Over spring break, my family and I spent our time traveling through Vietnam working in various hospitals, operating on the sickest of patients and sharing new surgical procedures with some of the more technologically-lagging hospitals. My mother, a urologist, did thirty
cases over the course of the two weeks, and I spent time in the operating room taking photos and acting as a scrub nurse for a number of the cases (I picked up some vietnamese for things like “scapula,” “suction,” and “water”). We brought a lot of equipment, mostly donated from Boston Scientific or North Shore LIJ Hospital (Lennox Hill), to donate to five different hospitals. Most of the urban hospitals acted solely as surgical referral centers–patients came in the day of their case, met the surgeon the morning of, went under, and left the next morning. All elective cases were done in the morning, leaving the afternoons open for conferences and emergency cases. In the rural hospitals, unless it was an extraordinarily basic case, most patients were referred to bigger city hospitals (specifically those in Saigon and Hanoi). The communist government has an extraordinary strong-hold on the way the hospitals function (all lecture halls featured images, statues, and posters of Uncle Ho in addition to giant red flags–additionally, all the
chiefs of department are strongly affiliated with the party). The hospitals were amazingly advanced in some ways, but usually missed the point of such advancements (there was a scrub sink, but all the equipment was reusable and unsterile; nurses wore scrubs, but ate soup in the operating room; the OR featured clean linens but the windows that looked out onto the dirt streets were left open; the oncology departments and urology departments were amazingly strong independently, but if a case of prostate cancer came about there would be absolutely no interaction between the departments). We traveled with a group of doctors through an organization called Global Medical Volunteers.
Overall, the trip was definitely not one I would ever repeat, nor was it a remotely relaxing break, but it was, at the least, educational. Seeing the massive pelvic prolapses many women lived with before the cases performed was absolutely eye-opening.