On To Myanmar – My First Medical Mission

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April 6, 2014

Editor’s note: Thu left last week for Myanmar after writing this lighthearted piece; read further to get to the medical deficiencies there. She is working extremely hard with little sleep, but is doing well and will be posting updates in the next week or so.


This is NOT a farewell email, just one to remind you that I will be leaving for my Myanmar medical mission on Saturday March 29th and won’t be back until April 13. While you guys are boot camping on Saturday, Mylene, My Huong and I will be at Dulles airport, ready for our faraway trip where we will be providing desperately needed health care and walking gingerly through the very “austere” public restrooms in Myanmar! “Austere” was the exact term Mylene the colonel used (repeatedly) during our last conference call two nights ago. I turned to David (we were on the “mute” mode) and said out loud;

“What DID she mean by that?”

“Primitive, she meant the restrooms/areas will be in primitive conditions”

Primitive? I know we will be squatting (Thank you Troy for all the years of training me for this primitive move) but… will there at least be a hole in the ground?? I remember in China, two years ago, David and I were taking photos of these restrooms ranked by “stars”. We are lucky to live in a country where restrooms don’t have to be ranked. Do not ask me what the one star restroom looked like in China; I refused to step in one. The 3 stars were just OK, and 5 stars were nowhere near the restroom in our airport hotel in Korea where warm “jet” streams erupted from inside the bidet as you flushed, to the delight of Sandy who was only 8 years old at the time. He probably thought they were the baby Old Faithful geysers. He bet it was a genius who invented this system to save him from having to wipe and get his hands all dirty!

Anyway, I think Mylene scared me enough from this image of an “austere” public facility that today, I immediately obtained quite a few pairs of shoe covers from the operating room to cover my new waterproof LL Bean yuppy-looking pink trail running shoes whenever I go to these ‘austere’ public restrooms. I was told by Mylene and the organizers of the team how, on the first day after we land in Yangon, we will take a FIFTEEN HOUR bus ride to an area where the first clinics where we will work are located. There was a silence over the phone as people were absorbing the information about the bus trip and then, a little voice from our little pharmacist could be heard:

“Excuse me, will there be restroom stops?”

David stared at me, then bursted out laughing. What did she expect? Indwelling foley catheters in each passenger? Or maybe we all thought it would be a luxurious bus, the kind you see going to Atlantic City with a clean restroom on the bus so it would not have to stop. Somehow, I thought we were to be on an Orient Express! My nurse Roxanne was urging me to rethink going on this mission .

“It’s not too late for you to change your mind and do an Appalachian mission instead, Dr. Tran. Motel 6 has clean restrooms!” she said.

Anyway Mylene, I brought some shoe covers for My Huong and have some extra if you wish. Make up your mind now or My Huong and I, if having to carry these extra pairs to Myanmar, will have to charge you $5 a pair, with only CRISP dollar bills! That’s all they accept in Myanmar.

I told my young employee physician Dr. Andrus how I will look “out of place” compared to my peer mission partners. I will wear my blue shoe covers, possibly with blue matching disposable gloves (since my partner Dr Renzi asked today how I would take my shoe covers off once I leave the austere toilet? A good question indeed!) and a mosquito net over my beach hat. Why am I bringing a beach hat? The wide rim of the hat will hopefully keep the bugs away from my face! I will be wearing a soft mask over my nose when I go to the austere toilets.

My suitcase has a big bag full of cereal and trail mix bars. While Mylene and My Huong are having stir fried crickets for breakfast, I will have my bars and the herbal infusion tea bags I packed. You have to prepare for these jungle trips, Mylene. I am no girl scout like My Huong, but I do think of everything to keep myself comfortable in the jungle. Give me more time, and I might even manage to squeeze in a hammock in my backpack. Don’t laugh, but one of the American T shirts I am bringing with me and plan to leave behind as gifts to the locals, is big enough to cover my pillow. I have to be careful not to go back with lice or David and Sandy will send me into exile.

Don’t you agree that by the time I come back, I should be featured on the Bethesda magazine not as a super mom, but as a super-high maintenance medical missionary! I might write a best selling book called ” How to Do a Medical Mission the Ritz Carlton Way.”

My roommate in Myanmar is a GP who practices both Obstetrics and Pediatrics in Quebec. She is so French that her email response ended with “Envoye de mon iPhone” instead of ” sent from my iPhone.” I am excited about practicing my rusty French with this Dr. Sophie Richard. I will make sure at the end of our long days in the clinic, I will say sweetly in French to her:

“My manifique roommate Sophie, may I take the shower FIRST before the hot water runs out?” I hope she will say “Oui, Oui” everyday, or I might have to move to My Huong or Mylene’s rooms!

Seriously, Mylene was presenting some health statistics during the conference call about Myanmar which were astounding, with some areas having maternal deaths as high as 751/100,000 births! Their healthcare system is ranked 190 out of 191 countries! Someone needs to save the Myanmar people and hopefully we will play a tiny part of it. No matter how tiny it might be, we will do some good. I have lectures prepared for nutrition in pregnancy, post-partum care, drills for postpartum hemorrhage and shoulder dystocia.

Shoulder dystocia, an emergency in which sometimes the baby’s shoulders are too large to be delivered, in a country where most folks are starving, you might ask? Think of the third world where girls might have to marry young and have children in their teens while their pelvis is still so small. It was heartbreaking to hear on NPR how many of these young moms die giving birth! Maybe I will save a life or two in Myanmar with my teaching!

Anyway, my friends, be good and exercise and keep yourself healthy. I already told David to get me some Ledo’s Pizza on Sunday April 13 when I come back. I am supposed to arrive around noon on Sunday and will be craving sushi and Ledo’s pizza and maybe even fried chicken! I bet the chickens in Myanmar are so skinny like the ones in Vietnam – their meat will be chewy, not fatty like the ones here. Sometimes hormones are necessary to make food taste good. But then the people in Myanmar would not believe the average BMI here, as most of them are malnourished and probably have a BMI under 16!

And dear Carolyn, my personal travel doctor: like a good patient, I started my anti-typhoid oral medication this week and will be taking my first malaria pill tomorrow for 24 days as you wrote in that prescription. Mylene should remind me every day, as I am not a good patient in terms of maintaining this requirement. The mosquito net over my head will hopefully keep these insects away!

See you soon!!! It’s time for me to pack and ready to go SAVE THE WORLD!:-)