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Medical mission to Asia

SHARON — Two doctors from Sharon Hospital spent the first couple of weeks of October in Cambodia, seeing hundreds of patients in rural areas and getting back to their medical roots.Gene Chin from the emergency department and hospitalist Mark Marshall went to the city of Siem Reap, a provincial capital in the northwestern part of the country, as part of a group of 15 medical professionals, under the aegis of Flying Doctors of America.Marshall said the doctors saw many victims of land mines, left over from the protracted conflicts between the Khmer Rouge regime, other Cambodian factions and the Vietnamese.“One patient had lost both legs and an arm,” Marshall said, shaking his head at the memory.From Siem Reap the team went by bus or truck into the countryside, usually a journey of two hours.There they set up shop in small rural health clinics or schools.“The resources were pretty slim,” said Marshall.The team typically traveled with 10 pounds of medicines — and still had supply problems. “We ran out of Tylenol,” Chin remembered. “Fortunately we were able to buy a Costco-sized bottle.”The team — with dentists, nurses, a pharmacist and emergency room doctors, internists and local interpreters — saw about 400 people a day, Chin estimated.They treated people for infections — pneumonia, urinary and skin. They saw patients with tuberculosis, scleroderma and other auto-immune diseases and parasitical infections — such as worms.Chin said a lot of problems were the result of the lack of fresh running water. “We saw people getting their bathing and drinking water with cows standing in the same water 25 yards away.”Once the team arrived in a rural village, they set up shop, establishing an examination room, a dental room and a pharmacy — as best they could.“The dentists were seeing patients in plastic lawn chairs,” Chin said.Cultural differences were obvious. “The first day we tried to shut the door of the exam room — except there were five people looking in the window,” said Chin.“We realized the privacy concept didn’t exist with people who lived in one-room homes.”“It was a different kind of medicine. Here we have paperwork, regulations, agencies, things that just don’t exist there.”“That was refreshing,” added Marshall. “The other side of that, however, is no access to labs and imaging. “We were really going back to the roots.”And there were some patients who were too sick for the team to do much beyond recommend they go into the city to see a specialist.“As a practical matter we knew it wasn’t going to happen,” said Chin. “It’s very remote and they are very poor.”Both men found the experience worthwhile, and are willing to go back.“ We worked very hard, and it was very satisfying. The people were so appreciative, it really kept us going,” Marshall said.Chin described the patients, who patiently waited for hours, as “extremely receptive.”“Hundreds of people showed up, very kind, very warm, lovely people.”

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