After finishing a rough but worthwhile stay of three clinical days in the mountains, the International Medical Relief (IMR) Vietnam team set off for a five-hour drive back down to Da Nang city to prepare for their next adventure! Accustomed to hearing the rooster crowing at 4 am, most of the IMR team had no problem getting ready to board the vans, bright and early at 6 am. We traveled across bridges and rice fields to the next clinic, located ninety minutes southwest from Da Nang. Town residents waited patiently, under tents with plastic rain coats in the muggy rain, for our arrival.
**Dr. Puhek wearing a rice hat she borrowed from a patient she triaged**
This facility offered by the community was quite different compared to our first clinic. The availability of private rooms and beds enhanced the providers’ ability to assess and provide comfort for their patients. The population at this rural clinic was predominantly older compared to the first clinic, and many had complaints of joint and back pain. The team even walked with every patient and placed cardboard over the wet tile steps leading up to the clinic to prevent any falls. The USD nursing students stayed busy the past two days; streamlining the collection of vitals signs, assessing patients in triage and well-care, providing basic wound care, distributing reading glasses, counting and distributing medications in pharmacy, conducting simple lab tests, and assisting the medical providers. Throughout our many encounters, there were a few patients who have touched the hearts of many on the team.
One special patient was a gentleman who was injured during the nine years he served in the Vietnam War. By “injured”, this man has been disabled for over 40 years after losing his left leg due to a bomb and enduring a chronic deformity to his right leg. This patient warmed our hearts because despite of his situation, he kept smiling and thanking everyone for providing care to the townspeople. There was a much discussion about finding a whelchair for this patient and luckily we were able to do so. On the second day, the patient and his nephew came back to the clinic to pick up the new wheelchair with double tread wheels. The patient stated that he was “very happy” that he can now travel around more than ever before!
We noticed many patients we met in the clinic were very hardworking. While working in triage area, USD nursing student, Anne, noticed an elderly woman carrying a man on her back. Along with a nurse, she automatically jumped up as the woman continued to walk to the end of the line for registration and vital signs, which was quite a long queue! The medical team and the Vietnamese translators were instructed to move this woman to provider seats right away. When Anne questioned why they came to the clinic, the woman responded in Vietnamese saying, “My son has been like this all of his life, and I was hoping you can find a cure for him.” The two individuals were heartbroken, and we knew that the request was impossible.
One of the IMR volunteers took it upon herself to pay for this young man’s double tread, off-roading wheelchair, complete with security straps. It’s the small things in life that makes a difference in someone’s world, and we are glad to have been a part of it.
Another patient who arrived at the clinic was a 95-year-old woman who hitchhiked a ride to our clinic. When she met with her providers, she told them how she currently lives alone and in poverty because she sends all of her money to her daughter-in-law who is currently being treated for cancer. The providers were so touched by the patient’s story that one of the volunteers donated some money and encouraged others to donate as well. She impressively raised a little over 2 million dong, which is almost $100! The patient was so grateful that she was rendered speechless, responding with nothing but a big smile, hugs, and a few kisses!
As the day came to an end, Professor McAmis offered more than just healthcare to the patients. She talked to the Vietnamese community liaison Hoa about donating her own personal boots to someone in need. Hoa suggested it would be a great idea to give it to one of the rice farmers who are constantly outside working in the knee-deep water of the rice fields. The two ladies searched and spotted an older gentleman who was toiling in the fields, wearing worn down boots held up with mere rubber bands. He was in dire need of a new pair of boots to continue provide for his family. Equipped with a smile and a pair of nice boots from his “American daughter”, the elderly man ready to work another day!
**Professor McAmis with her “Vietnamese father” whom she donated her boots.**
After the clinics were over, we had the opportunity to visit Da Nang’s hospital. The hospital serves patients ages 16 and up with a total of 2,428 beds. We definitely noticed a cultural difference as we stepped onto the unit floor. The first thing we were told to do was take off our shoes and put on hospital slippers! We also learned that ICU nurses have a 1:6 nurse to patient ratio with only a social worker as an assistant. In addition, there is typically a 20 hour wait in the Emergency Department! Though some modern treatments are available, the hospital staff clearly work very hard and are incredibly resourceful in using everything they have available to them. They are quite innovative when it comes to wheelchairs!
All in all, after spending five days at two rural community clinics within Vietnam, we served almost 1,400 patients, donated over 900 bags of food, provided 800 individuals with reading glasses, and gave some patients 200,000 VND (~ $10 USD) as an additional incentive, specifically to those in the community with little access to food and healthcare. None of this would have been possible without every member of our amazing Vietnam medical team!
It only takes one person to make a difference in this world, and in Vietnam, we saw first-hand how one individual could move the team, and despite various limitations, the IMR Vietnam team went above and beyond and made a difference.
As we USD students go our separate ways and return home, we come exhausted but inspired, with our eyes and hearts opened after our many experiences in the clinics. Though we may leave only a small footprint in Vietnam, we step forward with a newfound confidence and passion to become that nursing leader who can move a team, initiate change, and make a difference in the world.