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Guest blog by Kenny Morford
Have we told you how awesome our volunteers are? In honor of Volunteer Appreciation Month, we are dedicating April to recognizing the contributions of these amazing individuals who travel from all over the world to save forests and save lives in Sukadana. Our work would not be possible without them and we are incredibly grateful for their generous service. Stay tuned for a series of reflections from volunteers throughout the month!
One morning, I saw a patient with ASRI physician, Dr. Yuli, who presented with a mass in his abdomen. He had been losing weight and feeling drained of energy over the past three months. Upon examining him, we palpated a huge irregular mass in his upper abdomen. There was nothing benign about it. We referred him to the nearest surgeon two hours away in Ketapang for a biopsy and explained our concerns to him and his family.
At lunch, I discussed the case with my mentor, Dr. Kinari Webb. I felt like I had made the right call—of course this man needed a biopsy. But she questioned my judgment:
“How old was this man?”
“Can he afford more tests?”
“What’s going to happen to him after the biopsy?”
He was 70 years old and had worked as a rice farmer before losing his strength. His son, also a farmer, now supported both parents, his wife and three children—barely. Kinari explained that a large suspicious mass in an elderly man would likely lead to his demise. Even with the biopsy and potential treatments that might follow, the likelihood that he would be cured and return to a productive life were slim. The cost, however, would undoubtedly bankrupt his family. I had to be careful what I recommended. I had to consider more than just the disease.
Volunteering at ASRI provided me with the opportunity to practice medicine in a way that I’ve been searching for since entering medical school. Medicine in the United States exists in such a complex and specialized system that providing patient care is often overwhelmed by administrative tasks. I rarely spend more time face-to-face with my patients than I do writing notes, coordinating care, and filling out forms. Despite the perceived benefits of endless tests and interventions, practicing in such a resource-rich setting detracts from the time I spend directly with patients. It also leads to potentially harmful complications.
At ASRI, interacting with patients took top priority. There were no special tests to confirm a diagnosis or specialists to take over complex cases. I had to rely on my clinical skills and judgment to best care for the patients who came to our clinic. In doing so, I saw how much I was capable of as an individual provider. I also learned how much more I was capable of by working with ASRI’s dedicated and talented staff. Together, through uninterrupted focus on our patients, we provided excellent care—even without fancy tests.
Thanks to the leadership at ASRI and Kenny's willingness to learn, his outlook on practicing medicine has been forever changed. This month, we are launching a Volunteer Scholarship Fund so that skilled professionals who are also eager to learn have the opportunity to volunteer at ASRI, no matter their economic situation. Will you help send volunteers by contributing to our goal of $1,000 by April 30? Even better, if we raise $1,000 a former volunteer will match your gift, which sends twice as many volunteers. Make this opportunity possible for future volunteers.
About Kenny Morford
Kenny is a Johnson & Johnson Global Health Scholar and resident physician in Internal Medicine at the Yale-New Haven Hospital. He volunteered at ASRI from Jan-Feb 2016.
To read previous Volunteer Voice reflections, click here.