Far From Home

Guest blog by Ben Johnson

At 8am we finished loading the truck for our journey for the Mobile Clinic. It was imperative that we set off early, as, while the sun was still low in the sky, it had already begun to get hot, and we had more than 8 hours to drive to reach the remote villages. Between the 95 degree heat and the bumpy dirt road, the one saving grace was our stereo, which allowed Dr. Vina to lead us in singing enthusiastically along to an eclectic mix of Indonesian and Western pop music.

When, at long last, we reached our first village, we pulled up at the house of the local ASRI Forest Guardian. People seem to have anticipated our arrival, as they had already begun to gather. The village was very remote, and does not possess electricity or running water, much less cell service or internet. The squat toilet, I was told, is a luxury that was built specifically for ASRI Staff accustomed to Sukadana comforts, and there is no toilet present in most homes.

Klinik Keliling

Ben measuring a patient's blood pressure | Photo: Vina Wang

With the patients already queuing, we started immediately, and worked long past nightfall. Although, as an ambulance EMT, there were no emergencies requiring my attention, given the skeleton crew of the Mobile Clinic, I still found a role as I assisted nurse Lidya in triage. I recorded the blood pressure, pulse, breathing rate, and blood sugar of the patients. Asnat, the pharmacist, sat on the floor by the large boxes crammed full of medications, receiving each chart from Dr. Vina and carefully lifting the precious meds from their resting places to distribute to grateful patients.

The types of ailments we witnessed were quite diverse, as we were the first medical care available to the village in two months. Some patients had never before been to a doctor, and I listened sympathetically as Dr. Vina gave patient after patient first time diagnoses of diabetes and painstakingly explained to each how best to manage the condition. With ASRI as one of the only health care providers in the region, sometimes folks turn to more traditional medicine if they cannot wait, often with mixed effects. One woman, having suffered a persistent pain in her eye, sought out an eye massage from a shaman, which only worsened her pain. Vina sighed as she prescribed painkillers and wrote referral papers for the nearest ophthalmologist (a 10+ hour journey). She confessed that she wished that ASRI could travel to the remote villages more often to provide better care and prevent chronic problems. While I agreed, I also thought of the respect and welcome we received our entire journey as we passed from village to village for 3 days, and the number of patients who were waiting at our door wherever we stopped. It is clear that to these people, far from hospitals, ASRI’s Mobile Clinic makes a world of difference.

About Ben Johnson

Ben is a student at Georgetown University and volunteered at ASRI in August 2015 as a medical volunteer, working as the ambulance EMT and assisting with ASRI's Mobile Clinic.

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