PROJECT: Nursing – Griffith University
WRITTEN BY: Laura Boulogne
After numerous goodbyes to our families, our trip from Brisbane to Luang Prabang in Laos started with Liz, our facilitator, helping a patient with food poisoning while flying at 20 000 feet. Very little did we know that it wouldn't be the first clinic that we would work at up in the clouds.
Landing in Luang Prabang we had a tour of this beautiful city and its temples. Our guide took us around the Mekong and the Suang river as well as across the city in the night markets.
Sunday morning after a night of heavy rain the decision was made not to drive up to the host families in remote Laos, 2000m high up the mountains due to the muddy slippery roads. Stop is set in Ban Pak Seng, the center of the district where we will hold our clinics.
For our first day of clinic we went up to a small village at about 600m ASL. Today it will reach sub zero temperatures, and everyone is wearing as many layers as they can. Many tried to buy gloves, socks and coats at the local markets to give themselves a sense of warmth. At this stage it rained for 48h and the rain just calmed leaving us with a cold wind…very far from the 30 degrees of the weekend. Thus we are all freezing under our scarves as we pack up the trucks and head up to the mountains on narrow road surrounded by cliffs displaying the most beautiful and purely natural views of the mountains.
As we enter the village we can all witness the poverty of the inhabitants: small wooden house, no real infrastructures, kids and parents with very little clothing and footwear on the icy dirt ground. Here we are setting the clinic in a one-room building with a cement floor, roof and two walls: this is going to be an interesting first day!
As the day goes by our team leader Tiffany runs the clinic and direct us all towards completion, we saw a hundred patients. Temperatures are now reaching below zero and the rain started again. Today has been hard on us and our patients, their temperature weren't easy to take, we had to shyly ask them to undress to auscultate them in this cold, we could not find their pulses... However, we are all feeling humble facing our happy and respectful patients, they did not complain nor argued and kept a smile on their faces as they thank us: Khop Jai Lai Lai.
After a nice warm dinner that night we all headed to bed under a pile of blankets.
Day two – Australia Day
Today we are heading to breakfast in the rain. To keep being productive and not waste any second we all unpacked our donation bags and started re-arranging all the clinical boxes to be ready for the next clinics. Medications are being sorted and counted, clothes and shoes packed, toothbrushes, toothpaste and soaps in our education bags and our assessment boxes filled up. Some of us wore Australia Day caps and temporary tattoos as we worked.
The afternoon is spent with a meeting where we all debriefed our experience at the clinic, our expectations, goals and hopes for this placement.
Day three – to the hospital we go
All clinics up the mountains have been cancelled for this week, we are all feeling sad not to be able to see and help so many villages. It's Kayla's birthday today and we sing as we hope for the rain to stop. As we head to the hospital, hope comes as the sun peaks out, warming us all on this cold morning. Visiting Pak Seng’s hospital many of us decide that we cannot complain about Queensland Health and our western hospital anymore! These people have nothing in the hospital and yet they are fairly healthy and living vibrant lives. As the afternoon sets some of us go to the centre of the village and start kicking the ball with a few kids, the next minute is it five of us nurses against thirty kids playing soccer, frisbee and volley, what a beautiful dry afternoon!
The day concluded with a pumpkin cake for Kayla and a good night sleep.
Day four – back to work
Today we held a clinic in Ban Pak Seng where we reside, about 53 families came to see us as we treat GIT disorders, chest infections, cold as flus as well as visual disorders with glasses. We are all feeling content to be able to do what we are here for and help the villagers.
As we head to dinner we meet a lot of girls dressed in beautiful traditional gowns and music can be heard in the background. While eating we all debrief about the clinic, what was done well and what could be modified to provide the best care. Alex, our team leader reflects on today and congratulates us on treating 104 patients before an announcement is being made: the children of the village will dance for us tonight.
Demonstrations of the five traditional Lao dances are made and we all look at them in awe. These dances are really graceful and the silky traditional costumes are complimenting their movements. Inviting us to join them some of us become Lao dancer just for the night. When our turn comes to teach them a dance, the Nut Bush was our choice and we all cracked on laughing at the end. Another beautiful night in Laos finished with us all going to join the dancers in their bamboo dance.
Day five – above the clouds under the sunlight
Today I wake up with a certain sense of excitement, and it hasn't rained since yesterday night. Last night we were advised that a dry night meant that we could go and help up in the mountains today. All of us are feeling relieved and hope for a full day of sunshine for us to go up to the village, do our clinic and come down the mountain safely. Today is our last clinical day of the week before we drive back to Luang Prabang for the weekend.
We drive far above the clouds to discover Ban Nung Kam, our clinic home. This village has a population of 630 and they are giving us a warm welcome as the children all line up in front of us. As the clinic starts I go with the antenatal team to check the pregnant women of the Ban Nung Kam. Thankfully all of them are healthy and foetal hearts are amazing to hear. As we wrap up the clinic and head back on the trucks, Juliette, team leader, announces that 154 patients is our count for the day.
The first major challenge I have witnessed on this trip was today, a woman burned her foot by the fire two nights ago and because of the roads she could not get help in the districts hospital. She was in a state of sepsis, tachycardia, arrhythmia, and as we gave her antibiotics we knew that there wasn't anything else we could do.
It is a bittersweet night for me as we all join for dinner enjoying the warm dawn and the feeling of going back to Luang Prabang tomorrow for a weekend of exploration.