Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Paraguay Mission 2011

Paraguay Mission 2011

The following is a journal kept by Dr. Lun Hangfu, as he recorded his incredible experiences from his mission to the Patanale region of Paraguay in June-July 2011.

This is the HMO’s third mission to Paraguay.

His amazing story chronicles the ups and downs of his visit and the challenges the team faced along the way. What a remarkable trip!

June 28, 2011
Today my yearly ritual started at 5 pm, as I began final packing and checking for all the equipments and supplies – a ritual that lasted ’til 3 am the next morning.


June 29, 2011
I went to work in the morning and two hygiene students, Mr. Marco Wu and Miss Julie Kwan, from University of British Columbia came to my office to meet me. They are two of the 11 volunteers from Canada that were scheduled to leave tonight for Health Mission Outreach’s third Amazon health care mission to the region with the Charmacoco Indians in the Patanale region of Paraguay. It is my sixth trip back – time flies!

We met Dr. Cheryl Lee from Calgary at my home and repacked some of the luggage to utilize all the luggage allotment by the airline. My dear friend, Mr. Peter Dimitrijevic, came in a minivan to assist us with the transportation of all the luggage to the Toronto airport for our 11 pm flight to Sao Paolo, Brazil, our first stop over.

This is a stressful time for me because all 11 volunteers must be on schedule or someone will miss the boat!

[Dr. Stephanie Falz is arriving from Kimberly, BC at 9:30 pm and hopes to connect with us at 11 pm.  She called me at 9:50 pm and with sense of urgency that she is in terminal three and still looking for her luggage! She also needed a ride to terminal one. She did not think she could make the flight on time…

I simply asked her to do whatever it is possible.

I waited and no news from her. The plane is ready for boarding. I started to call her and hoping she has checked in. The irony is that she is also looking for me. We really never met except on the Skype. Thank God, she recognized me first because I will never be able to find her – her hair colour has changed from brunet to blond! ]

Now all 10 volunteers are on the plane and it is a small miracle!

Our 11th volunteer is travelling via US to Brazil and we will meet Dr. Breanne Joslin in Sao Paolo.

June 30, 2011
We arrived in Sao Paolo at 10 am after 10 hours of flying. As we are ready to pass through the custom inspection, I asked Dr. Choo-Campbell to carry $6000 US for me and I also have $10,000 US. Our bank failed to wire the money to Brazil and we have to bring cash to pay for all the expenses. My second concern is all the luggage that we are carrying.

We proceeded through custom with no problem.

Our next flight is to Campo Grande for 2 ½ hours. The Brazilian airport is a very interesting place to connect because the boarding gate on the ticket and the actual boarding gate is never the same. It is important to recheck the monitor every hour to make sure that you are at the correct location.

Needless to say that our gate has changed without notice and we are concerned that Dr. Joslin maybe in the wrong departure gate. We have her photo and it should be easy to spot a tall blond female in the crowd. Mr. Campbell found her at the wrong gate.

Unfortunately, Dr. Joslin lost her luggage in the US and she has no clothes to wear. Her shopping started early.

Now we are all here and our journey begins.

We arrived at Campo Grande around 3 pm and our bus is already there waiting for us.
There are 7 Brazilian volunteers joining us, three medical students, one administrator, one nursing student, one architect student and one accounting student.
We exchanged some money, did some shopping and had a Brazilian barbecue dinner before boarding the bus for 7 hours to Corumba, a border town between Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia on the Paraguay River.

July 1, 2011
We checked in the Hotel in Corumba around 3 am because the boat is not at the harbour according to our local contact, Pastor Carlos.

The breakfast is served from 7 am to 9 am. Some volunteers walked to the dock and found out our boat Neptuno is parked there. I was surprised because we could stay on the boat instead of the hotel.

Our boat ride should be 20 to 24 hours down the Paraguay River before we reached the Charmacoco Indian tribes. In the meantime, we unpacked our equipments and supplies to get ready. We counted and packaged thousands of pills for dispensing.

July 2, 2011
To our surprise, the boat docked at Port Diana, Paraguay, Charmacoco country, at 10 am.

We are scrambling to get ready but dental equipment took time to set up and get tested. It was decided that the dental clinic will start after lunch. The medical doctor, Dr. Falz, with the help of the medical students, started to treat patients immediately.

Once the clinic started on the boat, it was frenzied with endless patients and endless problems.
[The hygiene student, Marco, stood up after one patient and yelled that it is crazy and he is quitting. The pressures never ends.]

Everyone did their best and worked very hard.

One special note:
The weather usually is 26 to 30 degrees Celsius but throughout this week, it is around 10 to 15 degree with rain and clouds. It is very unusual in six years of mission trip.

July 3, 2011
I woke up next morning with severe backache because the bunk bed mattress has no support.

I was very happy to see Miss Natalia Baez, a local Charmacoco resident, came out to help us to translate. She is in her third year of nursing study at Asuncion, capital city of Paraguay. She came home on a two day bus journey to help us. HMO has sponsored her for her study and it is refreshing to know that we have chosen a good student and a good person.

We worked hard again and it was a very productive day because we managed to thin out the waiting line up. It was decided that we will move to the next village, Karcha Balut, tomorrow.
I told Miss Baez to stay home and not to come with us down river because she has to be back to Asuncion by Friday and I wanted her to spend some time with her family.

The water shoes brought by Dr. Pat Duronio, were an instant delight, since the locals needed them desperately. We give the shoes selectively because there were not enough to go around.

July 4, 2011
The water on the Paraguay River is very high this time of year. Many houses are under the waterline. Many fish and birds are missing because they are living deeper into the Pantale region.

Karcha Balut is a village with a population of about 150; mostly children. It is better organized than Port Diana in housing, school, and herding. The mayor is a nurse.

We did well and by lunch it was decided that we are moving on after lunch to the third village, Port Esperensa (Port of Hope).

Dr. Falz tried to give away some shoes and she was swamped by the locals! She gave up quickly and returned to the boat while the villagers fought over the shoes.

Our hygienist, Miss Laura Purslaw was visibly upset because she promised a family that there will be shoes for them but it was all gone in a few minutes. She made up by giving away her clothes and more.
We left many medications to each village’s nurse and hope they will help.

July 5, 2011
My backache continues even though I have used all the life jackets under my mattress.

Port Esperensa is village of 500 people. There is no running water here so the Paraguay River is the life line. I took two bottles of water samples back to Canada for analysis and hoping to find the correct filter system for this region.

The patients from this village are no different from Port Diana and Karcha Balut – they needed major restorations.

Dr. Joslin and Dr. Duronio extracted 12 teeth from an eight year old boy. His mother told us next day that he went to school and ate breakfast.

July 6, 2011
We were informed that the boat is leaving for Corumba after 1 pm.
It was agreed that we will see as many patients as possible in the morning and last call was 11:45 am.
For some reason, I was happy because there was light at the end of the tunnel – I am going home.

The work is never finished here but the pace is hard and difficult. After a few days of this kind of work, we feel exhausted.

Once again, it is difficult to leave. I cried every time as the children waved goodbye.

It has become increasingly difficult to come back due to escalating costs and long distance of travel.

My congratulations to all the volunteers and it is my privilege to serve with them!

Dr. Duronio was happy to come back the second time because it gave him a chance to be more prepared.
Dr. Falz treated mostly cold and flu symptoms and she hoped to work with the local nurses to improve initial diagnosis and improve the quality of care.

July 7, 2011
We arrived in Corumba in the afternoon. There was no Brazilian barbecue like the previous year for the volunteers. I think the boat owner has short-changed our rental agreement.

The seven day rental is actually only 6 days. This is the second time that has happened. I expressed my disappointment to Pastor Carlos and he did not give a satisfactory answer. We are at disadvantage because we are many miles away from home.
The bus arrived in Campo Grande around 10 pm and we said goodbye to our Brazilian volunteers.

We will miss them – they are our friends. We checked into a local hotel for the night.

July 8, 2011

We arrived at the airport to catch our 9 am flight to Sao Paolo.
We arrived at Sao Paolo around 12 am and decided to take three taxis to visit the local mall because we have 8 hours in transit.

We boarded the flight to Toronto and felt relieved that it was all over.

Half way into the flight, one of the passenger developed syncope(fainted) and luckily there was a full deck of doctors on board to assist Air Canada. Dr. Falz got a bottle of champagne from the Air Canada crew for a job well done.

We all arrived in Toronto safely and many of our volunteers have to continue their journey home to Lionhead, Ontario; BC; Calgary, Alberta and more.

I was happy to come home and have a hot shower and comfortable bed.

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