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Doctor of the island

Update: January, 13/2018 - 09:00
Up to date: Dr Lĩnh examines the health of an elderly on Phú Quý Island. Photo suckhoedoisong.vn
Viet Nam News

A young doctor was once very worried about health care on Phú Quý Island in the East Sea.

He went to work there and found that there were so little medical help for people that they often went to people who believed they had magic powers.

At first, Dr Bùi Đình Lĩnh had very little to work with. However, in time he came to understand that different seasons brought different diseases.

by Phương Hà

During 30 years’ work on Phú Quý Island in the East Sea in the central province of Bình Thuận, Dr Bùi Đình Lĩnh has treated so many serious cases and saved so many lives that he is referred to affectionately as "Uncle Lĩnh”.

Located 120km from the mainland, Phú Quý is isolated from the outside world and rarely visited by outsiders.

A few decades ago, life on the island was difficult. There was no fresh water, electricity or medical facility. All the paths were covered with sand while the only means of access to the island was by boat, which might take one or two days.

The islanders used to consult sorcerers or wait for a supernatural power to end their sickness, but many of them died in hopelessness. Several doctors from the mainland were assigned to provide medical care to the islanders, but none of them were patient enough to stay.

In 1986, 27-year-old doctor Lĩnh, a graduate from Thái Bình Medical University, got married and then volunteered to work on the island for three years after learning about the difficulties the islanders faced.

“I volunteered full of youthful aspirations without envisioning the shortages I would have to face,” he said. “Setting foot on the island, I saw endless white sand and a few houses and trees. I was truly disappointed.”

Lĩnh remembers when there was no hospital and the treatment room was little better than a village infirmary. It was in a dilapidated house used for treatment and accommodation for doctors and other medical staff. There was little medical equipment apart from basic instruments, such as stethoscopes, thermometers and blood pressure armbands.

The doctor therefore used to conduct clinical diagnosis based on his experience instead of tests, but practice makes perfect and he was able to make quick and precise conclusions. However, he had to be extremely careful. In cases of suspected appendicitis, Lĩnh had to make an examinations several times to make sure he was correct.

Years of diagnosing using his eyes, hands and even sense of smell made him aware of the faintest symptoms and what they could mean. Lĩnh’s high accuracy in diagnosis astonished doctors from the mainland.

“Clinical diagnosis has become my professional reflex. Some symptoms relate to certain diseases,” he said, "and it pays to know them."

There are two windy seasons on Phú Quý Island – a season of  north-easterly winds and a season of southern winds.

The first season creates a peak of respiratory diseases, the second one, lasting from December to January, is the season of digestive diseases.

The risk of disease outbreaks was high in the old days before there were more facilities and medicines.

Dr Lĩnh and other member of the medical centre used to visit each household to encourage them to lead a healthy lifestyle. Thanks to their efforts, the number of people with diseases fell significantly.

But the doctor’s mind was still occupied with many concerns. Serious cases that could not be handled by doctors on the island meant shifting the patients to the mainland. But sick people often became worse during the long journey to reach Phan Thiết City’s hospital.

So what was the difference between with or without doctors on Phú Quý Island? Such question motivated Lĩnh to venture into the battle of saving his patients from the hand of Death.

Lĩnh was the first doctor on the island to conduct an operation. “The islanders used to think that appendicitis could not be cured by operation. Some of the fishermen even died on boats while fishing offshore due to the ailment,” said Thanh Xuân, chairwoman of the island’s Red Cross.

“They even asked sorcerers to conduct ritual ceremonies, but their situations got worse. Then Dr Lĩnh arrived and everything changed positively.”

At that time, there was still no electricity on the island. The locals used incandescent lamps for lighting. Staff at the island’s medical centre had little experience of operations. The first was conducted by Dr Lĩnh in 1987.

A woman was transferred to the centre with an agonising bellyache. The sea was raging with strong force-six wind so no boats dared to transfer the patient to the mainland. She was in such critical condition that Lĩnh decided to perform an operation.

All the lamps were utilised to illuminate the operation. Operating devices were sterilised by steaming them on an oil stove. As the surgeon, Lĩnh carefully instructed other assistants on how to anaesthetise the patient.

The operation succeeded, saving the patient’s life by an inch and making other islanders believe that appendicitis could be cured. More and more islanders started going to the medical centre for treatment instead of sorcerers’ practice.

Life on the island lacks many things, but it is always full of affection, which has helped the doctor and his staff carry out the job for so long.

He still remembers an elderly woman living near the harbour. After having a tumour removed by him, she carried coconuts to the hospitals every day as gifts for him for two years, even though he asked her not to do so.

In 1989, after his term of service on Phú Quý Island ended, Dr Lĩnh was preparing to go back to the mainland to work. However, the locals realised it would be hard to find another doctor with enough patiece and dedication to be attached to the island and its people. Together they compiled a petition signed by all islanders to persuade him to stay.

The provincial health department agreed and the staff also agreed. Moved by the affection, Dr Lĩnh decided to stay for longer. In 1998, his working term on the island ended for the second time, and again the islanders pleaded for him to stay. Once more, he agreed despite his parents’ disapproval.

In 2006, after getting his master’s degree, Dr Lĩnh was made director of the AIDS Prevention Centre in Phan Thiết City. As soon as they learned about the information, Phú Quý islanders wrote a third petition persuading him to stay.

It was more dificult to choose staying or leaving as he had been away from his family for a long time, but finally, the islanders’ affection for their beloved doctor once again won him over.

But it also means that his own family had to suffer many disadvantagesYears of working far from home, Dr Lĩnh could only visit home once or twice a year. He missed both of his parents’ funerals, which tormented him for years.

Even though he has delivered many babies on the island, he could not be by his wife on time when she gave birth to their second daughter on the mainland due to the long distance. 

Right from the first days on the island, Lĩnh was aware that it was necessary to train locals to take over his work. Today, many islanders have returned to work as doctors in their hometown, bringing new hope.

Over the past three decades, the healthcare services on Phú Quý Island have improved a lot. From a humble infirmary, now the medical centre has become a spacious hospital equipped with  modern medical devices and technologies for diagnosis and treatment.

Dr Lĩnh’s dream of a better medical centre for the fishermen in his second home has now been realised. VNS       

 


GLOSSARY

During 30 years’ work on Phú Quý Island in the East Sea in the central province of Bình Thuận, Dr Bùi Đình Lĩnh has treated so many serious cases and saved so many lives that he is referred to affectionately as "Uncle Lĩnh”.

Affectionately means lovingly.

Located 120km from the mainland, Phú Quý is isolated from the outside world and rarely visited by outsiders.

Rarely means not often.

A few decades ago, life on the island was difficult.

A decade is a period of ten years.

There was no fresh water, electricity or medical facility.

A facility is a place where it is possible for things to happen. In this case, medical things.

All the paths were covered with sand while the only means of access to the island was by boat, which might take one or two days.

Access means reaching, or getting to something, or somewhere. In this case, the island.

The islanders used to consult sorcerers or wait for a supernatural power to end their sickness, but many of them died in hopelessness.

To consult someone means to get advice from them.

A sorcerer is someone who claims to have magic powers.

Supernatural means outside of science.

Several doctors from the mainland were assigned to provide medical care to the islanders, but none of them were patient enough to stay.

The mainland is land on a large body of land, like a continent, rather than an island.

To be assigned means to be given a job or a responsibility.

If you are patient you do not mind waiting a long time for something.

In 1986, 27-year-old doctor Lĩnh, a graduate from Thái Bình Medical University, got married and then volunteered to work on the island for three years after learning about the difficulties the islanders faced.

To volunteer means to be willing to work for no pay.

“I volunteered full of youthful aspirations without envisioning the shortages I would have to face,” he said.

Aspirations are hopes.

Envisioning means imagining.

Lĩnh remembers when there was no hospital and the treatment room was little better than a village infirmary.

An infirmary is a place for the care of the infirm, sick, or injured.

It was in a dilapidated house used for treatment and accommodation for doctors and other medical staff.

Dilapidated means broken down.

There was little medical equipment apart from basic instruments, such as stethoscopes, thermometers and blood pressure armbands.

A stethoscope is a device used by a doctor to hear things inside a human body.

A thermometer is a device used to measure temperature.

The doctor therefore used to conduct clinical diagnosis based on his experience instead of tests, but practice makes perfect and he was able to make quick and precise conclusions.

A clinical diagnosis is a process of examining someone to see what is wrong with them by looking at the person rather than looking at laboratory tests.

Precise conclusions means exact ideas of what might be wrong with patients.

In cases of suspected appendicitis, Lĩnh had to make an examinations several times to make sure he was correct.

Appendicitis is a medical condition to do with the appendix. A case of suspected appendicitis is a case of what is thought to be appendicitis but has not yet proved to be.

Years of diagnosing using his eyes, hands and even sense of smell made him aware of the faintest symptoms and what they could mean. Lĩnh’s high accuracy in diagnosis astonished doctors from the mainland.

Symptoms are things that show up that indicate that someone may have a certain illness.

“Clinical diagnosis has become my professional reflex.”

When someone has a reflex, they react to something without thinking how they will react.

The first season creates a peak of respiratory diseases, the second one, lasting from December to January, is the season of digestive diseases.

Respiratory means to do with breathing.

Digestive means to do with the process of taking in food after it has entered the mouth.

So what was the difference between with or without doctors on Phú Quý Island? Such question motivated Lĩnh to venture into the battle of saving his patients from the hand of Death.

To be motivated means to have a reason to want to do something.

“Some of the fishermen even died on boats while fishing offshore due to the ailment,” said Thanh Xuân, chairwoman of the island’s Red Cross.

An ailment is a sickness.

“They even asked sorcerers to conduct ritual ceremonies, but their situations got worse.”

A ritual is a ceremony.

The locals used incandescent lamps for lighting.

Something that is incandescent lets off light when it is heated.

A woman was transferred to the centre with an agonising bellyache.

An agonising bellyache is a very uncomfortable stomach pain.

 The sea was raging with strong force-six wind so no boats dared to transfer the patient to the mainland.

Raging means behaving violently.

All the lamps were utilised to illuminate the operation.

Illuminate means light up.

Operating devices were sterilised by steaming them on an oil stove.

Sterilised means made clear of all germs.

As the surgeon, Lĩnh carefully instructed other assistants on how to anaesthetise the patient.

Anaesthetise means to make a patient unconscious, using drugs so that an operation can take place.

Life on the island lacks many things, but it is always full of affection, which has helped the doctor and his staff carry out the job for so long.

Affection means fondness.

After having a tumour removed by him, she carried coconuts to the hospitals every day as gifts for him for two years, even though he asked her not to do so.

A tumour is a growth.

However, the locals realised it would be hard to find another doctor with enough patience and dedication to be attached to the island and its people.

Dedication is a sense of loyalty and duty.

Together they compiled a petition signed by all islanders to persuade him to stay.

A petition is a letter protesting about something that is signed by many people.

Moved by the affection, Dr Lĩnh decided to stay for longer.

Moved means emotionally affected.

But it also means that his own family had to suffer many disadvantages.

Disadvantages are things that are against you.

He missed both of his parents’ funerals, which tormented him for years.

If something torments you, it causes you to suffer.

WORKSHEET

Find words that mean the following in the Word Search:

  1. People who live on islands.
  2. A place for the care of the infirm, sick, or injured.
  3. The type of diseases that are common on the island from December to January.
  4. Two important events that Dr Lĩnh unfortunately missed because he was on the island.
  5. A type of fruit that grows on palm trees, which a patient once gave to Dr Lĩnh.

 

 

 

 

 

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© Duncan Guy/Learn the News/ Viet Nam News 2018
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Islanders; 2. Infirmary; 3. Digestive; 4. Funerals; 5. Coconut.

 

 

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