Ha Noi, Vietnam 1

Posted by on Mar 21, 2011 in Blog | Comments Off on Ha Noi, Vietnam 1

Ha Noi, Vietnam 1

Monday, March 21, 2011.
Vien Bong Quoc Gia Hospital, (National Burn Institute)
Ha Noi, Vietnam.

I thought it would be fun to drop a few field notes and tasteful photos during our visit here in Ha Noi. For 23 years now, our surgical team has offered free cleft-lip and cleft-palate surgeries. This mission finds us in new territory as part of a burn team partnering with Surgical Volunteers International headed by Tom Flood out of Tucson, Arizona. Strengthened by this new partnership, Operation of Hope is now part of a pool of volunteers from all corners of the world. Especially noteworthy are our key medical volunteers born in Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City.

In all, there are 15 members on our team for this surgical mission. We are all shacked up in a simple and oddly decorated tower of a hotel located in the gritty industrial section of town, close to the hospital where we are stationed this week. As we wake up halfway around the world from our homes, Ha Noi seems like a massive concrete beehive, but one with many wonderful layers to explore.

March is winter-like in Northern Vietnam. Grey and wet. Typically by noon, the moist morning chill takes a rest and the warm hands of the sun visit to remind our shivers that warmer months lie ahead for this amazing country. In the few days leading up to this surgical mission, we have a short time to get acclimated. We take in our share of walking about town along broken and intensly cluttered sidewalks. The hobble of streets are packed with silk and coffee vendors, rows of cheap clothing and knock-off shoes. Heavy wafts of green, black and Jasmine tea and Cha Ca pots snapping fish in spicy oil fill the air. More than 85 million people call Vietnam home. Often, a sultry street walk will also deliver an acidic tapestry of garbage, gray waste water and sewage reminding you of a beyond-cramped urban lifestyle. Toss in thousands upon thousands of buzzing mopeds scrambling in every direction, and you have a swatch of everyday life in this busy little corner of the world.

Saturday we screened patients at the Hospital. Hundreds of people showed up looking for one of the 40 spaces we have available on our surgery schedule. It did not take long to fill the list. Families, kids, moms and dads packed the halls. Minor burns here. Major burns there. I was taking pictures, and kids in my lens waved back without hands or fingers. The 220 amp wiring in this country needs a little taking-a-look-at. Everywhere, heavy black wires are strewn in hairballs along telephone poles. The wires often hang near balconies or drop to the ground where people walk, drive and ride mopeds over without hesitation. Low soup pots burn intensely as toddlers learn to walk on uneven floors. Old propane stoves are wed to leaky knobs. Injured mopeds are repaired in tightly cramped quarters. Often, fuel leaks along the shop floor. Cheap cigarettes are hugely popular. You all know where this is going for a burn team ready to get to work.

As I write this email, it is Monday, the first day of our surgery schedule. With a late start we managed to finish three cases and will look to complete five or six more after a lunch. The first two cases were three-year old adorable little Vietnamese boys. Each boy’s hand curled up into little permanent fists as a result of falling into steaming hot soup pots on open fires. In Operating Room one, I watched Dr. Bauer Horton from Texas and Dr. Anthony Tran from Saigon use a fine blade to release the seared webbing in this little boy’s hand. Graceful latex gloves and sterilized blades gently unfolded tiny fingers. Skin from the child’s waist was harvested to replace the skin between fingers that had once seared together. This boy’s hand will never be perfect, but the little guy will have a basic range of motion and will discover some long-lost abilities. Maybe he will one day wave back to friends when they take a picture of him, all fingers open and dancing.