Wednesday, April 13, 2011


by Roger Lutz, Jr.

The day started at "O dark thirty". We needed to be dressed fed and out the door with Bac Kan a memory in the rear view mirror. Winter in North Vietnam is cooler and here on the western side of Hanoi it is cloudy and gray. The good part is that it is not nearly as cold as Korea. The heater in the bus overcame the goose bumps and the ride over a very narrow windy road to ThanH Mia began to unfold in a myriad of exotic visual presentations that included woman farmers with two foot-long belted knives on their backs, men driving a single horse cart while standing up on the bed nonchalantly doing an impossible balancing act.

I noticed baby water buffaloes playing with the kids while the parents of both the water buffalo and the kids were hard at work in the rice paddies. Along side the tranquil farm life were the symptoms of hustle and bustle as the pickup-type two-wheeled motor scooters wheeled past us like oversized mosquitoes. In amazement I watched as two guys with a 20 ft ladder and a can of paint went whizzing by on a Honda 50 just barely missing us and an oncoming two-wheeled suburban type scooter bus with a mom wearing a helmet, high heels and all the fashionable stuff in-between. Three kids were seated behind her.
As the farm houses zoomed by the bus window I noticed architecture that is attractive and functional. The houses are built on posts for foundational support. The space below the floor housed all manner of farming equipment and household necessities. Chickens, pigs, dogs, kids, and even baby water buffaloes viewed this area as their own private play pen.
Almost too soon we arrived at the school at Thanh Mia. As the bus groaned up the final hill, 500 kids waved wildly and greeted us with smiles of excitement. We had been told by government leadership to expect around 200 kids on the dental side and perhaps 200 to 300 adults for primary medical care. As the day unfolded we found that this stated projection was hugely understated.

Our team immediately mobilized. Generators were placed, power run, dental chairs set, equipment serviced and put into operation. Exam tables and chairs were up and waiting for patients. The admin stuff was arranged and prepared for action. In less than thirty minute after our arrival, the school was transformed into a primary medical care and dental facility.

People of every variety—young ,old, men, women, boys, girls, kindergarteners, teens, young adults, the middle aged, mature adults and the very elderly, each with his or her own special problems had arrived with hope and expectations.

We had been awarded our very own political escorts. They were stern-faced straight-laced strict Communist Party members. Each of them kept a close watch on our activities. I wondered if perhaps they were searching for any adverse effects from our treatments. Any such negative outcome from treatments dispensed would be evidence that what we did was a free world plot against the people. Interestingly, by the end of the day, these stern-faced political cops had slipped up and smiled more than a couple of times.
As our free world plot unfolded, patients arrived than had been anticipated by the political leadership. Apparently, those who had been helped spread the good news and people from the extended area dropped the details of daily life to peruse a lost hope. Our political escorts had not anticipated this turn of events! Obviously, too much of a good thing generates hope that overshadows any restrictions imposed by politicos. In the end, our escorts turned people away to establish some sort of political authority.

That day, our team did more than 600 dental procedures—filling, composites, extractions, oral health and education. The primary care group treated, and recommended hundreds perhaps thousands of life-saving, health promoting, body easing recommendations that will, if followed, make a better life for people that had never seen white-skinned individuals. The local people would rub my skin to see if the white would rub off. It didn't.

During the last trip our team treated 1100 kids that involved 3000 procedures—extractions, fillings, that sort of stuff. We each have a part of the action. Paul does triage as the kids come in, I do the setups—power, generators, equipment operation, as well as the patient counts, and whatever else as needed. Joe checks on the facility and makes sure we are supported and gets whatever we need. Thaum, is the coordinator and spokesman, and the guy who looks after the problems. Catherine and Bicky Lee are the dentists. A major responsibility we all accept is to keep our “dentist” treasures safe and make sure that all is lined up for them in an orderly fashion.
We had scheduled five days in this area. Political concerns limited us to two days. Today we move to an area closer to Hanoi—to an area that has hosted us in the past and desperately wants us back to dispense more hope.

Enough for is "O dark thirty" and time to face another day. I realize that some may view this work as hardship. But for me, I have to pinch myself to make sure I am not in an exhilarating dream.


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