Thursday, 25 December 2008

Week 34 - The end... Da Nang, Da Lat & Saigon

Hey everybody, excuse the lateness of this week’s blog, but I’m sure everyone is well and truly busy with Christmas preparations anyway!
It’s December 23rd, and I’m sat on a bus from Da Lat, to Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon) before flying home tomorrow. It’s been so hot here in Da Lat the last 4 days that I have been sun burnt, a very funny thing for me at this time of year! These last 9 days have certainly offered plenty of entertainment, emotion and true Vietnamese hospitality, that It will make my departure tomorrow even more sad than it would have been just a week ago.

I had to finish up at the wonderful Hospital C rehabilitation department, with a presentation of what I have tried to do, and to complete an application for funding to return next year. In between the report writing, there was ‘end of day’ dance lessons in salsa for the staff, lunchtime drinking, and on the last day the department looked more like a restaurant with tables full of food as a ‘thanks to myself and Virginia (American physiotherapist). This week also saw a second invitation to one of my colleagues homes for lunch with his family – not for any special reason, just to be nice. Perhaps I should have not been surprised to find mountains of tasty food, and the entire family (in-laws included) there waiting. Whilst the food was being prepared my colleague, who also happens to be a great singer, dancer and handyman, helped me to make some more equipment for the hospital –an all action lunch!
Saying goodbye was tough, and especially with my trainee (Hoai) and my brilliant translator (Nga). I wanted to get them a little gift to say thanks for their hard work over the last month, so I thought I’d get a photo of us printed off, and bought a small little frame... the reason I mention this is because in the process of doing this I got to see the well most commonly used computer tool in Vietnam (in my opinion)... PHOTOSHOP!!!
I took my USB with the 2 photos I wanted to print to the photo shop and in this little shop I saw 2 guys sat at quite old looking computers making the tiniest detailed changes to people’s photographs. If you see almost any photograph on display here in Vietnam, be it wedding photos, family portraits, or even just ordinary pictures with friends, everybody looks perfect... i mean, no spots, no wrinkles, not dark patches, NOTHING!!! The guy almost fainted when I told him i just wanted him to print my pictures, without him making any changes... The look on the guy’s face suggested that the idea that I wanted a less than perfect looking picture seemed like I had just asked this guy to give up rice and noodles for a month! Still, he eventually gave in and printed my pictures as I requested. This all took about 1 minute!!! Un-bloody-believable! I payed just 6,000 dong (20pence) for this service, and as I drove away I could see the guy returning to a more time consuming task of making a rather unfortunate looking woman (who had just entered the shop), look like Miss Vietnam, on all of her 100 holiday pictures!

The last four days of my time here in Vietnam have been spent in the beautiful ‘honeymoon’ destination of Da Lat. I could talk all day about this beautiful place, with names of tourist places including, ‘Dreaming Hill’ and my personal favourite the ‘Valley of Love’. The nearby Lanbiang mountain, the flower garden, and Prenn waterfalls - with its three pagoda’s in the hillside are also must see places to visit. This weekend just happened to be one almighty festival with songs, dances, flower stalls and all manner of exhibitions going on, just to add to the fun! The hotel I stayed in also deserves a mention for being so nice, and empty! I had a different breakfast every morning, not at my request, but simply because they served what they happened to have in stock! The place was a little walk (20mins) from the town centre, but a perfect location to avoid the tourist trade! With bicycles available for rent (but mostly tandem bikes) I would have to recommend hiring a motorcycle as the traffic is light and all the places of interest become easily accessible! This place as the pictures show, is well worth a visit, and a great way for me to end my time in Vietnam!

So onto the ‘big smoke’ of Saigon and a dinner with four of my friends from Hoi An, John, Michelle, Eri and Vy, another stroke of luck with us all being in Saigon by chance! Here are some picures from my last night in Vietnam, the Xmas lights of Saigon. (with my Japanese friend - Eri)

I hope you have all enjoyed reading this blog! I’ve enjoyed writing it, and remembering the quite bizarre life I have led here over the past 8 months!

Singapore Airlines even offered a festive goodbye as the airline staff sang carols and offered all the passengers on the flight from Saigon - Singapore.. have a look for yourself!

Regards from Vietnam

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Week 33 - Dressing a Buddhist Monk & a TV appearence!

Hello Everybody!

There have been times here in Vietnam when life has surprised me, and there have been times when I have surprised myself becoming accustomed to the way of life here. This week both of these statements have been true of my daily life.

Work at the hospital has continued to be challenging both from a cultural and professional perspective. (With only four working days let until I finish at the hospital, I have yet to complete the training of my trainee, my evaluation and summary reports, and write a proposal for funding for next year. A busy week lies ahead.) Still there has been plenty of adventure and incident to keep me going both in and outside of the hospital. As you can see from the picture and title above, one of our patients at the hospital is a monk, and we had very interesting 'dressing' session with him this week. He was trying to explain the kind of thing he is required to wear at the pagoda, now not being a Buddhist myself, I really had no idea what exactly his traditional dress would entail, so the only way we could figure out exactly how we could help him was to see the clothes ourselves. We have supported this man to dress independently though I soon I realised that he actually needed assistants, before his illness, to wear the second piece of religious clothing.. a useful piece of information, before I had him starting an impossible task!

The physiotherapy students that have been on placement have now left, and we will get a new bunch starting tomorrow morning. The previous bunch were an interesting and inquisitive lot, and were receptive to being grabbed for many of my demonstrations, so in tribute to them, here's a picture of them all!

The hospital staff have not been spared from having to participate in some of my demonstrations, and so in fairness to my volunteers for the 'patient stroke empathy' discussion we had last week, here is what they were required to do in the name of professionalism....

Now you may think I've been a touch cruel to use volunteers, but just to show that I am not just saving myself some embarrassment, here is my attempts to figure out how we could use household implements to help an upper limb amputee pull up her pants after using the toilet...

So to more social matters, Monday night was fun as I visited a cafe with live violin and guitar music played for a n hour or so, at my favourite cafe (KATYNAT). The only odd thing was the decision to have 'Mr Bean' playing in the background on the TV! Most people were indeed watching the 'Mr Bean' episode! Thursday turned out to be a very memorable day as not only did my motorbike engine stop dead, in the middle of morning rush hour traffic, but I had to return to Hoi An and my former employers CHIA (childrens hope in action). The action started just 600 yards from my house as my bike just cut out, and after a very quick prayer to help me drift across the crazy traffic to the pavement I found myself pushing my bike back to the house, where the local bike shop then spent one hour solidly trying to find and fix the problem. After one hour's work and with my ignition switch now completely unusable ( kick start lever to start the engine now), the guy charged me a shocking 20,000 dong, - shocking because that is the equivalent to 66pence for all the work... mechanics around the world take note!!!!, With my bike in tact, I headed to Hoi An for the afternoon and un beknown to me - my TV debut. My former employer was accepting a very generous donation from Nokia, so there was a handing over and placque unveiling ceremony, which had a local Vietnamese TV crew present. The very next day after returning from lunch, one of my colleagues at the hospital told me he had just seen me on TV, on a local news station! No speaking part but hey, TV is TV right?

I headed back to Hoi An this weekend too for my final goodbyes to my neighbours there, and some watery goodbyes. I say watery as the beer kept on flowing and I was ready for sleeping by 9pm Saturday night! Here are some of the farewells....

I must just quickly mention my day today, because after a breakfast goodbye with Miss Lai and Thuy in Hoi An, and a walk on the beach, I headed back home to Da Nang, but didn't even have chance to get back to the house, as I was met at the hospital by three male colleagues who took me out for beers and lunch. We were soon joined by some other colleagues including Miss Huong, which led to only one thing... yeah, karaoke! It was almost 6pm before I finally got back to home to relax. Just another typical day in Vietnam!

The idea I'll be home in 10 days just seems very unreal to me right now...
Regards from Vietnam

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Week 32 - Down to business under grey skies!

Hello everybody,
This week I'd like to focus a little bit on some of the professional challenges I face working in Vietnam, where ready-made equipment (which can be a large part of me work in a hospital setting) - is not available. My American physiotherapy colleague (Virginia Lockett) has been a real inspiration for me when it comes to thinking about using local resources to make equipment. So I'd like to share a little of my work experience with you. Of course no weekly report is complete without the mention of a few social excursions, which I'll get to a little later!

The major event of the week has been my clumsiness as I dropped my lap top on Friday night and have broken my screen, which I just about continue to use, and hope it doesn't completely break before I get home to repair it!

So to work, and here is a picture of my really fantastic translator Nga, who is my life line here in this job.... Even with some of the staff speaking very good English, my trainee does not speak enough English to allow for in depth communication. But I must praise Nga here because it's her ability to make the patients feel at ease that really allows me to get the information I need. So thank you Nga! She also looks after her young baby, and has been taking exams after studying! So to some of the little bits and pieces that I have been working on. Firstly we have many patients who have suffered from strokes (CVA), so they have problems with one side of their body, including weakness, paralysis, or other complex difficulties. We also have patients who have had serious road traffic accidents on their motorbikes and have badly damaged arms and hands. You can imagine some of the difficulties people have if you can only use one hand or arm, and especially for some women here who are trying to prepare food, or dress (bra's!), it's a real problem. In England there is ready made equipment to help with these kind of problems, but in Vietnam these things don't exist, the materials are not readily available and to have equipment copied or made is an expense that neither the hospitals or patients can afford. So it's a case of sitting down and trying to think of ways in which you can use everyday objects to create the kind of equipment you need. I have used 3 chopsticks taped together as a temporary 'dressing stick' but how to help two women that said they could not cut or peel food when preparing a meal, provided a tough challenge. As my planned trip to Hue got rained off, I took off round the markets with my friend Thao, who ensured I didn't get ripped off too much, and we found some useful stuff to experiment with. The barbecue tongues are replacement dressing aids, as instead of using a helping hand ( grabber / pick up stick ), the patient can now reach down to dress their lower half, and the edges of the tongues are rounded to ensure materials don't get ripped... To be honest, most people can squat and have such flexible hips that they can always bend down to dress, but if their balance or strength is affected then they need extra reach on occasion.

The self made peeler was an idea that we concocted yesterday. The clamp design (clamp a peeler blade to a table top) you see in the UK and US was no good because people mostly prepare their food on the floor here, even thought they may cook it on a stove on a higher surface. This explains why people who have the use of only one arm, open jars by holding the jars with their feet or legs, and turn the top with their one good hand! So fixing a peeler to a plastic bowl, was not only cheap and cheerful (30,000 dong - £1/$2), but culturally adaptable... I must say though, that this is just test model and we'll see the results of the tests later this week. Attaching the peeler to the bowls (different shaped bowls with different depths will help us determine what shape & strength bowl is best for this activity), was fun as we used the as stove in my friends kitchen to heat a screw driver to burn into the plastic!! Awesome... I must admit I like to think of ideas for this kind of stuff, but people here really have the ability to just have a go at the actual making of this kind of thing!
To one more story of sheer brilliant invention by a Vietnamese physiotherapist working at a different hospital. A patient suffered a horrific work accident where an industrial saw cut off one of her arms, and badly damaged the other, leaving her with movement only at the shoulder joint. Staff were keen for her to be able to at least try and use the full arm, but with almost no movement below the shoulder this would be difficult. A few different ideas were tried, including making a plaster cast splint with an attached spoon, see below...

It was this second idea that was just brilliant! The straps are just normal Velcro type material, which straps to the arm, and the gray material is just ordinary plastic piping, that has been burned, cut and reshapes, with one solitary screw and bolt to hold it. The spoon is held in place by a standard universal cuff... (Velcro strap) which sits on the fingers.... simple genius!!!! The elastic band was designed to give some element of control via weight of the arm, to stop the patient hitting flinging the spoon around... and the end result was... see below...
I hope this gives you a brief taste of the kind of challenges we (therapy workers & patients) face here in this kind of setting!

To more social matters, the beginning part of my week began with a bang.. or should I say song as both Monday and Tuesday night I found myself at a Karaoke club, firstly with my neighbour from Hoi An, (Yen) and her student room mates from the University of Da Nang, female hall of residents. No pictures available thankfully, as though I assure you all the girls were between 19-21 they look younger and nobody wants Interpol chasing them eh!
Tuesday night was with my new colleagues from the hospital - karaoke is really the only way to get to know your colleagues here!!! So after more renditions of the usual numbers, and the Beatles 'Hard Days Night' the night ended, here are some snaps...
One more thing to mention, on Wednesday lunchtime I got invited to a wedding.. yeah at lunch time.. I know.. so 4 of us left work at lunch well 11:15, and were soon stood outside a very posh restaurant indeed, the groom was clearly a rich man (doctor from the hospital), everyone was wearing suits.. I had sandals and jeans on! Very different form the weddings I saw in Hoi an, where people were sat around on plastic chairs drinking and having fun, loud fun!!! Here everyone was seated at fancy decorated tables, there was music, lights, dancers, and even indoor fireworks! it was like watching a West-end show, not being at a wedding! really unreal! Several courses of food were served as the wedding party moved around the hall, before people paid tribute to the wedded couple by singing on stage.. honestly... It was quite surreal. People had already handed their money envelopes in on the way in as is customary here! enjoy a couple of pics below...

Ok, I promise this is the last thing I will say! Yesterday when I was coming back from the markets to my friend's place I was driving my motorbike with my friend on the back. When we got back to my friend's house and I went to turn off my motorbike engine, the keys were not in the engine, I know I know... I didn't realise the bike could still run with no keys, but here it was, and after retracing the short journey from the market I couldn't see the keys anywhere!!! Oh crap I thought!! what could I do??? The answer was surprisingly easy and worrying, at the same time. Just a few houses down the road was a shop that simply made me a new set of keys for the bike. They didn't have a key to copy to make a new key, they just looked at my bike, and within 5 minutes I has new keys! Phew I thought, but then I though if it was so easy to go and get keys made for a motorbike, then surely it's a bit easy to steal stuff... I jokingly asked if they could make keys for the passing Ferrari! (just kidding!).

Ok that's it I promise!

Regards from Vietnam