Soldiers and sailors ready for any medical emergency at sea

May 29, 2023 - 10:30
In the Trường Sa islands, where there is a turbulent sea, the medical team has been a reliable support for the local fishermen, officials, and soldiers on the islands for many years.
Doctors at Trường Sa Medical Ward and doctors in Ship No.571 taking care of Phạm Alla Pavlovna. — VNA/VNS Photos Thuỳ Giang

Thuỳ Giang

KHÁNH HOÀ — The hospital room on the second floor was quiet, with four hospital beds, three of which were empty and one occupied by a fisherman named Hải.

Surrounding him were medical devices measuring vital signs, an oxygen tank, and a rusty iron stand with a dripping IV bottle.

In these peaceful moments, occasionally, there would be the beeping sound of the heart rate monitor and other indicators. Hải could only lie still, watching drops of IV entering his body.

The morning flag salute in Trường Sa Island Square.

The sacred sound

A solemn and serene atmosphere prevailed at 2pm on April 21, 2023, on Trường Sa (Spratly) Island. In the vast ocean, amidst the flag-raising ceremony accompanied by music and the singing of the national anthem, the affirmation of Việt Nam's sovereignty over the Trường Sa Archipelago resounded.

At the central square of Trường Sa Island, under the scorching sun, 222 members of Task Force 4, including 47 overseas Vietnamese from 22 countries around the world, proudly stood on the airport runway singing the national anthem.

Following that, the ten oaths of honour of the military reverberated in the midst of the sea and sky of the Motherland.

A few hundred meters away, in the medical ward of the Trường Sa Town Health centre, fisherman Đỗ Văn Hải, born in 1980 on Phú Quý Island, Bình Thuận Province, lay alone in a hospital room, motionless. He listened intently to the sounds of the solemn ceremony outside.

Hải shared: "Normally, on the boat, I would admire the sea and sky, catch seafood, and constantly listen to the radio... listening to information and directions. But now, lying in the hospital on the island, I get to listen to the national anthem and the ten oaths of the soldiers, it makes me feel deeply moved and choked with tears... Even though I am ill, my spirit feels uplifted and proud of the heroic melodies of the Motherland."

Gently turning his head, fisherman Đỗ Văn Hải recalls that on April 16, his fishing boat with the registration number BTh 99197 TS, carrying four crew members, broke down on its 13th day at sea.

"When we started the engine, I realised that the boat had stalled and couldn't function anymore," he said. "We had to anchor in the open sea for a few days, waiting for another boat from the fleet to tow us back. The boat had been at sea for 13 days, and usually, on the 15th day, we would return to the mainland. During this trip, we mainly targeted sea cucumbers and abalone, but the catch was poor compared to previous trips when we harvested a lot of sea cucumbers and abalone."

Hải explained that a fishing trip in Trường Sa usually lasts for 15 days.

"Around 10:30am on April 18, when we were being towed by another boat, I threw the rope over, it caught on the other side, and as I was holding the tensioned rope, it snapped and hit me. I fell onto the boat and lost consciousness," recalled Hải. "The crew immediately brought me to Đá Lát Island for initial medical treatment. The medical staff on Đá Lát Island bandaged me up and then transferred me to Trường Sa Island. It's about 30km from the accident site to Trường Sa Island."

Hải was admitted with multiple soft tissue injuries, head and hand skin wounds, and injuries on both arms. The accident caused Hải to suffer soft tissue injuries on his head, arms, and legs, a hematoma on the thigh and left knee, nerve damage and a fractured right arm bone. His right hand appeared pale and cold, with no detectable pulse and unable to measure SpO2 levels.

After examination and X-ray imaging conducted by the doctors on Trường Sa Island, the diagnosis revealed a fractured right arm bone in the upper third, damage to the artery and nerve of the right arm, a closed fracture of the fifth finger bone in the right hand, soft tissue contusion and hematoma in one-third of the thigh and left knee, and a fracture of the shin bone in the left leg.

Lã Văn Tuấn, Chief Physician and Head of the Medical Department at the Trường Sa Town Health centre explained that patient Hải was in a critical condition with a high risk of amputation of the right arm due to vascular and nerve injuries, as well as a high risk of blood loss.

The doctors at the medical centre consulted with trauma orthopaedic specialists from Military Hospital 175 to devise the most effective treatment plan. This included direct blood transfusion and timely surgical intervention to save the patient's life and preserve his arm.

Since the patient had a rare blood type of B+, as soon as the information was announced, two soldiers on the island volunteered to donate blood during the night for patient Hải.

Medical officers at Trường Sa Medical Ward care for Hải.

Major Vũ Văn Trường and Lieutenant Colonel Nguyễn Tiến An rushed to the medical centre to donate blood. The two soldiers shared the same rare blood type, B+, and donated two units of red blood cells (350ml each) for patient Hải.

Trường, who donated blood for Hải at 11pm on April 19, shared his experience: "I didn't think much about it. When I saw the patient in need of blood, I participated in blood donation first and foremost to save his life.”

“Here, we are on a mission to support fishermen going to sea, embracing the sea, so we are always ready to help whenever the naval forces request assistance," Trường added.

Hải expressed his gratitude: "The military medics have been tirelessly treating me, examining me, and providing encouragement. I am deeply touched and extremely grateful to the soldiers."

Just after Hải’s condition had stabilised. At 3:30pm on April 21, Phạm Tất Tuyên, a 65-year-old Vietnamese resident in Belarus, brought his 54-year-old wife, Phạm Alla Pavlovna, to the emergency room of Trường Sa Medical centre. She was experiencing high blood pressure, unstable blood pressure, and tachycardia.

Doctor Lã Văn Tuấn, the head of the medical centre, received patient Pavlovna in a state of exhaustion. The doctors measured her blood pressure, conducted an examination, and administered medication.

After 3 hours of observation in the emergency room, Pavlovna's health had stabilised. Her blood pressure and heart rate improved and returned to normal, allowing her to continue her journey to Trường Sa with further medical monitoring by the military medical team on Ship 571.

An injured fisherman is being transported onshore from Rescue Boat No.571.

Where fishermen and citizens' faith lies

In the Trường Sa islands, where there is a turbulent sea, the medical team has been a reliable support for the local fishermen, officials, and soldiers on the islands for many years.

Trường Sa Medical Centre has four floors and a rooftop equipped with ten beds and various functional rooms, including outpatient examination rooms, internal medicine clinics, emergency rooms, operating rooms, delivery rooms, X-ray rooms, and laboratories.

It operates as a fully functional hospital to serve the coastal residents and fulfils the requirements of a hospital on land. The centre also receives patients from other island communities for treatment. For severe cases that exceed the centre's capabilities, patients are transported to the mainland for further treatment via air transportation from Hospital 175.

Lieutenant Colonel Phạm Thế Nhương, the Commander of Trường Sa Island High Command and Chairman of the People's Committee of Trường Sa Town stated that providing medical support and healthcare for fishermen in the island's coastal areas is one of their key missions.

"Recently, we have successfully treated many emergency cases with the full physical facilities provided by the medical centre for our fishermen at sea," said Nhương. "This is also the foundation and sovereignty milestone for us in the East Sea (internationally known as the South China Sea) and the Trường Sa archipelago region. The Trường Sa Island Medical centre performs well in healthcare, emergency treatment, and medical examination for fishermen. We could ensure most of the military personnel on the islands have good health (99.8 per cent)."

In 2022, the Trường Sa Island Medical centre conducted medical examinations and treatments for nearly 1,400 individuals (378 military personnel and 1,018 fishermen) and performed 33 emergency cases (13 military cases and 20 fishermen cases).

In the first quarter of 2023, they provided medical examinations and emergency treatment for 477 individuals, including 13 emergency cases (seven military cases and six fishermen cases), out of which three required transfer by aircraft to mainland hospitals for treatment.

During a patient visit, while Hải was receiving treatment at the Trường Sa Island Medical centre, Rear Admiral Phạm Văn Hùng, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Navy, said: "The patient can rest assured that the naval forces will ensure all necessary steps and care to safely transport the patient to the mainland, to the hospital for treatment according to the treatment plan, so that the patient can recover and continue to venture out to sea."

On April 21, Hải was transported on a stretcher onto Ship 571 as part of a working delegation to return to the mainland for treatment. On the ship, the patient received care from the military doctors of Ship 571. Throughout the two-day journey on the ship, patient Hải was cared for and monitored by the doctors, ensuring his vital signs were stable.

For the members of Task Force 4 on their journey to Trường Sa Islands, the entire trip was an indescribable emotional experience. While on the ship, everyone learned about the patient, a fisherman who had encountered an accident at sea and was brought ashore by Ship 571.

The members of the delegation, driven by the spirit of compassion and solidarity among the Vietnamese people, including overseas Vietnamese, frequently visited the medical room to inquire, share, and encourage fisherman Hải. During the voyage, everyone collectively contributed over VNĐ40 million to support and assist Hải, the fisherman in distress.

Although these gifts may not be grand in size, they represent the people's affection and the Vietnamese's camaraderie, whether they are from within the country or abroad. They are all of the same mind, and their hearts are directed towards the islands and seas, supporting the resilient fishermen who fearlessly face challenges and hardships while venturing out to the sea.

A benefactor visiting a patient at Trường Sa Medical Ward.

As they bid farewell to Trường Sa and Ship 571, with bright smiles on their faces, Mrs. Phạm Alla Pavlovna couldn't help but feel deeply moved and overwhelmed.

She expressed continuous gratitude to the military doctors at the Trường Sa Medical centre and the medical personnel of Ship 571, who provided her with emergency care and timely medication, ensuring her good health throughout the safe journey to visit Trường Sa.

This support enabled her to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of Việt Nam's islands and seas while returning to the mainland safely.

On April 23, Hải was safely escorted back to the mainland by the military medical personnel and the soldiers of Ship 571. He was handed over to a medical facility on the mainland and has successfully undergone surgery to preserve his arm.

Every day, on Trường Sa island, each soldier shines with an immortal spirit. Successive generations of soldiers continue to protect and preserve the sacred sovereignty of the motherland, ensuring that Trường Sa remains a steadfast support for the fishermen venturing out to the sea, the sentinel and the eyes of Việt Nam in the East Sea, and maintaining peace and serenity for everyone. — VNS