Medical Farewells and Dental Hellos

Friday 23 July 2010 (Asanvari, Maewo Is  15 22.64S, 168 07.88E)

Final report from medical team member and MSM Cub Reporter Dr Graeme Duke …

It was the happiest of times, it was the saddest of times. Parting is such sweet sorrow. And so it was that the MSM crew bade farewell to the last eye team of the 2010 Prevention of Blindness Programme. Nurse Nancy had given a wonderful thank-you speech and given us all gifts of local handwoven “Pentecost bags”.

Later that day Helen (optom) explained to me that each island in Vanuatu has a unique style to their handcrafts. For example each island’s bag design varies in the width of weave, the weave pattern, the presence and length of the tassels, etc.

After handshakes, hugs, kisses (some prickly!), and then some more, and then the same repeated a couple of times we hopped into the trucks for the 20min ride to the Sara airfield. Our 9am flight was specially diverted from the usual flight path to pick us up. But sometimes when this is arranged the plane can be up to six hours “late”!

We passed the time sprawled on the grass, chatting, dozing, writing, or in my case, walking the length of the airfield to see if I could see Chimere sailing past. No, but I did spot another yacht “Sabbatical II”, we had seen at Loltung, sailing north.

Our plane appeared suddenly around the trees 100m from the airstrip and I was forced to take evasive action before it landed, and then run back to catch the flight before it left without me. (Well it is called a runway!)

The day spent waiting in Luganville was a happy time. We were finally heading home. The town was being decked out for National Children’s Day tomorrow. The bay looked picturesque. And a wonderful lunch of steak or fish & chips and a Tusker was enjoyed by all.

Don, Meg, and I then headed up to the hospital to meet Dr Johnson Kaso, ophthalmologist, who provides much of the eye surgery & more complex eye care for Vanuatu and the Eye Care Programme. Don & Johnson discussed logistics & plans for expansion of services & several of our patients requiring specialist care. He was thrilled to open the AusAid funded new portable operating microscope whilst we were there.

Throughout the day we had made and received phone calls and texts from Oz, all helping us to make substantial progress planning for care of three patients. We are hoping that the Mater Childrens Hospital in Brisbane will be able to help baby Rowena. And there’s an ENT Team coming to Vila next month who will see Rexlyn. And we hope that an (adult) Cardiology team will be here in December to see our other heart patient.

The three of us hopped in a taxi and asked the driver if he could help us find Lerica, a 12yo girl who lives in Lunganville, and underwent open heart surgery last year in Australia for a rheumatic mitral (heart) valve disease. No, he did not know her but might know where her uncle lived. We drove to the suburb. No luck. He yelled out to a group of men. One of them yelled instructions and wild hand signals. We did as he said, then asked a teenager on the street corner. Yes, she knew the aunt and gave directions. Off we drove again. No, they weren’t at home, but a neighbour said they were probably at their local church at a kids programme. Back into the taxi and off we go, only to recognise the church as one we had passed at the start of our search!

There were beaming smiles and tears and hugs as old acquaintances were renewed. Lerica had grown and is healthy and happy – an amazing transformation from the little girl who was always tired and short of breath last year!

Time being short we returned to the town centre to find the rest of the gang lounging in the Natangora bar & restaurant, and head back to Lunganville airport for another (delayed) flight, this time to Vila. Don phoned ahead to order take-away fish & chips, and finally to bed.

Smooth seas, fair breeze, and thank God for happy times.


Live from Asanvari …

After waving good-bye to the medical team and our own crewmember Gerhard, we managed to get away from Abwatuntora by around 9:30am, arriving at Asanvari just on 10:45am with Ni-van registered nurse and dental specialist Phillip onboard.

The plan was for Phillip to work on the teeth of those at Asanvari who we’d been told earlier needed help … Phillip Ronie takes up the story…

“The other day when I heard about a clinic happening in Abwatentora I was very happy to receive them.  It was a chance to learn something new about treatment, about testing for sugar in the blood and treating for asthma and to learn from the doctor about diagnosing different patient conditions..

I’m so glad about learning the ART from Bob and from the medical team, I was so excited to join the yacht travel to Asanvari.  It was good to show Bob about extractions, all the nerves in the jaw and how the teeth work and where to give injection.  Bob was very grateful to learn something from me and he tried to teach  me about the ART which I was very glad about.

Today at Asanvari I set up to see patients and extracted 7 teeth.  There were 7 patients in total, One of the teeth was a wisdom tooth and was very tricky.  When a patient comes to me they have often had pain for a long time.  I must welcome patient and be happy and cheerful to put her at ease.  I treat patient as myself so they are not frightened.  I explain they should be relaxed.  I have a look in the mouth and see whether it is infected and see which tooth is bad. I ask whether they are happy to have tooth pulled and they say they  are sick of pain in tooth too long.

I then give injection and after 3-4 minutes I test to see if feeling is lost in area and then I will loosen tooth and move head around so as to get tooth out.  Today with tricky case I used chair and veranda post to support head to make extraction.  The wisdom tooth took about 5 minutes to get out and then I put gauze on gap when tooth out to stop blood.

Some times we give antibiotics for infected  teeth and some pain killer for later.   I advise them to wash mouth in warm water with salt.

I would like to continue my studies in dentistry and to learn more.  When I started working as a nurse everyone would come to me about hurting teeth in their mouth and I felt sorry for them.  I decided to learn more and specialise in teeth.  I felt it was my gift that God had given me.  I feel very privileged that God had given me this knowledge.  Before I can fix people’s teeth they had to spend a lot of money travelling to Santo or Vila for treatment.  Now I can fix them here in their village .

When I was young my two younger brothers went to French school and I go to English school and we used to joke about defending English, or speaking French.  They are both teachers, and I am the only one in our family to be a nurse.  I chose to be a nurse because we did not have enough health workers to help the people.

This is my first time on a boat like this and to spend a night is so different, I never have done this before.   It was a wonderful opportunity.”

Thank you Phillip for giving us our first Ni-van Ships Log!!

Smooth seas, fair breeze and remember to return Phillip to Loltong tomorrow

Rob Latimer

One thought on “Medical Farewells and Dental Hellos”

  1. Hi Rob, Lainie, Mike & Matt
    Sounds like another very worthwhile mission has been had! And the bonus is that it sounds to have been enjoyed by all.
    I was just wanting to let you know it might be worthwhile contacting Dr Rosemary Taun Paediatrician at Vila Hospital (& family friend)regarding the baby requiring heart surgery. I know Rosemary has recently escorted kids to NZ for treatment there and she indicated there is some possibility for ongoing treatments in NZ. It was just a thought, esp. if Aussie Hospitals are unable to assist in the short term.
    Safe journey back to Vila, love Isabel

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