My experience in the Dominican Republic - 3

(To read Part 1 & 2 of this journey, click here.)

Day 4 - CAMU
On this day, we visited Camú, an area inland, with small houses dotted along a single mountainous road. It was about a 30-minute ride from the hotel. Like in Playa Oeste, initially there were very few people waiting, but within 20 minutes or so, there was a crowd of people eagerly waiting to receive free medical care from us.




We all quickly went about setting up our designated stations. Having devised a new set-up for the acupuncture station, I was armed and ready to treat another 100 patients today! My station was the first to be set up, as would always be the case the rest of the week -- in about 10 minutes -- because all I needed were a few chairs, a table, my needles, sharps container, alcohol swabs and cotton. General medicine - and our newcomers, the Dental team - would take about 30 minutes because of the slew of drugs (for the pharmacy) and tools and equipment required (for dentistry). The paraphanelia required to do dental work was mind boggling. Thank goodness these two departments had extra local assistants helping.

In terms of doing acupuncture, I can now see why acupuncturists were called Barefoot Doctors in China and why this medicine grew out of China, a country with a population of well over 1 billion. Once armed with the proper training, all an acupuncturist fundamentally needs are needles. (Plus of course the sharps container, cotton, and alcohol swabs for safety and sanitary reason.) Just with needles, we can effectively treat a multitude of people and conditions. Imagine had I brought my other tools found in Traditional Chinese Medicine, such as moxa, cups, e-stim, and herbs, the greater degree of relief I could've provided the Dominicans!


The acupuncture station before the chaos

Dental tools

Local assistants Stephanie, Amelfi, and two Korean national assistants, Penelope and Eunju

Other scenes from Camú:


Tragedy had befallen this woman, and our staff was praying for her.


(This little girl was so cute. All through this consultation, she sat on her mother's? grandmother's? lap, quietly, sucking her pacifier, intently watching every move that Dr. Tomoko made.)


(This little boy was also adorable. While his mother got treated with acupuncture, the boy sat quietly the whole time next to his sister, and was constantly mindful of having his hand on his mother's body. He would get distracted by all the commotion, and then realize that his hand wasn't touching his mother, and would quickly go back to touching her belly or arm, or somewhere, as long as he was touching his mother.)



I don’t know which was more tiring – the huge numbers of people I was treating, or the heat and humidity without any air-conditioning. I had constant trickles of sweat dripping down my face, neck and back every day. I was basically bathing myself in my own sweat every day. By the second day of doing these intense medical missions, I got a heat rash on my abdomen. It was so darn hot and humid!! (But I came back with beautiful, supple skin from all that moisture! LOL!) Mirla and the other aides had to frequently change the wet, cold towel around my neck to try and keep me cool.
I couldn't live without these towels!


Day 5 - LOS RIELES DE SAN MARCOS
This was another location about 20 minutes from the hotel. We conducted our work inside a local church. Acupuncture was stationed up by what I suppose was the altar as it was elevated from the rest. Boy was it hot in there. We had fans going, but it was just blowing the hot air over and over. At one point, the electricity went dead because so much electricity was being used by the dental department, haircutting department, fans and printer. Thank goodness for our reliable generator, which allowed Dr. Lee the dentist to keep working!

Scenes from San Marcos:

That's the acupuncture station, in the back. Dentistry to the left, and general medicine to the right.

I think the recirculating hot, humid air plus being elevated from others (making the air even hotter) got to me that day because I started to get dizzy part way through my morning stint. I had to stop about 2 hours into it. I had to step outside and rest in our little truck for a while until I could feel normal again. After a good lunch, I was thankfully back to working.



Patients resting as they got their acupuncture treatment.

This family (the girl on the left was a friend) was so adorable. The mother was very shy and soft spoken but very sweet and loving to her daughters. The children were very well behaved all throughout the day. Later in the evening, while Christian work was going on, the little girl in the light blue dress was meandering around the crowd and came upon Assistant Eunju and I. When we asked her for a kiss, she readily and without hesitation came up to us and planted both of us a cute, sweet kiss on our cheeks!! I just melted there! All the hard work was so worth this little kiss :-)

Pharmacy busily dispensing medication

Dr Karen trying to cool off


These boys were great, always eager to talk to us in their limited English. They came up to me to say hello in English, and introduced themselves. I introduced myself, but realized one English etiquette was missing in our dialogue: I taught them to say "Nice to meet you" which is "un placer conocerte" in Spanish. When they learned what "nice to meet you" meant, they scurried back to the other English staff they had introduced themselves to earlier and finished their introductions properly. Later in the evening, couple of the boys came back to ask me again how to say "un placer conocerte" in English. When we were leaving for the night, the boy in the black pants came by our truck and thanked me in Spanish for the English lesson and our work. Again, all the hard work was so worth it with these kinds of exchanges.


Doc, how does my new teeth look?


Children doing song and dance along to the Christian missionary work

This day was also John the photographer's birthday. We were able to celebrate with cake and serenading. Fun times.



The last of these chronicles coming real soon...

My experience in the Dominican Republic - 2

(To read Part 1 of this journey, click here.)

Before I continue with the rest of my week-long experience, the following is a quick overview of what became our daily schedule:

Our days started early. 7:00am breakfast call (the Koreans had bible study at 6:30am!), loaded and ready to go on our little truck by 8:30am-9:00am, and to our location by 9-9:30am. Except for Sunday, which was a day off b/c the crew went to church, everyday from Saturday to Thursday we worked from about 10am to about 6:30pm, with about a 1-hour lunch break in between. From 6:30 to about 8pm we had set down, packing and Pastor Aaron and his assistant Omar would share their Christian faith with the people we treated earlier in the day with songs, puppet show and slide shows. We’d then head back to the hotel and have dinner around 8:30pm, and I tried to be in bed and sleeping by 10:30pm every night. I had a hard time sleeping the first few nights from all the excitement and nerves but by the third night both from exhaustion and getting the swing of things, I was in a routine and sleeping pretty much through the night.


Day 2 - PLAYA OESTE
Oh talk about being nervous and excited! I could barely eat my breakfast that morning, as it was going to be my very first of 5 medical visits to the surrounding neighborhoods in the week to come. I knew to expect a huge line of people and chaos, but I still didn’t really know what to expect, so my poor stomach was all in knots.

We arrived to Playa Oeste, an area about 20 minutes from the hotel. We were to be housed in a small 4-room school. There weren’t too many people when we first arrived, which surprised me, but it let me sigh a sigh of relief. I jumped the gun, though. After about 30 minutes, there was all of a sudden a long line of people waiting outside! The school became quickly filled with Dominicans eagerly waiting for our services. General medicine and I (acupuncture) quickly set up our stations, and after people went through registration, having their name, age, blood pressure and chief complaints recorded, they were directed to the appropriate departments.





I was given the wonderful support of a daily local assistant, hard working and sweet Mirla, who helped with removing needles and keeping the flow of patients coming and going. I asked her to keep a tally of how many patients I was seeing, and according to her records, I saw 93 on this day! (And as the days went on, I was averaging about 100 patients a day.) Holy cow, I didn’t think I had it in me! Thank god for my energy bars and protein shakes I brought from home. They helped so much in between meals. As the days progressed, I remembered to take frequent short breaks, drink tons of water (with electrolytes in it), take my herbs, and pace myself, too.

That's my awesome assistant, Mirla

People waiting in line to get acupuncture


As part of our mission, the crew had also brought a supply of canes for the visually-impaired. The president and vice president (I believe) of the local blind organization came to the school that day to receive the supply from us. Both general medicine and I were able to provide care for them as well for their non-vision related health concerns. At the end of our day, before we headed back to the hotel, the crew formally presented the two representatives with the supply of canes. It was gratifying to hear that these canes would help the visually-impaired to gain a little more independence, as those with handicaps in the DR are not yet given much social or governmental support.

Pastor Aaron and Mirla speaking to the two visually-impaired representatives


I learned a lot from my day at Playa Oeste. First and foremost: Pace Yourself! That day, I had about 5 patients at a time sitting in chairs, randomly placed in the room, and I would go from patient to patient, taking a quick look at their registration form, asking them couple questions, then taking their pulse and looking at their tongue to make a quick diagnosis. I would then begin inserting the needles in the limbs and ears of the patients, requiring me to bend over, kneel down, get up and overall get a real work out on my back and knees. I quickly realized this would not help me last for the next 6 days.

Later on during dinner, I mentioned this fact to Jae, and ever the smart woman that she is, she came up with the brilliant idea of having a 4-patient acupuncture station with patients sitting, with their legs up on chairs, all side by side. In between patients, we were to put single chairs so that I could sit between patients and do my care by just turning around in my chair. This allowed minimal getting up and out of chairs by me as well as not having to get on my knees. This was to help me tremendously in the days to come. ...And of course, the frequent snack, water, and breather breaks.


DAY 3 - DAY OFF
Because this was Sunday, we were given the day off. The Koreans went to church in the morning, I slept in, had breakfast and hung out by the beach with my friend Tomoko until it was time for lunch. We all joined together for lunch, then went on a little excursion of Puerto Plata.

Pastor Aaron and Omar took us on a furnicular ride up one of the highest peaks in Puerto Plata to enjoy the wonderful panoramic view of this beach town. DR is so lush and verdant! And it was so cool up at the peak. There was a nice botanical garden we could meander through. There was also a little bit of Rio de Janeiro going on up there, too, with a huge Jesus Christ statue.



Puerto Plata

One of the rare group shots



Rio in Puerto Plata

After the furnicular ride, we went to a local supermarket to purchase water for the next several days. We also indulged in refreshing sherbets made with local fruits.


Being tropical, there was an abundance of fruits in DR, here frozen to make a sherbet.

This was also the day that the husband-and-wife team, Drs. Lee and Karen, and the dental assistant John arrived from Los Angeles.


I ended the evening with a nice stroll on the beach, before heading to the hotel restaurant for dinner. This would be the last time I would see this beautiful beach sunset b/c after this, every night, we were too busy, away on site, or tired to stroll for a leisurely walk.


To read Part 3, click here

My Experience in the Dominican Republic

I got back to Los Angeles on Friday night 23rd close to 11pm. The church people were there first to greet our crew with pretty flowers. My husband came minutes later, also with flowers waiting for me (in the car) :-) I was so happy to be back home. The flight was exhausting because I didn't get to sleep at all nor eat, and my day started early at 4 am Los Angeles time. Needless to say, all I did all weekend long was sleep, rest, eat, and recuperate. Thank god there’s not too much of a time difference b/n DR and CA.

The trip was an experience of a lifetime.

...But before I get into that, allow me to introduce the colorful characters that made this experience possible and unforgettable for me.

Nine of 11 people of the team were the Korean church members, and they were the nicest, sweetest, funniest people on earth. Always saying jokes and laughing, even from early morning. (Oh how I wished I could understand Korean!) And the Korean men were so gentlemen-ly, always helping us ladies getting up and down our little truck, carrying all the heavy luggage and supplies and just looking out for us female crew members. I really enjoyed everyone's company, really a nice bunch of people.

Here is a quick snapshot of the 11 members of the mission.

THE CAST

General Medicine:

Dr. Tomoko, the general medicine doctor. (She’s my friend and the one who invited me to join this mission.)

Dr. Karen, the other general medicine doctor.

In addition to the two doctors, we had Okja (“OK” as she was called by non-Koreans), who is a nurse and played the pharmacist during the mission.

Dentistry:

Dr. Lee. He was non-stop cleaning teeth and fixing cavities and doing other dental work.

John, the hardworking assistant.

Acupuncture:

Yours truly

“Traffic Controller” and mother hen:

Jae

In non-medicine related activities, we had --

Haircutters:

Senghi ("seng-hee") and Sue, cutting boy’s and men’s hair. They were quite in demand.

Resident photographer:

John. He was busy taking pictures of families and individuals and printing them out to give it back to those photographed. (I found out getting a photograph of yourself or your family is hard to come by in underserved populations in developing nations. We take it for granted here!)

Team Leader:

Simon - he helped wherever he was needed.

To put names to faces, here are their photos:

That's Tomoko on the left and myself, both of us exhausted after our last day of medical work


Sue, the camera shy haircutter


Dr. Karen, Senghi and Dr. Lee


The two Johns, the dental assistant and the photographer respectively


Simon and OK


Jae and John

Thank goodness everyone in the team knew what was expected of them and of the mission, so for the most part, things ran smoothly, albeit running behind time most of the time. I guess we were on island time.

THE TRIP

Day 1 LAX – MIA – PUERTO PLATA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

It started Thursday 13th at 11pm when we took a red-eye flight to Miami Int’l Airport. By the way, we had 16 extra huge luggage all filled with medical supplies, this in addition to each of our own single carry-on suitcase. Checking in took some time.


We arrived to MIA at dawn on Friday 14th and had almost 7 hours to kill before we boarded our flight to the Dominican Republic in the early afternoon. Some of us tried to sleep on the airport floor (like myself) to make up for lost sleep, but mostly we read, ate, walked around and just killed time until our flight.

We arrived to the coastal northern town of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic 2 hours after departing MIA. One of the first lessons in mission work and humility happened at the DR customs.

Given that we had such a large amount of luggage in our possession, not surprisingly, the DR customs stopped to check us. I was told by the crew that depending on the country they visit, if they have an active working relationship, their customs usually lets them through without a problem, but given DR was the first time for this group, we were stopped and methodically checked for our contents.

What turned out was that about 1/5 of the medications we had brought with us were expired (but only by a couple months). Now, don’t be shocked by this. Expired medication actually is effective by up to 6 months after the expiration date, and purchasing expired medication is cheaper than non-expired medicine. Given that these medications were going to be dispensed and consumed within a two-week’s time, it was a cost-effective decision to purchase some expired medicine.

Upon seeing this, the DR customs began removing these medications from our possession for disposal. Because we spoke fluent Spanish, my friend Tomoko and I ended up trying to negotiate and explain to customs what we were about and what the medications were for. As they began removing these expired medicines, I pleaded that we get to keep them because we had brought them to help needy Dominicans. Customs was adamant and did not allow us to keep any of the expired medication. I was so disappointed, but the customs official told me he was just following the law.

After we finally finished going through this time-consuming ordeal, I turned around to Jae and lamented the waste. Ever the wise and experienced missionary that she is, Jae simply says to me, “Customs was doing their job, here to protect their people. The Dominican Republic did not ask us to come and provide humanitarian aid.” Wow. Talk about humility! And here I was thinking, “Why aren’t these customs official jumping for joy for what we were trying to do for their country?? We’re here to help their people!” Not! Even though the expired medicine would not have done any harm if ingested, it is the customs duty to indeed protect their people and their environment, and the truth is, we did bring in expired medicine. We can’t just go to foreign countries waving our “we are here to help you” superiority wand and think their customs is going to lay a red carpet for us to walk on. Humility Lesson #1.

The local Korean pastor, Pastor Aaron, and his dedicated Dominican assistant, Omar, greeted us at the airport and took our crew to our hotel.

(That's Omar on the left and Pastor Aaron on the right)

Usually in other missions, this church group stays in some local's house and they cook and clean up after themselves everyday. Not so this time. We stayed in a huge high-end hotel with beach-front property, pools, dance club, internet cafe, restaurant, air-conditioned rooms with bath and shower, and so forth. Because Tomoko and I were joining this mission - basically two non-church-related individuals - the group decided to stay in a hotel to help make our experience less stressful. Talk about being spoiled!


We checked in, unpacked, and by that time, it was time for dinner, so we all had our first – of almost every meal during the trip – at the hotel buffet. We convened for a meeting after dinner to go over our schedule for the next 5 days. Now, here is where it got fun. Pastor Aaron speaks Korean and pretty good Spanish. His assistants speak only either Spanish or Korean and Spanish. Our crew speaks Korean and English, and Tomoko and I speak English and Spanish (and Japanese). What was the common language amongst our entire group? None!! There was this constant translation going from Korean - English - Spanish and between these three languages. I’m surprised we didn’t have chaos ensue during the entire trip! We somehow all managed to understand what was going on – for the most part, although I’m sure quite was lost in translation. It was comical to observe this daily negotiation of languages.

Stay tuned for more...


To read Part Two of this journey, click here


Iyashi Wellness to go on a medical mission to the Caribbean!

I am very excited to announce that in two weeks, I will be joining a joint Eastern/Western medical team to the Dominican Republic for a one-week medical mission! We will be gone 10/16 - 10/23. This is my very first mission, and needless to say, I am excited!

This mission is organized and funded by a Korean church from Los Angeles, and they are being very generous with the travel expenses (a rarity in missions) and all the medical supplies we will be bringing to the D.R, including acupuncture supplies. We will also be bringing clothes, canes for the blind, supplies and printers to print photos taken on-site, and other materials - all supplied or donated by the church. Our crew will be taking over 20 cases of medical supplies and other materials on this trip!

I went to the orientation meeting yesterday, and had a chance to meet everyone. The team consists of a Western medical doctor (who is my friend), couple dentists, a nurse, a psychiatrist, couple hairstylists, a photographer, couple aides and myself. Lovely people committed to the well being of our fellow brothers and sisters of the world. I am super relieved to learn that most people joining this team are mission-veterans, having gone to numerous parts of the world to provide humanitarian aid. I know I will be part of a team that will not only help me in the first few days as I get a crash course in aid work, but once we get a flow of things, we will all be working as a tight team to help each other out.

Between the Western doctor and myself, we will be seeing approximately 200 people a day, and treating primarily cases of respiratory infections, hypertension, yeast infections, and skin rashes/skin disorders. I alone will most likely be seeing about 50 patients in a 6-hour time span, for 6 days. Talk about being quick on your feet and needing stamina!

As I prepare myself physically and mentally, I ask all my friends and colleagues to say a little prayer for our team, to have us in your thoughts during the week we will be gone, that we will be guided by the Powers That Be, that we will be safe and protected, and that we would've been able to complete the mission with what we went to accomplish: to provide relief and a sense of hope to many who are not as fortunate us. And given that this is my first mission, can you also add a little something extra in your prayers for me? :-) That I can say centered and effective in the midst of chaos -- or something like that? It is my intention to provide medical care and relief, of course, but underlying all of that, to also be centered at all times so that I can be effective and present with each and every patient I will see. Thanks!

I can't wait to share with you all my experience when I get back.

Oh, so needless to say, there will be no Acupuncture Happy Hour on 10/21. The clinic will be closed from 10/16 - 10/24. Clinic hours will resume Tuesday October 27th. Thank you.