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Retired doctors treat the poor, students

Update: May, 01/2012 - 16:36


Treating the poor: (From left) Nurse Soc and Doctors Thuoc and To examine patients in a small clinic on Kim Dong Street in Ha Noi's Hai Ba Trung District. — VNS Photos Truong Vi
Hard working: To still studies to update her medical knowledge.
A group of "retired" doctors is putting their years of medical experience to good use, treating sick people in Ha Noi on a voluntary basis. Trung Hieu and Hoang Ngoc report.

At a small clinic on Kim Dong Street in Ha Noi's Hai Ba Trung District, a group of three senior doctors wearing white coats are busy examining patients.

Their humanitarian efforts and generosity have prompted many of their patients to dub them "real life Bodhisattvas".

The Sanskrit term Bodhisattva is the name given to anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated bodhichitta, a spontaneous wish to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. What makes someone a Bodhisattva is her or his dedication to the ultimate welfare of other beings.

Doctor Truong Thi Hoi To has spent the last 20 years of her life treating poor people, without ever asking for anything in return.

In 1951, Hanoian To was a medical student studying midwifery when she fell in love with Nguyen Xuan, a soldier also from Ha Noi.

They were married, but her husband's duties prevented them from being together, and in 1953, he was killed in action before they were able to have children.

To forget her pain, To volunteered to work in a remote region in the northern mountainous province of Yen Bai for four years.

Eventually, she remarried, accepting a proposal from Vu Quang Binh, a comrade of her dead husband, and they had two sons and a daughter together.

Living the life of a soldier's wife, she was forced to raise the three children by herself, and sadly became a martyr's wife for the second time when Binh sacrificed himself for his country on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in 1973.

To continued to battle on, and moved to Nam Dinh Province with her children to work at the Medical College. Due to her low salary, she was compelled to take on extra work such as rearing pigs, growing vegetables and knitting clothes to support her children through school.

"I was lucky because all my children were obedient and studied well. This gave me the motivation to carry on," To recalls.

Having experienced many ups and downs in her own life, she can sympathise with those in seemingly impossible situations, and in 1992 after retiring, To decided to do something to help them.

Having no money of her own, all To could offer were her medical skills.

When authorities in Hai Ba Trung District asked for a group of volunteer doctors and nurses to help the poor, veterans and prioritised families, she signed up, despite receiving lucrative offers from several private clinics.

Every day come rain or shine, she would travel around the district by bicycle, visiting all 25 wards, and quickly became popular among local residents. But fate was to be unkind to her again, and a traffic accident left To unable to ride her bicycle. Undeterred, she took to making her rounds by xe om (motorbike taxi) which she paid for out of her own pocket, along with medicine for the poor.

Nearly seven years later, To and five retired colleagues wanted to provide a more permanent and stable service for the locals, so they opened a free clinic on Hoa Ma Street.

They had only been open for a short time before they were forced to move because To and her colleagues could not afford the rent. After relocating many times, To and her remaining colleagues Dr Le Thanh Thuoc and nurse Le Thi Soc have been treating patients every Monday and Thursday morning at No 18, Lane 4, Kim Dong Street since 2007.

"The clinic receives about 20 patients each day, mostly elderly. Many of them are regular clients, so even when the weather is bad, we make a point of making sure we get to the clinic because we know there will be patients waiting for us," says Dr Thuoc.

The clinic also supplies medicine free of charge.

"We spend our money on medicine for the clinic, but we are also helped by generous donations," he says.

Their enthusiastic attitude and detailed, useful advice has gained the confidence of their elderly patients, who have come to rely on the service.

Nguyen Thi Diep, 75, from Giap Bat Ward says she suffers from high blood pressure. "My children bought me a blood pressure monitor but I come to the clinic twice a week for a health check. The doctors examine me very carefully, and give me advice on how to use drugs and how to eat and drink properly, so I have peace of mind."

Nguyen Viet Van, 75, from Thinh Liet Ward, appreciates the group for another reason.

"They are very hardworking. As well as examinations and treatment, the clinic also helps poor students and makes donations to disabled children, orphans, and poor families."

To spends the money she has left at the end of each month on keeping the clinic open, and she also encourages her children and grandchildren to take part in charitable activities.

To, Thuoc and Soc often ask local benefactors to raise funds for the poor, which are immediately distributed among underprivileged families.

Today, despite their old age, the group is still very active. They read a lot of books and medical journals to keep up to date with the latest findings, and organise fund raisers to help poor families.

"While I still have my health, I will continue to do charity work because this is my life's target," says To. — VNS

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