February, 16 2014 16:16:22

Spratly doctors cheerful despite challenges

Remote territory: The Spratly Islands.

by Tuan Nguyen & Thanh Long

Doctors in the Spratly archipelago believe all patients who come to their clinics deserve free and equal treatment, so they do not accept cash gifts from patients.

"Having practiced medicine in the archipelago for a year, I have gained insight into medical ethics, especially in showing sentiment and empathy to patients," said Captain Le Minh Phong, head of Spratly Clinic.

Like Phong, many medical officers from army hospitals on the mainland are sent to clinics in island areas to practice medicine. Thus, they cannot help feeling new to the surroundings and being homesick when they arrive in these new environments for the first time. Understanding this, local people treat them like family members.

"Spratly islanders offer army doctors and nurses whatever they think good and tasty," said deputy chairman of Spratly town People's Committee Do Huy Minh. "It is moving to witness a family catch a delicious fish and offer it to doctors rather than eating it themselves."

In turn, patient and soldier Le Duc Hai said anyone who comes to the clinic feels the compassionate attitude of its staff.

"They treat patients as their close family," he said.

Spratly Clinic located in the south of the archipelago, is equipped with modern machines for health examination and treatment.

According to Dr Phong, though it is impossible to compare the clinic with big hospitals in the mainland when it comes to the availability of equipment, the clinic has fundamental equipment such as an ultrasound scanner and an X-ray machine. In addition to minor surgeries, the clinic succeeded in performing more complicated surgeries last year, such as those for appendicitis and serious trauma.

Dr Truong Xuan Hoan, head of An Bang Island Clinic, said that although his clinic has provided examination and treatment in more than 350 cases, he has to send patients in critical condition to Spratly Clinic.

Phong said clinic workers frequently hold consultations with top-ranking doctors at big army hospitals like Ha Noi-based Central Military Hospital 108 and Army Hospital 175 in Ho Chi Minh City before performing difficult surgeries. Owing to these collaborations, the clinic has saved the life of many patients.

Bui Tuan Viet was rushed to the clinic in a state of unresponsiveness, suffering convulsions from tetanus. He was rescued from death and sent to Army Hospital 175 to continue treatment. One month later, he was discharged.

As tetanus can be potentially fatal, saving this patient's life was one of the clinic's major achievements last year.

Health care: Apatient receives treatment at a clinic in the Spratly Islands. — VNA/VNS Xuan Quyet

Staying cheerful

Far from the mainland, doctors and nurses on the islands must be independent and decisive to come up with accurate diagnoses and appropriate treatments. They can only hold consultations with doctors in the mainland over the phone, said doctor Dang Van Hung, and often have to learn on their own from books how to handle certain cases.

Dr Van Hung, born in 1975, graduated from the Military Medical Institute and has been treating soldiers and fishermen on Song Tu Tay Island since he arrived in 2003. He still remembers his first patient, a fisherman who suffered appendicitis on the sea but arrived at the clinic two days later.

"We performed an operation within three hours, and luckily he was saved," Van Hung recalled.

Dr Le The Hung on Da Lat Island recalled travelling by boat offshore to save the life of a fisherman who suffered decompression after diving. After three consecutive days struggling with big waves and high winds, Hung helped the fisherman overcome the critical stage of decompression.

Apart from providing emergency aid and treatment to fishermen, army medical staff also provide service free of charge to fishermen who go off-shore fishing for several days. As a result, medical workers and fishermen have developed a close bond.

In addition to health care army medical workers on the Spratly islands also take responsibility as soldiers and must be proficient at using various kinds of weapons.

"In parallel with providing health care, we take shifts to guard at night and are ready to fight to defend the country," said medical officer Doan Minh Hien.

Army medical officers on the islands are challenged by many difficulties, but they remain optimistic and joyful.

"Perhaps it is because we are living near the sea that people are so generous, joyful and optimistic," said Dr Dao Tan Luc. "But we are also firm to take up guns in case of need." — VNS

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