We started our medical mission in Myanmar at Sao Sun Tun Hospital, a 500-bed government run facility in Taunggyi, located 15-hour bus ride from Yangon. Dr. Po Po No, a young physician in training was assigned as my interpreter. In attempt to learn a few words, I asked Dr. Po to tell me the Burmese word for “doctor.” She responded “sayar” and quickly added “sayar also means teacher.”
Like a teacher, I strive to inspire my patients and empower them with knowledge so they can improve their lives. I wonder if the double definition of Sayar is Myanmar ancestors’ way of bestowing wisdom to future generations of doctors to remind us to be teachers as healers. While in Myanmar, “sayar” has served as a reminder for me to make every effort to teach and inspire better health for the people whom I have the privilege to serve.
On this mission, I’m part of the Primary Care team along with two talented Canadian doctors and a Physician Assistant. While in the remote Naung Shwe area of Shan State, many of my patients are women farmers. Due to years of hard labor under unforgiving tropical sun, my patients appear decades older than their biological age. They frequently present with several years history of back and/or shoulders pain. After a normal musculoskeletal exam, I reassured them that their pain is related to their occupation and taught them proper lifting procedures and instructed them on basic stretching exercises. Although a very simple encounter, inevitably, my patients, would beam with joy at my assessment and “prescription” and would reach for my hands to hold theirs and bow “kyay zu tin bar del” (thank you)! Similar to my patients back home, my patients in Myanmar appreciate presence and connection with their doctor. In medicine, my patients are my best teachers. The people in Myanmar whom we are serving have reminded me that presence and human connection are the foundation of healing.
While I learned about human physiology and body mechanics from textbooks and professors, my patients have always been my most invaluable teachers for they taught me that true healing begins with connection of the hearts. Every day as I begin clinic in Myanmar, I am grateful to be on this journey of learning from my favorite “sayar”…my patients.
Mylene T. Huynh, MD, MPH