The wonderful nurses of Lane Community College of Eugene, Oregon
I am not one to often get ill or need to go to the doctors or the hospital so I really don’t ever spend any of my time with medical professionals but this all changed on Friday when I was lucky enough to be able to shadow the Lane Community College Nursing Students who came to Surin all the way from Eugene in Oregon to undertake their Starfish Medical Project under the watchful eye of our very own beautiful manager, and my Thai sister, Nam.
Shes such a cutie!!
Not knowing what to expect and having had only 2 hours sleep after a rather impromtu staff night out I wandered over to the 7/11 to wait for Nam and the mini bus that would take us to the Prasat hospital which is around a 40 minute drive outside of Surin. We turned up at the hospital and then met up with one of the female doctors who wanted to say thank you so much to the Lane Community College for all of their help over the last week and to wish them all the best in their future.
The medical team at Prasat Hospital
The Lane Community College Nurses both in Surin and back at home in Oregon all clubed together in order to collect money and supplies to donate to the hospital. This included lots of new clean needles, gloves and other medical goodies that I know will be super useful at the hospital if their reaction was anything to go off.
So after all of the pictures were taken we then drove out to a rather remote village where the students would be undertaking health screenings for villagers that had no way of getting to a hospital. Prasat Hospital has a huge emphasis on community health, something that Lane Community College shares a passion for, and they send out a team of nurses to surrounding villages every day in order to keep an eye on the community and to check on how patients are doing when they have left the hospital to go back home.
The students were split into four different teams that were accompanied by a nurse or two and they were then dropped off in different locations around the very spread out village in order to see as many patients as possible.
Mary taking a patients blood pressure
Once in their locations each group undertook health screenings of the hoards of people who had come down to get checked, this included checking blood pressure, blood sugar levels and taking weights and measures. This is very important for Prasat Hospital so that they can keep an up to date ledger of villagers and how their health may be improving or deteriorating and isn’t something that is just ‘put on for the white folk’ like some of the other medical volunteering projects I have heard of around Thailand.
Jolene taking a blood sugar reading
I was amazed by just how proffessional the nursing students were, and I know it sounds really stupid, but part of me thought that seeing as they were students they may not have the actual knowledge about all of the different conditions and drugs and what not as most of the students I know in England aren’t even sure what their course entails. But these guys were so incredibly proffesional and they worked so efficiently and so well with each other, they were even using Thai wherever possible and were very respectful to every single patient, making them feel important and cared for.
Sarah and Emily listening to a patient talk about the pain he is feeling
I know from the times I have been in A&E and the doctors that sometimes nurses aren’t the most gentle of people as they have to see so many people in one day but the Lane Community College nurses were so kind and caring and were always checking that the patients were ok and what really impressed me was that they were giving incredibly detailed advice on some techniques that might help some of the patients.
Debbie making a patient smile whilst pricking his finger; must have a magic touch there I think!
For example one man had an incredibly sore chest and was short of breath after falling down some steps and the two nurses that were dealing with him were telling him that he needed to do specific breathing exercises and muscle relaxing techniques and it would relieve the tension that he was feeling.
So after seeing what seemed like every person in the village we all jumped back into the minibus and drove to a local town in order to pick up some bits and pieces that the nurses were going to give to the afternoon cases that we would be visiting. The things they picked up were such insignificant things to you and me but luxuries to the people we were going to see, the things included, shampoo, soap, blankets, milk and rice. Now this might not seem like very much to you but the four cases we visited were people who were very poor and were too ill or old to work so this was a big deal to them.
Jesse and Debbie doing the health check on the 102 year old woman
The first case that we went to was of a woman who was 102 years old!! You wouldn’t think to look at her though that she was, now I don’t know anyone who is 102 but I always pictured them more crumbly looking than this lovely lady. She was so overjoyed to see all of the people coming to see her and sat very patiently as Jesse and Debbie undertook her health check. After her check, which came up very good indeed, she took both Jesse and Debbie’s hand in hers and wished them good health, lots of wealth and strength to live a long and beautiful life, after this the team presented her with her gifts and she began to cry. It was so moving to see someone so happy with the actions of another person, the fact that they had thought about her enough to buy her gifts was more than she could ever have asked for. She then told Nam that she had nothing to give them in return to show her gratitude but I knew whilst I was looking at her staring into Jesse’s eyes and holding his hand that she had given him more than he could ever ask for just from seeing her so happy. You never see gratitude like that in the Western world and you could see on the face of every one of the nurses that this was why they loved what they do.
Jesse and Debbie getting blessed
She also told us that the secret to long life was to not drink whiskey, to eat lots of vegetables, fruit and fish and to never stop smiling. She has more wisdom in that one sentence than I think most of the people who run our countries ever speak of.
Jolene and Emily undertaking a health check
Our second visit was to another woman who was living on her own who had hundreds of silk worms that she used to make her own clothes from. I can knit myself a pretty awesome scarf, but this lady??? She had woven silk trousers that were multicoloured, I think it is safe to say that she had much better skills than me!! She was suffering from very sore and tight legs which meant she was not able to bend without excruciating pain, this was made worse by the fact that she had no help from family as they were all working in Bangkok and only occasionally came to see her. Jolene and Emily made sure that she was well looked after though and the only issue that occurred was very high blood pressure as she was so overwhelmed and excited by how many people were visiting her!! Nam then spoke to her about some exercsises she could do that would decrease the pain in her knee and hamstrings and would mean that she would be able to move around comfortably again.
Jesse really made me smile, and Nam blush, when he called her a Super Nurse becuase of all of the amazing work and time she puts into the medical project.
The next patient we saw was a 95 year old Cambodian man that, despite his age, could tell you every single thing about when he was fighting in the Vietnamese war when he was younger. He had hundreds of silk worms in his house and his family were kind enough to show them to us and even cooked up a couple of them for the nurses to try; naturally I was found cuddling some kittens that I found. If you ever can’t find me just follow the dogs and cats and I will be with them 😀
Who needs pots on shelves when you can have cats there instead?
So after their snacks the nurses set to work on their health checks and despite being 95, the only medical problem that the man had was moderate hypertension. If you compare that to the nurses who were treating him they could learn a thing or two! I have never seen any people pop pills as much as these guys, they kept joking that they were a walking pharmacy and they weren’t wrong there!!
The team getting blessed
When Nam told the 95 year old man that the nurses were all the way from America he took hold of Jesse’s hand and smiled, Jesse then thanked him, wished him luck and good health. The old man then started to cry, took hold of both of Jesse’s hands and then blessed every single one of the nurses with good health, long life and the strength and determination to conquer any obstacles that they may face in life. He told Nam that he wanted to make them some Holy Water to keep them safe but we didn’t have enough time in the day to go back to his village so he said he would make some for when they come again next year.
Auf and Nam
After that we travelled to see the tallest man in Thailand who was recently released from hospital. Auf measures 8” 7’ tall and came to the attention to Prasat hospital about three years ago after he had a fall that made it impossible for him to stretch his legs out or to even sit up unassisted. When I first arrived in Surin I spent some time with a volunteer called Ben who worked with Auf as a physio and he asked me to send him pictures of how Auf was doing and when I sent him a picture of Auf being able to stretch his legs out, sit up and being able to nearly stand, I got such an amazing response as 1 month ago Auf couldn’t do any of that and it was thanks to Ben and the other physio volunteers that he is on his way to walking again.
Aufs story makes me so sad though.
He tried to commit suicide twice in the last three years as he felt so awful that he was such a strain on his family as he couldn’t do anything to help them, and when the harvest came and he couldn’t help it broke his heart and he was in tears. He has such a beautiful soul and it made me so sad to think that this amazing person might not have been in the world if he had known that due to his size he would have to take two to three times as many pills to commit suicide.
But, thankfully, after meeting the Starfish volunteers that have been coming to see him he has gained so much confidence and encouragement to stay alive and to get better so that he can help his family again.
He is doing so well!!!!
Now one of the saddest things about Auf is that because he is so tall he and his family can’t find clothes in Thailand that he can wear. He now only owns 5 tshirts and 2 pairs of shorts; that’s it. It makes me sad knowing that in the Western world we have whole industries and sectors of the retail world that dedicate themselves entirely to tall people and their clothing needs, not only that but the clothes are inexpensive as well, whereas here in Thailand he has to find clothes that fit or have specially made ones. Now that is far too expensive for his family so all of the Lane Community Nurses have decided that they are going to have a clothing drive in order to get Auf some new clothes.
What I would love to do as well is to get everyone who reads this blog to help as well.
Clothes are so inexpensive in the Western world and a donation of one T-shirt or a pair of trousers in a size big enough to fit him would be the most amazing and selfless thing you could do this year. Make it your New Years resolution to find Auf one thing to wear and send it to the Starfish Surin Office and we can collect everything together and present him with it all. I know I have already asked everyone I know back in England to help out and now I am asking you to as well, this is the season of giving after all and this is such a worthwhile cause and will genuinely change Aufs life and give him one more reason to stay alive and not try to take his own life again as he will know he has the support of people all over the world.
So if you would like to donate something to Auf, and I truely hope you do, then just leave me a message on here, my instagram or even my Facebook just letting me know and I will give you all of the details you will need to send over everything you have donated.
The team and Auf
If you are a medical student or physio and you want to help people like Auf then take a look at the Starfish – Volunteer Thailand Facebook page, the Starfish Website or even the Starfish Tumblr page. Alternatively you can also check out the Instagram page which is
#starfishvolunteers or even my person Instagram which you can see by clicking the blue Instagram icon below 😀
Build. Protect.Teach. Care. – The Starfish Motto