Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Final Week in Laos for Griffith Team B!

PROJECT: Nursing – Griffith University
WRITTEN BY: Nathan Bell

Reflecting on Griffith Team B's final week in Laos is bitter-sweet, as Laos has really gotten under their skin (in a good way).

Monday, Day 16
Today turned out to be our largest clinic – we had 120 families turn up, however, with Madeleine in charge the day couldn't have gone more smoothly. We send a couple of students out to make a home visit, a 74-year-old gentleman not eaten or drunk anything in the last three days. Sophie and Chris spent some time scrubbing up on their painting skills, or I should more correctly say, they spent lots of time scrubbing everything after painting. Either way with the help of Hazel and Elizabeth's daughters, they all managed to repaint a number of well-used blackboards. The school now looks the part, and the classrooms should be more usable; the experience left a mark not only on the girls but the school – and perhaps the girls’ clothes as well!

Tuesday, Day 17: 
Today our placement was a medium village, and we set up at a local high school. In this village most of the problems were respiratory issues, and it would seem cooking plays a large role in this unfortunately. Locals cook with wood fires indoors, often in the middle of the living space; the resulting soot that lines the tin roof also lines their airways. I did educate some people on the benefits of setting up an outdoor cooking area, one still under cover, but the interpreter said to me laughing, "But they won't, it's cultural." Later that night we discover the local hangout, a place of beer, burnt pork and Patong, a game played with large solid steel balls, closest team to the jack wins. Sounds easy, right? Yeah, I thought so too. The locals throw these balls with astounding accuracy, and the brief moment of pride you feel as your ball sits two inches from the jack swiftly turns to dismay, as they promptly apologise for knocking it out of the playing field before they even make the shot! Michelle and I stayed out later to meet Kood, a local member for the department of agriculture who proved most useful with his grasp of not only Patong, but English which he learnt in Vientiene. We also met another group of travellers from France, and after several rounds of nation vs nation we retired a draw.

Wednesday, Day 18: 
Loaded up with supplies we head out to the next village, our second last one. The school we operate out of is situated on the steepest of steep hills with no water or power. After we carry all the gear up the hill, one of our team is in a bad way with her asthma – the meet and greet continues but several of our cohort huddle around her and lend support and reassurance. It is sad to see one of our own needing treatment and without power, the nebuliser machine won't work and going down the hill again would almost certainly exacerbate the asthma. However not to be defeated she continues the day, a testament to her dedication to the clinics and the people who need her skills. Today turns out to be a huge clinic as well, 131 people – it seems like most of the village turned out for this one. There were as usual a few standout cases that came in to the clinic, such as a lady with the biggest goitre I have ever seen, about the size of a cantaloupe. One cardiac case came through that was also complex, but then again, when aren't cardiac cases? However there is not much we can do for them seeing as they cannot afford the ongoing medications that would be required to extend their lives.

Thursday, Day 19: 
So the final clinic has arrived, it's a mixture of joy and sadness. Joy to be soon returning home to our loved ones, but sadness that we couldn't help more and that our team so tight will soon be dissolved and dispersed. Today we visit the Pak Seng District Children's Hospital. It turns out to be a small but rewarding clinic, and for me was the trip highlight. One of the last patients of the day is brought to Elizabeth Coyne the leader for group C. The local nurse indicated the child of maybe four years old needed a head dressing redone over a laceration to his forehead that had multiple stitches. However, language barriers being what they are, when we asked the interpreter to clarify, he said they wanted the stitches removed. Despite not having a proper stitch cutter we made do with sterile scissors and tweezers, eleven stitches later and a new dressing the child was on his way home. The little boy never made a sound. For a lucky few in our team, they got the opportunity to sit in for a birth, and witnessed a beautiful baby girl being born. It was very fortuitous for mother and baby that Hazel was there to help the local midwives, or the outcome could have been very much different. It was a difficult birth and only the second one that Hazel had been apart of in seven years.

Friday, Day 20:
Following our blessing ceremony, we head to the vehicles and leave for the three hour journey to the caves; caves that contain thousands of Buddha statues that have been placed there throughout the centuries. So now the clinics are all done, we are free to do as we wish before returning to Luang Prabang and then home to Australia. We eat, drink and enjoy our final days together. I should at least mention the market shopping; some were a little addicted to say the least, but I guess to be fair, no more than my love affair with Lao beer. The final goodbyes for some at the Luang Prabang airport are strangely hard as they leave us to travel further afield, some won't leave us until the next stop Bangkok. Either way with each one that parts ways we lose a little more of our team. I hope that this final blog reminds us all of the time and the experiences we shared.

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