Project Sekong 2014: Our new medic brings back old memories.

January 30, 2014

I know our new medic from a previous project and his arrival brings back memories of a motorbike accident when I kept pressing him to volunteer help and he kept refusing for fear of assuming liability for the result of his treatment.

Yesterday evening our replacement medic arrived from Sekong.
Our first medic bugged out in Vientiane giving no good reason; the guys all assume that, having experienced Dak Cheung District before, he just wasn’t up to the rigors. His replacement, a medic borrowed from another company, arrived telling us he could stay for two weeks. He flaked out after five chilly days and four cold nights.

I know the new medic, having worked with him seven years ago in Khammouan Province. He’s calm, self-assured and responsible to a fault. But…I did have one unfortunate argument with him years ago—a conflict more attributable to me than to him, given my naiveté at the time.

We were hanging about a medical clinic, after hours, in a hamlet on the Nakai Plateau when a passel of villagers arrived carrying two victims of a motorbike accident. There was a lot of commotion and a fair amount of blood. The victims were in pain and one of them was pleading hysterically. That person’s screams alarmed the gathering crowd and heightened the stress level within the clinic.

The village nurse immediately began attending to the more seriously injured victim. I asked our team’s medic (the same fellow who arrived last night to join our current team) to assist with the other victim. He refused. I was stunned.

Clearly, helping hands were needed, and he was a trained trauma medic. After I emphatically asked again, the medic moved closer to one of the injured and made some lame motions that might imply helping but, in fact, fell short of providing care. Eventually, the nurse left the more seriously injured victim to the comfort of villagers and moved to the second.

In the end, neither of the injured required transport to a more elaborate clinic. There were no fractures, no obvious sign of concussion. There was ample road rash, but no need for sutures. All totaled, in spite of the hubbub and confusion, not much of an emergency.

Later, the medic justified his hesitation in these terms: In Laos people who have jobs and resources, in essence, people with something to loose, put themselves at risk when they involve themselves in the lives of others. A person who steps forward, by virtue of volunteering, shares responsibility for whatever follows.

In the case I witnessed, if we stood idly by, we bore no responsibility; if we stepped in to help, we could become the deep pocket. And, this being a country of empty pockets, we could end up bearing every expense.

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