Vietnam Week 4: Mon, Nov 14 – Wed, Nov 16, 2011

Last week at Cho Ray Hospital, woo hoo!

We saw many patients come and go. We saw many who recovered and some who didn’t make it. We followed patients over long periods of time and others only once. Each time we met a patient, we learned something, whether it be big or small – we learned.

We had the opportunity to be observers and there were things we appreciated and even more we found hard to stomach.

Aspects that we liked are easy enough to imagine: the opportunity to work with health professionals and meet patients, learning about many tropical diseases, understanding tests and learning to interpret the results, etc.

Some of the things we disliked:

  • That we had to pay $200 USD rather than the stated $100 USD “because the tuition price went up”
  • The overcrowdedness (not a real word, I know). You literally had to push your way into the main hospital in the morning due to the sea of people. Patient rooms are most always found with at least 10 patients, many times 2 patients per bed.
  • The complete lack of bedside manner from many health professionals. It is never okay to yell at a patient, let alone grab at their wounds with ungloved hands and dismissing his pain as irrelevant to his recovery.
  • The unsanitary conditions at the hospital
  • No money = no treatment
  • The huge burden on the shoulders of caregivers. Each patient must always have a caregiver (almost always a family member, identified by a yellow vest) who is responsible for accepting medication from nurses and making sure the patient receives it appropriately. Caregivers are responsible for any items a patient might need (ie. water, food, blanket, etc) as well as any washing and cleaning the patient requires.
  • The revelation that anyone can walk into a pharmacy and buy drugs, especially antibiotics, without a prescription. Then to see patients deteriorate away from infections that can’t be resolved due to complete antibiotic resistance.

What can you do… right?

Below are some pictures we took during our last week at Cho Ray

This is the side of Cho Ray Hospital

The food stand on hospital grounds that became very familiar with us due to Michael’s (almost daily) orders of Vietnamese iced milk coffee (cafe sua da)

Parking lot on the way in!

The Tropical Diseases Department is located on the 2nd floor of a building beside Cho Ray Hospital. It has around 12 patient rooms as well as offices.

The patient rooms as described above

The doctors’ meeting room. We spent a lot of time in this room waiting around, and we also came back to this room (it’s the only one with AC) to recover from the heat.

The nurses’ room next door

Waiting around… again!

This lady was one of the first patients we encountered. At that time, she was shirtless and covered head to toe in methylene blue, giving her a smurf-like grotesque appearance. What disturbed us even more was her actual condition – Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS) – a life-threatening hypersensitive reaction to a drug that affects the skin and mucous membranes. This lovely lady had come into the hospital a week or so earlier for a brain tumour excision. They subsequently gave her prophylactic antibiotics, to which she suffered a terrible reaction from. At the time we saw her, she was covered in huge rash lesions, severe conjunctivitis (her eyes had completely glued shut), and ulcers around and inside her mouth.

Over the next 4 weeks, we saw her gradually improve. We began to see no more new lesions. Her eyes opened bit by bit. She ate a little better everyday as her ulcers healed. New skin began to show underneath the burst lesions on her body.

By the time our elective ended, this woman was finally being discharged. And the entire time, she was peaceful and her husband was always by her side and completely supportive. Initially meeting her with the impression that she was going to die, it was great to say good bye to this couple and see them leave the ward. Like she said, “It feels like I’ve died and come back to life.”

These are pictures of a much younger patient, who also had Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. She went to the doctor with signs of a throat infection, received antibiotics for her condition and then suffered SJS. Her condition was milder, although you can still see how it affects the skin.

Lesions on her leg

Bigger lesions on her arms

This patient hit himself on the spikes of a Stonefish (the most venemous fish in the world) he was preparing to eat. These fish secrete a potentially fatal neurotoxin and the amount injected depends much pressure was applied. This man was lucky the amount of venom that got into his body was not enough to kill him. He did, however, suffer from massive swelling of his arm all the way up to his shoulder.


The evening of Wednesday, November 16, 2011, the three of us went to visit Cau Tam’s (Ong Ut’s son) wife’s side of the family. Cau Tam’s wife had just given birth a few weeks earlier and the baby was completely adorable. In addition, her family is in the business of exporting coffee so  we were able to get some insight on the Vietnamese coffee industry. Cau Tam then took us for awesome massages before leaving us to tend to business. We then headed into the city for dinner and paid the ridiculous price of $10 USD to go up and visit the Bitexco Financial Tower lookout.

Insane amounts of strong lighting and the curvature of architecture made it impossible to catch any decent shots throughout the entire 360 degree lookout floor. In the end, we just had to settle for a fake background shot! 😛

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