Monday, February 21, 2011

Weight Limit

Hasan Merali, MD
Khamer Spirit House

We set off early Tuesday morning for the village of Preambang. The dry season proves to be quite difficult for our ship as the water level is so low. On the way to Preambang the propeller got caught in a fishing net and our captain had to dive in to cut open the net with the kitchen knife. We will likely only be able to use this boat for one more week before having to rent a smaller boat that can handle the shallow water for the remainder of the dry season. Further along in our trip, two men in a fishing boat nearby were frantically waving for us to stop. Thinking that perhaps there was something wrong with the ship that needed immediate attention we cut the engine and waited for them to approach. They were selling shrimp......

In Preambang I saw something completely different....volleyball! There were a few patches of cleared land around the village and some children were having a game. They only have a couple of months of this, however, as soon the water level will rise and completely submerge any bits of usable land they have. There is a spirit house in the middle of the village soaring above all of the other houses. It is at least 12 m high above the water level and in the rainy season the lake will just touch the bottom of it. We spent a day and a half in Preambang seeing patients at the local school. Because of the level of malnutrition Dr. James and I decided to give multivitamins to all of the patients we saw. Unfortunately our supply ran out in the next village but we will be sure to bring more stock next week.
The second village we went to was Maot Khlar. We had been there briefly last week to see a woman with a burn on her hand but this time we came to do a full day clinic for the entire village. There are about 220 families living there. All of the children I see are less than 12 or 13. Anybody older than that is usually working out on the lake for days at a time fishing. The other thing we noticed was that there were very few Vietnamese patients coming to our clinic. When we inquired about this we found out that many of them are worried that they will have to pay money, or that they will have to show some type of registration/immigration card, both of which they do not have. Our captain/cook is Vietnamese and has slowly been working on this problem by trying to educate the Vietnamese people in each village telling them that we do not require any documentation or fees.

The morning was completely peaceful in Moat Khlar while we were seeing patients in the Chief's House (a floating platform with a wall on one side). In the afternoon, however, that all changed. Our director brought over 30 Malaysian Rotary Club members who have been involved in funding various projects in the villages including water filtration devices and schools. They were all eager to get off the boat and see what we were doing. One by one they dismounted their two boats and got onto the platform as it slowly sank lower and lower into the water. Finally, the platform reached its limit and as it touched the water, all of the creatures living happily under the floorboards in the space between the floorboards and the water suddenly emerged. Dozens of cockroaches, mice, and even scorpions suddenly began scurrying all over and onto each of us. I can normally handle these creatures well and they tend not to bother me but as several cockroaches were climbing up my leg, I quickly grabbed a broom and joined a few others in trying to sweep them into the lake. Lesson learned. On a positive note I think there is a good chance TLC will get more funding from the Rotary Club as many of them were in disbelief that this was actually someones home.

On a different note I wanted to write briefly about two other organizations that TLC has partnered with. The first is KIDS International Development Society. They are a Canadian based organization that work in South East Asia and are currently building a floating school for the village of Moat Khlar. It is being constructed in Siem Reap and will be towed to the village once it is complete. The second organization is the Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap. I was fortunate enough to have a tour of this amazing facility a couple of days ago and I was quite impressed. This is where we refer any patients we see in the villages that are sick enough to need inpatient management or further diagnostics. They have a full inpatient unit, an emergency department and even a 6 bed PICU/NICU. They take medical volunteers (medical students, third year pediatric residents, attending physicians) as well as non-medical volunteers.

KIDS International Development Society:
Angkor Hospital for Children:

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