A Harsh Reality

Tim R. Thailand Spring Break 2013

Of all our activities in Thailand, probably the experience that impacted me the most was our visit to the Mae Tao Medical Clinic in Mae Sot.  At the clinic, Thai caretakers waited on ailing patients in rooms full of beds that reminded me of an army hospital movie scene.  In these less than ideal conditions, the caring staff did their best to provide free medical care to the mostly Burmese patients able to make it across the border.  With the all complaints about medical care in the United States, few experiences have made me realize how fortunate we really are in that regard.  

There are no actual doctors at Mae Tao on a daily basis.  The labor and delivery unit is a sea of beds, and the new mothers are required to walk themselves to the recovery area in unattached room just after giving birth.  Holding to traditional Thai culture, the staff works barefoot throughout the facilities.  In the prosthetics workshop (which somewhat resembled my dad’s own workshop in his garage), the case-board reminded us of the harsh reality just a few miles away on the other side of the Burma-Thailand border; only one patient on the board (there’s no HIPAA in Thailand) received a prosthetic for a reason besides a landmine. 

Although the Mae Tao facilities were fairly spartan, the open-air clinic was surprisingly effective and included almost all of the same departments as you would find in a Western hospital.  An American surgeon who volunteers at the clinic once a year told us about the wide variety of procedures he performs there, despite not having the general anesthetics that are commonly administered here in the States.  He also explained how he trained staff there to perform minor surgeries, such as hernia procedures, on their own.  Although we found that impressive, I don’t think any one of us was ready to take advantage of the free medical care at Mae Tao. 

It would be an understatement to say that I felt fortunate to have access to the medical care available in the United States.  I couldn’t imagine how the entire clinic could go for weeks on end without having an actual doctor on-site.  Although the staff can perform minor procedures, major procedures have to wait until an actual doctor travels there to volunteer his or her services for a week or two at a time, which leaves patients waiting for surgery indefinitely.  I encourage anyone with medical training and interested in traveling while impacting lives for the better to consider visiting Mae Tao to see how he or she might be able lend a hand.  In stark contrast to the threat of litigation associated with any slight medical error in the United States, even when procedures go poorly at Mae Tao, the patients and their families are grateful to anyone even attempting to help.

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