Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Penny reports from Tello

Finally, some memories from the Doctor. We are currently in the luxurious pad of our newly domesticated Australian friend BJ, the snake breeder from Tasmania.

Currently in Helsinki, staying at a friends place and half way through our mission to get from Indonesia to Sweden for a friends wedding, which Jamie is bestman at. Left Tello a week ago, since then had a 24 hour bus ride across Sumatra ( I never want to smell another cigarette again), a few days in Bukittingi, where our friend Kate was persuaded into acting in a tourist promotion video, and hired scooters for my birthday and scooted around Lake Maninjau, a steep sided volcanic lake surrounded by fish farms and paddy fields.

For the last month we have been living on Tello Island, off the west coast of sumatra, working with Derek Allen, a kiwi doctor there. Several other kiwi volunteers there arrived at the same time as us, providing a physio, nurse midwife, another doctor (Nick), several other helpers. Too much to write about all of it but here are some snippets...

*Day one, relaxing drinking a beer, I am called to see my first patient, an old lady who has been lying on the concrete floor of her hut for months since she broke her hip. Her family are worried that she has a foot infection. Sweet, I think to myself, I know how to handle infections, thats what we have antibiotics for. Unfortunately I realise as I walk into the house that the smell of rotten meat is coming from her, and her foot is gangrenous and full of maggots! Good way to be broken in to the job...

*Day 3: we are thrown in the deep end, Derek has to leave for a week to sort out some paperwork, and our translator decides to go off to sell mungbeans for a couple of hours (I can't quite justify buying the 10 kilos of mungbeans from him just so we can have our translator back, but chip in and buy one). Nick and I attempt in our 2nd rate indonesian to run the clinic. Tello is an island of 5000 people with medical care which is made up of a hospital ( kindly built by an NGO after the tsunami but too expensive for anyone to go to so it sits empty all day and night with a couple of useless doctors and nurses sitting there too), a government funded primary health centre ( the doctor doesn't like tello though so lives somewhere else, and the nurses turn up to work for 2 hours a day, do nothing and then go home). While we were there we took over the rooms of the health clinic in the morning while the local nurses looked on in vague amusement. We saw up to 50 patients each morning with diseases like TB and malaria, both rife on the island but very treatable. In saying that, the most common patient were the ones with 'pain everywhere' who I diagnosed as having paracetamol deficiency and treated accordingly. Each afternoon we visited the villages around the island, running clinics in peoples houses, crowded with the curious and the sick.

Worth mentioning is the slightly unusual sewerage system. I don't know how I thought it worked, but on an early morning run along the beach past the villages, I came across about 10 people doing their business on the beach. This isn't really what shocked me the most, I was well aware that a lot of people use the beach as their toilet, but what was surprising was that next to each person there was a fat pig, who just gobbled up their pooh! I retched the first time I saw it, but realised that it is actually quite simple and efficient (at least that is what I told myself...)

Team Tello goes to Beluta. There had been talk of visiting this outlying island for a couple of days but no-one knew when the boat would go. With a couple of hours notice, we ran around, grabbed some medicines and hopped on the boat. We landed safely at the island after a 2 hour boat trip ( arriving safely not to be taken for granted in Indonesia), and started a clinic at someones house who Derek knows. There was almost a mutiny when we discovered that the only food sold on the island was rice and noodles, but this high carb, low fibre diet was appreciated for obvious reasons when we were shown the toilets, a ditch on the other side of the kitchen door with a handy pooh-eating pig snorting excitedly by it! Suddenly Tello seemed quite civilised after all...

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