Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Teaching - An Important Part of Clinic Work

It’s a classroom on most days, and in the way of classrooms around the world, wooden desks are lined up facing a chalkboard, and colorful posters identify numbers and letters. But today, six of this school’s classrooms in Soasio, Indonesia were arranged and provisioned as medical offices, staffed by an international contingent of medical providers, including Project HOPE volunteer, Dr. Lynn Bemiller.

Soasio is a ten-minute helicopter ride from the spot in the Halmahera Sea in which the USNS Mercy is anchored; and today this team of medical professionals flew in for the last day of a three-day clinic. Once off the helo, the team walked down a steep hill that afforded a view of the town below and the azure coastline. Children rushed to accompany the group to the clinic, and their plastic flip-flops smacked the hot macadam in a calypso chorus.

Hundreds of patients were registered to get eyes checked, teeth extracted, coughs diagnosed, and aches examined. Lynn was one of three providers in the adult medicine “office,” flanked on either side by pediatrics and the pharmacy. Also facing a packed dirt courtyard were the eye clinic, the dental clinic and physical therapy. It seemed every child of the city who was not being examined was hanging over a fence or peering through a window at the excitement.

Lynn began every patient interview in the same calm manner by saying, “My name is Dr. Bemiller, how can I help you?” A nurse/translator functioned as an effective go-between, and after a while, it seemed the language barrier evaporated. One of Lynn’s patients was a ninety-eight year old woman who described the aches and pains in her joints. Lynn elicited a smile from the woman when she said, “There’s just no way to make our joints young again,” before prescribing some anti-inflammatory medicine. So many of the day’s medical solutions were “easy fixes,” but there were too many cases in which the complexity of cases far outstripped our ability to provide care in a short visit. “That’s why this is more about teaching and building infrastructure,” said Lynn. “Working with local physicians is critical.”

The day ended with magic, and this time it wasn’t about a helo ride. As we left the site and walked back up the path, a gaggle of boys caught up and shielded me from the harsh sun with a large umbrella. At the top of the hill we hung out in a pasture waiting for our ride, and I sought the help of an interpreter to ask the boys a few questions. When I asked what they knew about America, they said, “Americans are big and tall.” I then asked if they could sing the Indonesia national anthem for us. There was a slight pause after the interpreter conveyed my request, but then one boy started singing. More kids joined in and soon a group of maybe twenty had gathered were belting out “Indonesia Rava” which I later discovered means Great Indonesia. They sang verse after verse, returning again and again to the refrain:

Great Indonesia, independent & sovereign!
My land, my country which I love
Great Indonesia, independent & sovereign!
Long live Great Indonesia!

I would give up ten sunsets here to share a photo of this with you, but I was so taken with the moment, I completely forgot to pull out my camera. But you can see the beauty in the children from other photos that day.

Indonesia is a great country, lush and beautiful. What a privilege it is to participate in Project HOPE’s mission to provide health care and health education and in turn help build stronger relationships with partner nations around the world.

Thanks for your interest in Project HOPE -- Kathryn Allen, HOPE Public Affairs Officer

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