Looking Back at Week 1 of Our Mission in Vietnam

Stacy Lerner evaluating a pediatric candidate
during screening.
We screened 106 patients in our first two days of our medical mission here in Can Tho. Two years ago, during our 2013 mission, we screened 80 in the same amount of time. The numbers increase each trip as more people hear about us and the hospital advertises the dates we'll be here. The hospital serves the Mekong region of Vietnam, far beyond Can Tho itself. People travel from significant distances. We have a slightly bigger team with us for this mission, but it's always overwhelming to see so many people who have hopes that the IEP team can help them. 

I spend the screening days starting charts with the initial information from the patients or their families. The language barrier definitely adds challenges, but our interpreters help quite a bit. It's very hard to get the patients to admit to pain or difficulty because it's not in their nature to complain. I have discovered that random pantomime is also helpful. Does the knee flex? Does the ankle move? Can the patient climb stairs or walk on uneven ground? I'll never expect an Academy Award nomination, but it helps get the job done. Or makes the patients laugh. Sometimes both.

OR #13: One of our two operating rooms at
Can Tho Central General Hospital.
Two of our team from California speak Vietnamese, which is most helpful. Mai was born in Vietnam and works as a medical assitant in Dr. Lehnert's office. Tho is one of the medical residents, whose parents were born in Vietnam. We also have local interpreters. Hoa worked with us two years ago and we arranged for her to work with us again before we arrived. Jonathan, a friend of Mai's who came from California on his own, brought his niece from Ho Chi Minh City, in hopes they could help. Both acted as interpreters during the first week, which was especially helpful during the busy screening days. Our interpreters are a vital connection to our patients, their families, and the local hospital teams, especially in the operating room and during rounds in the patient rooms. 

Surgery days start early with breakfast at the hotel. Part of the team heads to the hospital to bring out our supplies and prep the operating rooms for the first surgeries. Wing Ip manages the surgery schedule, balancing the cases across the two rooms based on difficulty, supplies, and staffing. The schedule shifts by the time we arrive at the hospital when a patient opts out of surgery or a new trauma case comes in. 

One of our patients for the first day cancelled her procedure because she realized she wouldn't be able to return to work in the rice fields as quickly as she needed. Many of our patients come from the outlying agricultural areas, making transportation home and recovery more challenging than it would be in a more urban environment.
In the evenings, we get together as a team for dinner or go out in smaller groups.  Following the first three days of surgery, we had the weekend to explore the area around Can Tho. More to come in another post.

~ Kim (a.k.a. the Wordjanitor)

Evening in Can Tho includes what is possibly one of the
world's loudest karaoke sound sytems on a river boat.