Farewell Philip – Our Captive Dentist

Saturday 24 July 2010 (Loane, Pentecost 15 28.4S, 168 08.04E


Junior Vice Trainee MSM Reporter Matt Latimer – Reporting from Loane (Northern Pentecost)

Today; July 24th is national children’s day here in Vanuatu, a day of fun and merriment all over the country.  Whilst we didn’t get to join the festivities, for the crew of Chimere, it was still an enjoyable and productive day.

After last night’s party at the Asanvari yacht club with a group of fellow yachties, Chief Nelson, his son Nixon, a full string band and half the village children, cap’n Rob (aka Dad) was very kind in letting us all sleep in till 6:30.  That’s not entirely true – With no immediate deadlines, there was no fixed wake-up time, but, with our intrepid captain making an assault on the local waterfall at ‘0700’ we were all keen to join him for a long awaited (and much needed) swim and a wash.   Needless to say that once 6:30 hit, we were all up and ready for our pre-breakfast waterfall adventure… well nearly all of us.  After working hard in the clinic yesterday, and copping the traditional late night which comes from writing the ship’s log, Phillip was still sound asleep, tucked up in his bed in the forward cabin.   No amount of calling out seemed to be able to wake him and a decision had to be made whether to go on without him.  In the words of the sergeant  from Toy Story “a good soldier never leaves a man behind”  and so it was decided Phillip was not being left behind – even if it was at home base all tucked up in bed.

It was around this time that we received a house visit from the local baker in his dugout canoe (a service I would like to see more of in Australia).  With him, was a healthy selection of freshly baked bread. We couldn’t resist stocking up with more bread ready for the day’s activities.

Maybe it was the smell of the bread, maybe it was the string band CD we’d turned up or maybe it was Rob yelling out “last call for a swim” down the hatch, but as we were leaving, Phillip poked his head out of his bunk and in no time, had joined us in the dingy, ready for our trip to the waterfall.

Now if anyone back home is thinking of installing a four-tiered waterfall in their backyard, and is wondering how effective they are as an alternative to a shower I say this:  It could have been the fact that I haven’t had a (proper*) shower in over three weeks, but the morning’s bathe under the waterfall was the most amazing shower I have ever had.  Whilst the water was freez-ing by local standards (quite tropical by Melbourne standards) it was most refreshing, and after only a short time (and a little bit of soap) we all smelt quite respectable again.

Phillip was due to start dentisting at 8:00 at the local clinic, so after getting ourselves clean, we jumped back in the dinghy and headed back to the boat for a quick breakfast, before dropping Phillip and Lanie off at the clinic right on (Island) time at 9:00.  I’m told Phillip’s services were required again today and he pulled a further 2 teeth but I’ll let Lanie fill you in on the details.

While Phillip and Lanie were busy at the clinic, Mike and I did odd jobs around the boat and Rob set out to replenish our water supply from a tap ashore.  After only a couple of hours it was time to leave Asanvari – for the third time this trip.  We were now bound for Loltong to return Phillip to his village so that he could attend a health seminar on malaria.  It was sad to see him go, we’d only known Phillip a short time but it was clear to see he was a caring man with a strong faith, who truly wants to help and care for others in pain.  With hugs all round, we left Phillip with a nice new backpack to carry his dental equipment in, as well as a photo of him at the helm to remember his trip.  We waved goodbye as Loltong disappeared into the distance – heading up the coast here to Loane.

Anchoring at Loane, we wasted no time.  Straight into the water went the dinghy as Rob, Mike and I made an assault on the beach, where Rob was to do the now world famous ‘mud-brick sell’.  We started asking if anyone knew “Richard”, a principal of a nearby school who we knew was very keen to learn about mud-brick stoves.  While Rob and Mike discussed the finer details of how we get a hold of Richard at church tomorrow, I sat down on the beach with a group of kids that had gathered around us.  We started talking Bislama, and for a time, the conversation went well – we all exchanged names and talked about the soccer world cup.  It was at this point that I may have given the impression that I could actually speak Bislama.  As the conversation sped up and more children chimed in I was starting to get way out of my depth and pretty soon the children were correcting my Bislama.  Having been found out, we switched the conversation to English as I was given remedial lessens in basic Bislama as the children also taught me how to do kustom sand drawings.  All too soon, the oldies pulled me away from my new playmates and as the sun set we made our way back to the Chimere, with the promise of returning the following day to attend church, find Richard, make mud-bricks and receive lesson two in remedial Bislama.

It’s now 9:00pm, Rob and Mike have been sent to bed with no dinner, (diagnosed as tired puppies) with Lanie soon to follow  – after she finishes typing the log.  I’m sitting here under the stars, with Chimere gently rocking from side to side, munching on a bag of fresh capsicums I found in the galley.  Another day in Vanuatu.

Small small seas, him good wind and here’s to one day learning Bislama

* pouring water over ones head with a cup, falling in a river and using a pressurised weed-sprayer filled with water does not count as a shower

Report from MSM Cub Reporter, nurse & crewmember, Lanie

Sitting in the cool on the foredeck of Chimere pen poised, headlight on and under the glow of the full moon I reflect on the “dental” events of the past 48 hours.

Philip the Ni Van RN/dentist was excited to join us on Chimere and be transported to Asanvari on Maewo, approx one hour north of his village  The nurse at Asanvari had met with us previously and told of the people who had toothache and were in desperate need of dental extractions. Olivet (nurse) explained that there were 20 or more people on her current waiting list.

The session at Asanvari was held in the yacht club located on the foreshore. The building is an open style hut. It is used by the local villagers, visiting yachties and tourists, all of whom continued on as usual with onlookers coming in. Privacy laws aren’t really a priority here!

The “yacht club staff” were very helpful and accommodating in providing a table, some chairs and a bowl of water for cleaning the dental instruments.

Philip placed one of the green chairs against a post this was the “dental chair”.  One by one the 7 patients were seen, each having a tooth pulled out. The “post” behind the chair being used as a brace to support the back of the head! I observed, fascinated at the pain tolerance of these very stoic people!!!

A charge of 500 Vatu equivalant to approx $5-6 AUS is the usual charge for each patient to cover medical costs. A directive from the health department.

Between each patient Philip rinses the dental instruments in the bowl of water. The water is not changed until the session finishes. “Infection control?” – not here!
Philip says – “I sterilize them back at my village”

Patients are given Paracetamol 2 tablets as analgesia if needed.

Seven patients have dental extractions. The word goes around that a second clinic is going to be held tomorrow.  “Tomorrow everyone will come”.

Tomorrow is here and the clinic started at 9 am.  By 10:30 no patients have arrived. By the end of the morning the tally was two patients seen and two dental extractions performed!!!!!

Olivetti & Beth are very apologetic. The following is an entry from Bethany Keats, (from Geelong, Australia) former volunteer at the local school and now on holiday and visiting family. Beth is the adopted daughter of Nurse Olivet.

“Even before the crew came ashore, there was word around the village of the existence of a dentist. Many people in this region have teeth complaints but have no access to a dentist and all the local nurse can do is prescribe pain-killers. When we heard there was a chance for the yacht to bring a dentist here, Olivet was very excited.

When the news came that a dentist would be arriving, everyone I spoke to was excited about it- sometimes because they had a tooth that needed extracting, but others were just glad that one was coming.

The response to the news was overwhelmingly positive as to see a dentist otherwise would require a long boat trip that no-one could afford; 8,000 vatu ($90 AUS+) or more.

However when the dentist arrived only seven people came – a number far fewer than the known complaints. Those who came all had extractions and although now feeling rather sore and sorry for themselves (especially the one who has had a wisdom tooth out) but very grateful for the dentist.

Olivet is incredibly grateful that her request was fulfilled and the dentist able to come, she is very embarrassed that so few people came.

Embarrased and furious Olivet has declared that she will not invite any more dentists to come since people haven’t responded. She is even reluctant to provide Paracetamol now.

Olivet spoke with one man this morning about why he did not come he relied ” I cured it with Kastom medicine. Naturally Olivett is not impressed.

Myself as well, I am so happy that the effort was put into bringing a dentist here and am also embarrassed that the response wasn’t as was anticipated.

The medical services here are really lacking as we only have one nurse for approx 400 people, and the chance to have someone else was wonderful .

I really thankyou for your time and effort towards the community and I know mum(Olivet) does too.”

SATURDAY 24TH JULY  – Entry Re little boy with sore leg

Tari a young boy aged 9 years was kicked in the knee  by a silly boy approx 2 weeks ago. Tari has not been able to walk for the last 2 weeks and is in considerable pain and discomfort.

His mother Erica whom I met on our previous visit to Asanvari brought Tari to me. Erica told the story of a local who repositioned Tari’s dislocated patella.  On examining Tari’s leg at his home he had significant swelling of his knee and lower leg I suspected a knee effusion with a possible stress fracture.

Looking around him I noted one crutch leaning against the hut.  Erica showed it to me.  It was in desperate need of repair and far to high for Tari to use.

Rob was nearby doing some shipwright work on a timber boat for Chief Nelson.  Rob took a look at the crutch and proceeded to make it look and work like new! With more holes for further adjustment. Tari and his mother were very pleased!

We were able to text message Dr. G. Duke  to ask for his advice and as suspected he recommended evacuation to Santo.

After much deliberation as to the cheapest and most efficient form of transport for both Erica and Tari it was decided that Chimere would collect them both on Wednesday next week and take them to Santo.

Erica and Olivet were both very appreciative of MSM.  Other modes of transport are catching a boat to Lolowai then a plane trip to Santo, (The Government pays a one way ticket for the child but not the mother) or a return trip to Santo by boat which is very uncomfortable and unpredictable (no one seems to know when a boat will turn up) also.

So Chimere and crew plan for another return to Asanvari next week!!!  That will be our 4th in 2 weeks.


4 thoughts on “Farewell Philip – Our Captive Dentist”

  1. Hi Thea,

    thank you for your note of encouragement and ongoing support.

    things are winding down now on this mission as we make our way back to Vila

    all the best


  2. Hi Thea

    Great to hear from you!

    Today was a trip to the waterfall with our crew and fellow yachties followed by a Vanuatian lunch and a walk!

    Preparations completed for our journey South to Port Villa departing at 3 am for an overnight sail to Epi 75 NM then to Havanna Port villa 50 nm.

    We expect to arrive in Port villa Marina on Monday a farewell dinner on Tuesday then its homeward bound for Lanie and Mike on Wednesday!!!

    Flying home via Sydney ETA Melbourne 2130 4/8/2010.

    Looking forward to seeing you and family and friends!!!

    Lots of love and hugs Lanie and MSM crew.

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