Thursday, February 25, 2010

Reflections on NK - Day 3 & 4 - Meeting the Dongdaewon Patients & MDR TB

Yesterday we went to Sadong. The care centre here is for patients who have multiple drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). Each patient has customised medication and one box with 6 months treatment for one patient costs about the same as a whole sanitariums DOTs medication for the year. Eugene Bell are seeing more and more cases of MDR TB each time they come in and Stephen is really concerned about it.

The day was a production line of gathering patient data - height, weight, sputum samples. We were expecting about 100 patients and were shocked when around 300 turned up. These people are desperate to get onto one of the treatment programs. For many of them, it is their best chance at life. Patients already in treatment were trucked in from around the provinces as it is easier to do them all in a few central locations as opposed to going to each centre. Current patients were presented with their medication and the winter warmer package (which consisted of a warm coat, long johns, socks etc). It was so beautiful to see faces light up with smiles and joy ... and when the medication was presented ... hope.

The magic moment of the day was meeting the Dongdaewon patients who had come over for testing. Someone told me they had arrived and I turned to look for them. Before I saw them, they saw me. I heard someone say the school and teacher in Korean and when I turned to see, I saw a queue of patient people ... their faces breaking into smiles ... eyes intense as they bowed towards me and said "thankyou, thankyou" in Korean. What a humbling thing ... I know that I was honored to stand as a representative of our community and see the fruit of their efforts and hard work in the faces of patients who were living. This past two years we have provided medication for three MDR patients in addition to the resupply kit for Dongdaewon. Two of these patients are now testing negative for TB.


Today we went out to a very small care centre in a very rural area near the foothills of the mountains.  We had several hours of driving through hills, rice terraces, multiple villages and checkpoints.  If you do not have the right paper work, you cannot travel around in the country.  

The landscape is beautiful, rolling hills and completely uncluttered.  Still gray and hazy, but not pollution.  The harvest was gathered about a month ago so everything looks bare and denuded.  I imagine when the new rice comes in, it must look beautiful.

As we drove we saw many people working in work parties ... stooped old ladies bent double at the waist carrying huge bundles of sticks on their backs ... bullock carts with wheels made of beaten metal, fastened by rope and wood ...

Driving from village to village we saw old women carrying balanced water buckets hanging from either side of a cross beam strapped to their back.  Many of the houses were whitewashed with Korean style eaves and roof ... stacked around or used for fencing were what looked like dried corn plants (stalks and leaves) gathered in large clumps. In many of the towns that we drove through, the corn lay in golden carpets, drying on the roadside.  People were raking and bagging it.  Everywhere I looked there seemed to be bok choi type cabbages drying outside the houses ...

There are a few vehicles on the roads, but not many of them are modern.  We saw many trucks broken down on the road, with people under the hoods working on repairs.  Fields were being plowed, mostly by bullock.  They wear a wooden yoke with wooden traces.  We saw the occasional tractor, but they look to be very old.  Eugene Bell provide small chinese tractors to different care centres to assist them in patient nutrition.

The director and his staff were very kind and the patients were lovely.  We saw some really sad sad cases today.  One man who could barely sit up without help.  Our team doctor examined him and said things weren't looking good.  He was so skinny and his breathing so laboured.  TB is such a cruel disease.  I am constantly impacted by the hope I see in people's eyes when Eugene Bell come in.  The directors, staff and patients are genuinely warm, welcoming and appreciative.  Sometimes, we forget that under all the politics there are real people ... normal people like you and I.  Human beings fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of their creator.  People with a right to kindness and dignity. 

I was really impressed with the greenhouse at this care centre.  In the middle of the freezing cold, they were still growing greens in it and were heating it ondol style ...

One of the saddest things at this care centre was seeing the graves at the back. All those bumps in the picture are the graves of patients and staff who have died.

All in all a good day ... each day we are out, I see more and more the importance of the work Eugene Bell do, and the vital difference they are making in the lives of people up here.  Bono once said, "where you live, should no longer determine IF you live".  We with much, have a responsibility to those with nothing.  Because we can do something, we must.

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