It's that time of year again. The Interplast medical volunteer team is in Vientiane treating patients. Each year, they visit Mahosot public hospital for 2 weeks to perform surgeries on Lao men, women and children, completely free of charge.
Interplast has been coming to Laos every year since 1995, primarily helping burn victims and children with cleft palates and other deformities. People travel from across the country to access this services and the medical team will see hundreds of people each year.
WIG Laos is a group of volunteers in Vientiane. Last year, I did a lot of work with them to organise the annual WIG Bazaar, which raises funds for health and education projects in Laos. The Interplast visit is one of their projects. WIG provides food and toiletries and covers transport costs for the patients. They organise entertainment for the children waiting with their families, and toys and classes if possible.
There's a lot of waiting around for one's number to be called but people will quietly and patiently wait the whole day, and if necessary, the next day. Some don't have anywhere to go, no family or friends to stay with and they can't afford accommodation.
The owners of this mat above are a father and his little boy, who travelled 4 days to get to Vientiane. They live in a remote part of rural Laos. The child has terrible burns on his leg.
The majority of Interplast's work here this year are burn victims, largely caused by avoidable accidents such as hot water, electrocution, fires and workplace injuries. For many people, this will be the first time they have seen a doctor at all, often for injuries that happened months or even years ago. Healthcare and access to medical resources, particularly in rural Laos, is difficult, costly and often inadequate.
Sadly, the Interplast team can't help everyone. One baby who was brought in has a facial growth caused by a brain malformation; she needs to be seen by a paediatric neurosurgeon but it's unlikely that there's one available in Laos. So, her she leaves again with her mother.
Upstairs, there are two rooms available for post-op recovery, mainly for serious skin graft patients and amputees. Some will require multiple surgeries over the 2 week period. Each room sleeps about 6 people though some lie on the floor.
The WIG volunteers hand out bananas, soy milk, and hard boiled eggs to the patients post-surgery - protein rich food to fill hungry bellies. They also give out 2-minute noodles which have zero nutritional value but are always popular! And bags of toiletries including toilet paper, soap and toothbrushes, a few items of clothing, and money to cover transport costs. Everything except the money has been donated by WIG members and the Vientiane community.
Visiting Mahosot Hospital, seeing the life-changing work done here by Interplast and witnessing the patient struggles of some of Laos' most vulnerable people is humbling, to say the least.
Mahosot was the first hospital built in Laos, in 1910. Its faded colonial edifice still stands though it's now surrounded by newer buildings. Out on the street, stalls flank the hospital, feeding the patients, families, doctors, nurses, staff and passerbys. You won't find any flowers or teddy bears for sale here though; gifts are of a far more practical nature - bottled water, shampoo, tissues, and soy milk, among many other essentials.
Everything costs in Lao public hospitals, from the treatment and medications to the food and toilet paper. The less money you have, or friends and family to support you, the more threadbare your experience. So, a far better get-well-soon gift is quite simply, food.
If you would like help Interplast's amazing work rebuilding lives in Laos and the Asia Pacific, please visit the Interplast website. You can also contact WIG Laos to donate money or other supplies they may need.
All photos in this post are mine unless otherwise stated. It's difficult to take photos in a hospital in this situation so my apologies that I couldn't get as many as I would have liked.