to store our luggage for the trip to the airport. When Mr Thach made it to the cul-de-sac, I could see the trepidation in his eyes when he turned to me and asked,

“Is there another way out?”

At that point, I wished there was. I knew this was going to require a team effort to extract ourselves from the tight cul-de-sac. The pressure was on, there was no turning back now. Other volunteers were waiting to be picked up.

“No, Mr Thach, there isn’t” I said.

I ran to the back of the bus to keep an eye on the trailer during the reversing manoeuvres as Mr Thach, carefully began his twenty three point turn. BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP. The dreaded bus reverse warning. At 4am, this is not only a reverse warning; it also serves as an alarm clock for the residents in the street! While looking out the rear window of the bus, I’m sure I saw a blind or two flicker as bleary eyed residents strained for a look as to what was going on in their normally quiet street. Keeping his nerve, Mr Thach pulled off one of the greatest twenty three point turns in history, and we eventually peeled away to pick up the next wave of volunteers.



True to the briefing provided by Michael Tran, we were greeted by the sea of yellow T-shirts upon our arrival at the airport. The group as a whole, were welcoming and I immediately felt at ease. I was lucky enough to be seated next to Maria and Monica on the flight over. Just prior to landing, I peered out the window to see the expanse of water laying around. What a contrast between Phnom Penh and Sydney. For months, New South Wales couldn’t buy a drop of water and in early August it was declared 100% drought affected. 

Sunday morning for the eye team involved setting up at Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital. In the afternoon, I proceeded to service the first of six machines. All machines were going to have a complete PM (preventative maintenance) service completed, as well as any outstanding items resolved that Peter had flagged with me prior to the trip.

My “workshop” for the week would be a small space in Phung’s “IOL store.” Looking for an area to set up when I first arrived, I asked Phung,

“Is there a particular area where you would like me to work?”

Without saying a word, Phung immediately pointed to a space near the door, and with that, I hung my head in shame and began the long trek (four steps) to my new home; the naughty corner. Seriously though Phung, thanks for allowing me to share your “real estate” for the week."My last memory at the Lotus Kids Club was really unforgettable and makes me remember my first journey with the VVPA/AHHA as an amazing and emotional experience."

Early one morning, before the lists for the day had begun, Peter told me one of the units wasn’t accepting the FMS (cassette). The cassette has a drainage bag to hold the aspirated cataract / fluids and the procedure can’t begin without a cassette in the machine. To minimise downtime, the floating (spare) phaco machine was used. With the faulty unit back in the workshop, a fault was identified within the fluidics module. With the fluidics module replaced, the service was completed and all tests passed. The machine was now ready to be released back into service. This is one example of a repair that was carried out during my visit.

During some downtime, I had the pleasure of meeting with some of the members of the Khmer Sight Foundation. The Foundation’s vision is to train upcoming eye care health professionals so the country can become self-reliant by administering its own eye care to those in need. I donated my spare scrubs to Houda, one of the members of the Foundation. I guess he took a liking to them because when I caught up with him next, he had already changed into them! He was so grateful for them. Perhaps his way of thanking me was by asking me to participate in an interview. How could I refuse? The chance to be on camera - now we’re talking.

My first field trip with AHHA was an enjoyable and rewarding experience. The appreciation shown by the patients made it all worthwhile.

I probably wouldn’t have been on the bus that morning, if it weren’t for Peter Kandasamy, my work colleague.

“Come to Cambodia Matt, you’ll have a good time” Peter kept telling me. We would catch up at work meetings and again he would enquire,

“So Matt, are you coming? I’ve told William you are.” Well, that settles it then, I was coming. I do thank Peter for convincing me to tackle my first field trip with AHHA.

My role for the 2018 field trip was in a technical capacity, and involved servicing the phacoemulsification equipment. The phaco machine is used by the surgeon for cataract removal. Preparation for this began in January where Peter provided me with an update from a technical standpoint of each machine. I then gathered the necessary spare parts I believed were required to allow me to service each machine once we were in Cambodia.