| || Written by:
Dr. Tan Pinney |
http://project-helping-hands.org/country.php?countryID=2 A Different Kind of Medicine
Tan Pinney M.D.- Brush Prairie, WA
I always wanted to be a doctor and after much work and a few detours I finally achieved my goal. In the 25 years of being a doctor I never regretted my decision. I always wanted to give back to those less fortunate than me. Through Project Helping Hands I finally got that chance.
A co-worker volunteered for a trip last year and showed me his pictures. I was hooked. I talked with my family and felt this was the right time to get involved. PHH fit perfectly with my values—a humanitarian medical mission without church or political affiliations, free from religious or political bias. Just to help the people.
I was enthusiastically accepted for the team to central Bolivia visiting the poor villages by boat. That meant river travel, lots of hiking, no hotels, sleeping in rough conditions miles from nowhere, potential malaria, yellow fever, worms and other perils. After talking with my wife, I joined, despite my asthma, bad knees and the potential hazards.
Despite extensive and invaluable training by two fellow Portlanders, Ann Marie and Lou, nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced. After arriving in La Paz at 13,400 ft., the stark contrast of our worlds was immediately evident. I was fascinated by the city’s uniqueness and the years of culture seen on every corner and down the narrow streets. And poverty was everywhere.
After eight hours in a bus on Death Road, a gravel road on mountainous cliffs, and a wooden ferry, at 9 PM, we finally arrived at our initial destination, Guanay. Our first night was spent in sleeping bags on the floor of a schoolroom, one of many nights away from the amenities I was used to having. I saw how different this small Bolivian village was from small town USA—no paved streets, no plumbing, no streetlights and a constant open air market, people just trying to survive.
An honor celebration was held with the local school children to express gratitude for our being there. Then we did eight hours of clinic, seeing hundreds of people. I was exhausted, but felt gratified that I had actually been able to help these people. They didn’t know what it was like to be able to go at the drop of a hat to the local emergency room and get care. Without money medical care was unattainable in their world. We provided free care and medicine, reading glasses, and the Bolivian dentists did what they could for the horrible dentition these people deal with.
This experience was repeated the rest of the trip in small villages along the river—our primary mode of transport. Each village was much the same—many people with long standing aches and pain, children with worms, and a level of suffering that none of us in this country could imagine.
PHH had a contingency fund for those who needed more sophisticated care in La Paz. One 65 year old man I saw broke his Tibia the year before which involved the placement of a steel rod. When I saw him he couldn’t work any more due to the pain and a draining wound and an exposed bone (osteomyelitis) caused by his returning to work out of necessity. He walked in on a homemade crutch. PHH paid for him to go to La Paz and get the hospital care he needed, which was provided for by the Government.
This story was repeated in other villages with other unfortunates during our six days on the river; a three month old with a skull fracture-a 48 year old with a gangrenous foot and others. Each time the care they needed was better served in La Paz and was gladly paid for by PHH.
I look back and feel that these few days were life changing for me. I came home a different person according to my wife, although I don’t feel that different. I feel gratitude that I had this opportunity and a deep certainty that we really helped people. It was hard going back to the Urgent Care and Emergency room and seeing some of the petty complaints that people here focus on, when I saw people that truly needed my help and were merely trying to survive.
Would I do this again? Absolutely!!!. The Bolivian people were great and the goals and purpose of PHH are exactly what I want to stay involved with. An interpreter said it very eloquently during our farewell dinner—getting people helping people is how we are going to change this world and bring peace to our countries. At the same time we can help relieve suffering.
Dr. Tan Pinney
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