Updated: Sep 23, 2022
It was 2017 and VnHOPE just completed our first Summer Medical Mission since the organization’s founding. Well, we got the permit, we got a local partner – Tan Tao University, we ran 7 clinic days smoothly. There was some major and minor glitches and some feelings were hurt but as long as we had the permit, we could circumvent any glitches and salved any feeling. So, after 2 weeks of hard work, we finally heading to our final GALA celebration on the last evening of our Summer Medical Mission. All of that euphoria and giddiness came to a halt when the bus carrying us to Grand Hotel stopped suddenly, the driver’s assistant opened the door and exclaimed: “the leg is broken!”
My first reaction was being frozen! But how could I feel frozen, I was on a medical mission! I was on a bus full of doctors! But among the 45 people on the bus, we didn’t even have a band-aid! Sherie and I ran off the bus, by then the poor lady was laying on the ground, her motorcycle toppling over. It was a confusing scene. There was a young lady who addressed the victim as grandma, but in Vietnam, every young person addressed an elderly person as grandma or grandpa, they might not have any biological relation. It’s the sign of the modern time that we lived in that the young lady was … taking pictures with her cell phone.
There were several young men standing nearby, one was holding a frighten child- later I found out that was the victim’s own grandson. Sherie, a cardiologist and me, a gynecologist made a quick assessment of the injury. My heart constricted to see the leg was shattered, a piece of bone fragment on the sidewalk, the foot barely dangling to the skin. I reflexly squeezed her leg above the injury with my hands to stop the bleeding. I was grateful that there was not a whole lot of bleeding, somehow, the injury spared the arteries!!! Both Sherie and I murmured that it might need to be amputated.
Someone placed a belt in my hands, I tighten it above the knee of the crushed leg, everyone was making noise. The young lady was reassuring the victim:” don’t worry grandma, I took the pictures for you already!” I didn’t think she heard me screaming for her to call the ambulance or the police. Finally, a policeman arrived, what he did was to tell everybody not to touch the patient, this was a big accident here, some kind of professionals would handle it. Which was total b… s…t, meanwhile the victim started to feel pain after the initial shock wore off and my hands started to cramp from holding the belt tightly. Someone gave me a tie, I tied it on her thigh and tried to hold her hands which started to shake. Still there was no ambulance and no help, the policeman already disappeared after importantly giving a nonsense order. There were more people came down from the bus, they produce an accordion windshield shade to wrap around her leg as a splint. Sherie picked up the piece of bone and put it in there. A straw mat materialized, and we managed to place her on the mat. We still were unsure how and where to transport her to, anh Thinh was the quick thinking one, he flagged down a police pick up truck. I still thought it was the hands of the Bodhisatva that send to truck, I never saw a police driving pick up truck in the US or in Vietnam before, they always drove sedan, and why would a police pick up truck happen to be near us? We carry the victim on the mat up the back of the truck. Then I realized I couldn’t get on the truck in my dress and high heels, I didn’t have my bag or my phone, I didn’t have any thing on my body. While I still trying to decide what to do, anh Thinh already jumped on the truck with some other people including the picture-taking young lady. And off they went. Someone told me that the victim’s husband was contacted, and he was coming to get his grandchild, so everything was taken care off.
We walked the rest of the way to the hotel because the bus was impounded by the police now. When my hands stopped shaking and my heart slowed down, I was so upset and cried all the way to the hotel. We came to do a medical mission and somehow MY bus caused a disastrous accident, the poor lady might lose her leg and she might be in a crutch or wheelchair for the rest of her life. This was one medical emergency that I couldn’t do a crash cesarean section and saved the baby’s life, that I couldn’t remove a ruptured ectopic pregnancy and save the patient’s life, I was in the middle of the street with a tie, in my party dress and high heels! Damn it!
During the Gala anh Paul and I tried to move our program along, but my mind was not focus. Finally, anh Thinh came back, he was the savior, when he arrived at the hospital with the lady, he had to buy all the first aid supplies for them to dress her leg before transferring her to the Orthopedic and Trauma Hospital. Anh Thinh was a kind heart and sensitive man; he was obviously upset about the incident too.
The next day we did a couple things to help the lady, her name was Ly thi Sau. We collected donation from our group and anh Thinh took several of us to the hospital to visit her. I was so amazed! Somehow, they magically put her shattered leg back together! Those orthopedic doctors were genius! I was so impressed by their talent and their surgical prowess. But the patient, Mrs. Sau was also very brave.
Mrs. Ly thi Sau after her surgery, her leg bone was put back together and hold in place with pins
Over the next several months, our little angel Hieu visited Mrs. Sau often and gave her medication as well as money. Although the bus insurance company paid for her surgery and hospitalization, the donation from VnHOPE helped pay for the visiting nurse who came regularly to help change her dressing and keep the wound clean.
When we returned in March 2018, Mrs. Sau was walking briskly, climbing up the steps, with those pins still in her leg. She was such a strong spirited lady! She was so happy about our visit and thanking Hieu profusely. She showed us her X-ray, the bone was healing back together but there was still a missing piece. Sherie and I looked at each other, we knew that piece shot out of her leg and landed on the sidewalk, there was no way they could put it back. Mrs. Sau told us she still had to undergo more surgery to reconstruct that missing piece.
I ran into Dr. Rubani, the orthopod at Kaiser Downey and described the situation to him, he explained that they can take a piece of the fibula which didn’t play a major part in weight bearing and graft it to the tibia which was still missing a piece.
Mrs. Ly thi Sau still had the pins in her leg but she was walking around without missing a beat!
A year later we visited Mrs. Sau again in March 2019, she had a cadaver bone graft, the pins were removed completely, and she was walking around faster than us! She still hasn’t ridden the motorcycle again -yet!
Mrs. Ly thi Sau with her leg 98% back to normal.
Now, 2 years later, the incident was still in my mind, but now I could look back at it with some lightheartedness. In a way it made me both very firm and very repentant.
I was even more firm in my rule that no volunteer in the Summer Medical Mission should ever come near a motorcycle. Sometimes I had nightmare that it was one of the kids that was on the motorcycle instead of Mrs. Sau. How your life, your plan, your dream would be interrupted if not permanently, then for a long time. College, Medical school, playing sport … all would have to wait!
I was very repentant for my attitude toward the orthopods before this. In the medical profession, we used to make the orthopods the butt of our jokes while worshiping the neurosurgeons and the cardiologists. I used to tell the elevator jokes to my non-medial friends and rolling over laughing with them. How my karma catches up with me! In Vietnam with the crazy number of motorcycle accidents, I now saw the orthopod should be up there with the neurosurgeons, they were the ones who restore function and limb and life and hope. A thousand thanks to the orthopods everywhere, we were forever in debt to your skill, talent and dedication.