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“It’s not me!” A story about Depression and Eye Health

Published: 07.04.2017

Light for the World, Burkina Faso

On World Health Day, Elie Bagbile, Country Representative of Burkina Faso for Light for the World recounts a story close to his heart, highlighting the role of their Community-based Rehabilitation programme.

Tonton Dieudonné was an exceptional teacher, very respectful and much respected, known by everybody in the community for his strong commitment to the Catholic church. He always considered me as his step-son because my wife belongs to his same ethnic group. We worked together for almost 15 years; I was the Director of the local Community-based Rehabilitation (CBR) programme and Tonton Dieudonné was a volunteer.

One day in Zorgho, when I was working at the eye clinic, I found out that Tonton Dieudonné was suffering from severe depression. His wife Germaine remembers: “He was an only child. His parents died two weeks from each other while he was away at the seminary and the parish priest decided not to inform young Dieudonné. When holidays arrived, he asked for them. Only then did the priest tell him that his parents had died. At the time, the child did not react at all. Years later, two years after his retirement, Tonton Dieudonné woke up one morning and suddenly broke down into tears. It was the first time in 40 years of our marriage. “What is happening?” I asked him. He replied: “I want my mother”. Since that day, his tears never stopped flowing.”

To add to all this, Tonton Dieudonné had bilateral cataracts! When we admitted him to the eye clinic, he didn’t make life easy for the medical team at all. A nervous tic prevented the surgeon from carrying out the sight-saving operation. When they asked him why he would not lay down and stay calm, he kept saying, “It’s not me!”. This situation lasted for a whole week. We ended up carrying out the surgery under general anaesthesia.

The operation was successful. Tonton Dieudonné remained in the hospital one week longer before his discharge. Although he completely recovered his sight, his tears didn’t stop and neither did his constant will to see his late mother. Thanks to the Community-based Rehabilitation programme, we could refer him to the mental health team in his region that followed him on a regular basis to treat his depression. Until the day  the local radio announced: “God gives, God takes away. May his name be praised! Tonton Dieudonné has left this world.”

Tonton always reminds me of the crucial importance of flexibility while working in the health sector in general and the eye health sector in particular. We must be inclusive and find ways to react to the specific needs of patients. It also shows the importance of collaboration between different health services – and finally, that an eye surgery is sadly not the remedy for all ills! We at the LIGHT FOR THE WORLD continuously promote this holistic approach with our implementing partners.

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