Project: Open Arms

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When my mom is in Vietnam she volunteers with a number of charity organizations throughout the country. When we (her kids) are in town we help out, too.

This time we took a seven-hour road trip Northeast of Saigon to a small rural town one hour outside of Phan Thiet. A group of about one hundred people, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other volunteers took over a school for one day and set up a makeshift medical clinic.


The clinic was set up in a series of rooms that acted as stations: general check-up, pediatrics, geriatrics, optometry, pharmacy, etc.

First, you checked in. These are just a few of the folks waiting to check in.

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Here’s my brother, Minh, talking to two older ladies about the canes that they were just given to help them walk easier.

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There were lots of younger ones bringing their elders in for care.

Once admitted into the “system” you received a piece of paper that lists all the various stations that you can go to in the clinic depending on your needs. This sheet of paper acts as your medical record and each station will record their actions, recommendations, any prescriptions, etc.

Here are some examples of the stations setup.

Basic stats: blood pressure and health history

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Pediatrics:

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Geriatrics:

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General primary care:

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Optometry:

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My mom brought over 400 pairs of reading glasses in a variety of scrips (from 1.0 to 3.0) and we ended up in optometry for most of the day distributing eyeglasses. Like every station in the clinic it was a madhouse.

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There were actual optometrists to provide diagnoses and if they needed reading glasses they would move down to our side of the station.

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Here’s Minh helping someone find the right reading glasses. By the end of the day people were calling him “Doctor”, which we thought was pretty funny. He’s an engineer. Despite the seriousness of what we were doing there was a lot of humor in our interactions with the patients.

Minh: “Read this newspaper and tell me if you can read the letters.”
The patient: “What are you talking about? I can’t read!”
We all laughed.
Minh: “Okay, so tell me if you can see the shapes more or less clearly than before.”
The patient: “THAT I can do.”

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Here’s my mom, sorting out reading glasses. That’s Minh right behind her, and mom’s boyfriend, Truong, in the white shirt. Me being me, I got in there right away and organized a “distribution system” for efficiency. My organizational OCD knows no bounds. The optometry department was quite the family affair.

Gynecology:

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Pharmacy:

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My brother Joe (dude on the right in white shirt) got caught helping in the pharmacy early on. We didn’t see him again until it was time to go home.

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It was a pretty amazing day and we all agreed: it was totally worth the butt-numbing, pot-hole filled, uncomfortably long road trip required took to get there.

It makes you realize that even the smallest and simplest of gestures can have a powerful impact on people. Whatever it takes to do that is worth it.

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One response »

  1. Wow, what an amazing story! It just goes to show how ordinary people can make a difference. I have been searching for opportunities like this, and since I have no medical or technical skills, or a lot of money that most organizations charge to “volunteer” it has been difficult.

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