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Offshore doctors persevere against tall odds

Update: December, 07/2016 - 09:00
Doctor and Captain Lê Ngọc Trọng (left), who currently heads the Bạch Long Vĩ Military and Civilian Infirmary, treats a fisherman’s eye injury. – VNA/VNS Photo Hoàng Dương
Viet Nam News

Hoàng Dương

HẢI PHÒNG – Bạch Long Vĩ is Việt Nam’s remotest island in the Gulf of Tonkin.

This spells daunting hardship, especially for doctors and other medical staff stationed there, which means they are constantly challenged to think and act outside the box.

These physicians have become living testament of the perseverance and an undying zeal to serve the people, even when it seems odds are stacked wholly against them.

Every year, the General Hospital on Bạch Long Vĩ Island provides care and treatment for some 3,000 patients, with many cases requiring state-of-the-art facilities that are not available in the remote area.

The hospital is headed by Dr. Nguyễn Đức Quân, a native of the northern port city of Hải Phòng who took up his job on the island soon after he finished his medical training.

“For me, living on the island, serving the people, and pursuing my medical profession are meaningful, fulfilling ways to spend my youth,” said the doctor, in his thirties now.

“Although the serious lack of necessary facilities poses myriad difficulties, the hospital’s doctors and staff consider this a challenge to better themselves,” Dr Quân said.

On a remote island, circumstances have certainly generated opportunities for the medical staff to “better themselves.”

Dr Quân can recall in detail every instance that he and his colleagues have had to take tough decisions in emergency situations.

One time, during a tropical storm, a pregnant woman was admitted to the hospital, her condition critical with severe bleeding and acute abdominal pain.

She was diagnosed with ruptured ectopic pregnancy (which occurs when an embryo develops outside of the uterus), and the only feasible treatment was to carry out a hemostatic surgery to stop the bleeding.

“Cases like this are transferred inland for treatment. With the limited equipment we have on the island, saving the patient is nearly impossible. However, a storm was raging, with level 8-9 gusts of wind and huge waves. In that moment of life and death, after requesting directions from higher-ups, we decided to operate.”

Fortunately, the surgery was a success and the patient pulled through. It was the most difficult surgery performed on the island, and a remarkable achievement the doctors and islanders are proud of.

Quân said the General Hospital is now building a blood bank to ensure a stable supply of the essential fluid, since blood loss and lack of oxygen are two leading causes of death on the island.

In fact, the doctors and medical staff themselves are generous blood donors.

Last August, fisherman Nguyễn Văn Thiết had three quarters of his arm severed, resulting in grave blood loss. The hospital decided to directly transfuse blood from a nurse midwife, Nguyễn Thị Hương, timely saving his life.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) has recognised this as among the first direct transfusions conducted in an island’s hospital in Việt Nam.

Quân said the hospital established several specialised units like its paediatric and maternity ward, which will become separate departments. Preventive medicine teams and medical task forces had also been created to provide care for islanders on their boats when needed, and to launch awareness campaigns.

“The hospital provides treatment for all patients, ranging from simple diseases to highly complicated cases,” Quân said.

“It’s seldom that we transport patients inland since the long journey on the sea can negatively impact the patient’s health, even endanger their lives. Besides, people here cannot afford the high cost of transportation. Hence our constant endeavour is to provide proper treatment on the island itself,” he added.

Like Dr Quân, Doctor and Captain Lê Ngọc Trọng, who currently heads the Bạch Long Vĩ Military and Civilian Infirmary, has made the island his home.

In the infirmary’s emergency room, Dr Trọng was disinfecting and applying medicines to treat a Quảng Bình fisherman whose eyes were hurt by acid from the boat’s battery.

Trọng gave the patient medicines and instructed the fishermen’s relatives on proper first-aid practices.

“It’s unfortunate how fishermen go on lengthy fishing trips often but are not aware of the most basic first-aid treatments. For example, I have encountered cases where they applied alcohol or even fish sauce on burn wounds. So every time they come to my infirmary, I have to give them appropriate instructions,” he said.

In his seven years on the island, Dr Trọng has treated numerous patients, but one inspiring case stands out.

It was the 2014 Lunar New Year. A soldier at Radar Station No27 suddenly suffered profuse and unstoppable nosebleed due to increased blood pressure. Being a Tết holiday, he had to remain on duty at the station.

“We tried but couldn’t hold the bleeding for longer than a few seconds. So we had to treat him right there at the station, while he dutifully carried out his mission,” Dr Trọng recalled, with visible admiration and renewed sense of duty.

The Health Ministry plans to merge the General Hospital and the Infirmary into the Bạch Long Vĩ Military-Civilian Medical Centre. This move is expected to bring broad improvements in medical care for the island’s residents. – VNS

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