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The OR is probably the best/most interesting experience in the hospital mainly b/c most volunteers have never stepped foot into an OR. Also, surgery is just cool. You get to see the fundamental structure of the human body. It’s literally cut open in front of you. The first time I was in there a guy’s chest was open and you could see his lungs moving up and down between his exposed ribs. AWESOME! It’s like watching a mechanic work on a car; it’s amazing what the human body can withstand and yet, it’s so fragile.

When you step into the OR department you take off your shoes and slip on sandals. You then change into scrubs and enter the actual operating room. It feels strange standing in the OR with sandals on and exposed toes but that’s how it is all over the hospital. Scrubs with flip-flops (or barefoot even; you take your shoes off before entering the room). Actually, the nurses wear full white with little nurse’s caps, which is pretty old school.

Most of the stuff in the OR is nerve and muscle grafting. There’s also some metal plates put in arms/legs, etc. but everything I’ve seen so far has been related to motorbike accidents, which is common. The surgeon asked, “Why do people get surgery in America?” and one of the med students said, “Heart disease is pretty common.” The surgeon paused and asked why. Pretty much cause we’re all fat, we joked. He seemed to get a kick out of that. The OR surgeon also speaks English well and explains everything he’s doing, which makes it interesting. Some volunteers can scrub in and hold equipment for the surgeon or maybe cut a stitch here and there. Depends entirely on the day, the people in the OR, the volunteer’s persistence, the luck of the draw, and all the other things you have little control over.

An exact replica of the OR/scrubs (but this isn't my pic!)

An exact replica of the OR/scrubs (but this isn’t my pic!)

Sterile field was fairly consistent (but probably wouldn’t pass US standards). Don’t be surprised when you see dead cockroaches on the floor or drops of blood in the bathroom or soiled gauze on the operating floor. Don’t be surprised if the blood on the light above the operating table from one procedure is still there the next day. I didn’t witness first hand any patient safety precautions (checking right patient, right procedure, right place). It’s not as bad as it could be (the staff are doing their best with the resources they have) but it’s definitely not good enough for me to not insist on being flown straight outta here if I become ill.

I tried researching/asking about the rate of hospital acquired infections or the number of people who are readmitted with complications in Vietnam, etc. but no one could answer me and there’s very little firm research on the subject online (or what research has been done is limited to one geographic area of Vietnam or using a tiny subject group, which won’t give an accurate depiction of what’s really going on in the Vietnamese healthcare system). But I did learn the CDC established an office in Vietnam in 2001. This means there hasn’t been much time to establish a broad surveillance of the country’s healthcare system but steps are being made: http://www.cdc.gov/globalhealth/countries/vietnam/.

In case you’re curious the other departments in the hospital include speech therapy, PT for adults and kids, ortho medical/surgical type rooms and electrical shock therapy (no, not of the brain!) It’s basically acupuncture with little electrodes attached to the needles, to stimulate the muscles. The little girl in the pic is at the hospital every day. She doesn’t speak English and she’s always unaccompanied; we don’t know who she belongs to. But she loves taking pictures with our iPhone 🙂

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