Friday, September 18, 2015

Healthcare and Motorcyclecare in Myanmar

I've had an interesting (to me, anyways) last couple days, and so I thought I'd take a little time to journal a bit. Record some details from my life here in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.

My morning class didn't go so well. The curriculum I'm teaching to my government employee students includes a lot of case studies and role-playing activities, which I think is great. These kinds activities are excellent learning tools. It gets the students communicating and being spontaneous in the use of English while at the same time can be designed to focus on target language.

When they work, role-plays are great. When they don't, they really crash and burn. In other words, student-led activities are a bit risky. Yesterday's role play didn't work at all. The students went off on tangents, sat there talking to each other in their own language or just clammed up, stunned.

It's on me, really. As Sun Tzu said: if the troops don't follow orders and the orders are unclear, it's the leader's fault.

Fortunately, my work day is only two hours long, and that torturous class ended at 10 AM.

Time to take care of some personal matters. About a week ago, I noticed this weird blister thingy on my eyelid. Some kind of growth, an irritation of some kind, growing just above my left eyeball. It didn't hurt or affect my vision in any way, so I just hoped it would go away on its own. A week later, it hadn't. It had even gotten slightly bigger. Well, the eye is nothing to mess with. It was time to go find a doctor here in Naypyitaw. I didn't think the problem THAT serious, so my initial thought was to go the market area and look for a clinic or GP.

Me with wind-visor-sunglasses-thingy
I'm driving down the main road and I needed to stop because I'd dropped my wind-visor-sunglasses-thingy. When I stopped, the bike died, and when I tried to re-start it, nothing. It wouldn't turn over. No power, no lights, nada. Hmmm. What to do? I supposed I needed a mechanic. I called my teacher liaison and gave her the phone number of the dealership I've only owned the bike for 3 weeks, so I figured they needed to take care of this. I wasn't in the middle of nowhere, but pretty much anywhere in Naypyitaw is a long way from somewhere. I wanted the dealership to send a mechanic to my location. It was really hot (95F/32C). There was little shade. There was some back and forth via text message as the dealer wanted to know exactly where I was, and during this, I thought to myself I can try to fix this.

I've owned motorcycles my whole life and have done several basic repairs myself, but none since moving to Asia with its abundant and inexpensive bike mechanics.

The bike came with a little toolkit, and so I began to undo the screws for the battery cover. I figured the problem was obviously electrical and so the battery would be the place to start. Presently, a truck pulled over and a good Samaritan jumped out, offering to help. Through gestures and my basic Burmese (I know how to say this doesn't turn on), I conveyed the problem. With the help of gestures again, he replied Have you thought about using the kick-starter?

Oh. Right.

It's got a kick start. I forgot about that.

Gave it a kick. Turned right over. Crisis averted. My eye problem took a back seat as I set off for Pyinmana, the neighboring town where I'd bought the Kenbo motorcycle.

I pulled into the dealership, showed them what was wrong and they all nodded their heads as if it was a simple thing. It was. It was the fuse. They replaced it in a minute and off I went. I wondered why the fuse blew; I hadn't been doing anything unusual.

Bike repair done, I was off to find an eye repair place. I reconsidered looking for a small clinic. I didn't recall having ever seen one in and around any of the commercial districts, so I decided to visit a hospital instead. Best of all, they're all clearly marked on my phone's Google Maps app.

I stopped halfway back to NPT from Pyinmana and checked my phone. Aha! A hospital was very close by my location and so I headed towards it. I spent 20 minutes circling the hospital campus never finding the entrance. I'm sure one of the road signs said “hospital this way”, but they're all in Burmese, so there we are.

I gace up. I had noticed on the map that the Naypyitaw General Hospital was near my hotel, so I went there instead. Found it easily enough too. I couldn't miss the entrance as it was quite busy. Hundreds and hundreds of people (I hesitate to use the word peasants, but that's probably the most illustrative) were hanging around in the shade of the trees in and about this very large (1000 beds a sign at the entrance proudly proclaimed) multi-building hospital complex.

Again, all the signs were in Burmese, which I can't read. Now, the medical profession, anywhere in the world, requires a knowledge of English, and so I knew if I could find a nurse, any nurse, I'd be directed where to go. So, I parked the motorcycle and walked into the nearest building which was marked with a sign that said simply 'medical ward'.

As I mentioned, there were lots and lots of ordinary people all around, and the sight of a foreigner visiting the 'people's hospital' was an extraordinary thing in their eyes, so I was drawing a lot of stares.

I found a nurse and she directed me to the emergency room. The ER? Really?
So many buildings here are painted this
light green color, including the NPT GH.
Okay, I'll go where I'm told.

The lobby of the ER was packed. Dozens of people waiting. Many more assumedly hale family members in groups looking distressed. There was a large group of very worried looking people clustered around one of the doorways out of lobby; there must've been something quite serious happening beyond it.

I got to the triage station and said “eye problem” while point to the pustulant growth on my eyelid. They gave me a check-in form.... again, all in Burmese. I mean, I am in Burma, after all. They helped me with “name”.. “Family name” (wait, I wrote my full name in the 'name' box')... address... also address... they stopped there.

Immediately, I was lead into the treatment room. However much I sometimes complain about differential treatment I suffer as a foreigner in Asia, just as often, if not more often, that differential treatment is in my favor. No waiting for the white guy!

The treatment room was intense; so much going on! A little kid with a broken arm crying here. A nearly comatose looking guy hooked up to an oxygen mask and a heart monitor there. Immediately next to me, in a place that as I sat on the examination table I just had to look at, was a guy who had been in what was most likely a motorcycle accident.

He had road rash all over him. Because of the many body X-rays, which were hanging on a stand right next to me, I saw he had two broken legs. Worst of all was his face. His nose was nearly gone. His forehead was so swollen it nearly covered his eyes, and in the midst of that swollen forehead was a huge gash that must've gone all the way down to the skull. At least his skull wasn't cracked as I could see from his X-rays.

It seemed a silly place for me to be with a little blister on my eyelid.

After some time of me watching my neighbor writhing in pain, his family members holding him down and a doctor attempting to stitch up this massive head wound, Myanmar George Clooney approached me and introduced himself.

Dr. Aung McDreamy
He was 6'3” or so (a giant by Burmese standards), stunningly handsome, very well spoken, and of course, a doctor. His features showed that he was Indian by descent which along with being at most 25 was probably why he was working at 'General Hospital' and not someplace nicer. Anyways, the George Clooney of this ER looked at my eye and told me that I had an infection at the base of my eyelash follicle. It should be drained, but the eye surgeon should be the one to do that.

Eye surgeon? Sounds serious, I told him. He explained that the instruments for doing this were very delicate and one needed a very steady and experienced hand to use them. That made sense. I didn't want anyone poking around my eye with a knife who wasn't sure what they were doing. Dr Aung McDreamy wasn't perfect; he didn't have the necessary steady hand.

10 minutes later, handsome doc came back and said the eye surgeon couldn't come because he was in the theatre. The theatre? He's watching a movie? What the heck? Then I remembered that 'theatre' is British English for 'operating room'. He told me he'd give me some antibiotics but to come back tomorrow anyways.

I sat another 15 minutes or so watching the poor guy next to me getting his face put back together, and then another emergency occurred. Two guys got rolled in on gurneys, both pretty messed up (again, I'm guessing motorcycle accident). The second of them was being attended to by a swarm of medical staff, which made me think he was on death's door. There were no empty spaces in the ER at this point, and so they were working on him in the middle of the room.

Umm... I'm just waiting on some meds. I don't need to be here. Oddly, no one came up to me to express this. Again, differential treatment; no one would dare tell a foreigner to fucking move it! So I got up and stood next to nurse's station. They immediately moved the guy over to my vacated corner and began hooking him into the heart monitors and stuff.

I dunno what happened to him, but I hoped he lived.

Eventually, Dr Aung McDreamy came back and gave me my script. I asked where the cashier was, and he kinda shook his head and said, “No, no, no. This is a free hospital”.

A free hospital?

Myanmar is the second poorest country in all of Asia (only Afghanistan is more destitute). The military government here has never really been known for always having the best interest of their people at the front of their mind, but they have free healthcare. I'm a foreigner, and they even gave me free medicine.

In America, I've heard of things like free clinics in some areas, but never would there be a free General Hospital. Good for you Myanmar and the government here. The hospital may have been second-rate, but it was free.

I went back out to the parking lot, hit the electric start on my bike and got nothing. Dead. Again. The new fuse had lasted a couple hours.

* * *

Day two.

Today is Friday and my morning teaching went much better. This class is the most advanced of my three groups, and they understood my instructions, although after yesterday's fiasco, I took things slower.

After class, back to the free hospital. I got directed to the optical department and once again was confronted with a waiting room of 100+ people. I walked to the front, gave them my medical file and was immediately let into the secondary waiting area.

15 minutes later, I was in the examination area and was asked to do a vision test. An eye chart, but the letters on it were in Burmese. Fortunately, the alphabet here is based on incomplete circles with openings on one side or another, and so I just had to identify which side the opening was on. When I got to the doctor herself (one doctor to help so many people), she didn't think the infection needed to be drained, reinforced that I take my meds and prescribed hot towel treatment over the effected eye.

Again, my charge for this treatment was zero.

On my way back to my hotel, the rain poured down. One of the things I've liked about NPT is that although it's still the monsoon season, it rains maybe 1/4th of what it does in Yangon. Today, that quarter caught up as it poured all afternoon.

There was a break in the late afternoon, and so off I went to Pyinmana to get the fuse on the bike replaced again. Halfway there, the skies opened up.

Drenched, I pulled into the dealership and said the fuse had blown again! Something must've been wrong. The mechanic said that the rain had gotten into the ignition and that had caused the fuse to blow. But..But..It hadn't been raining when the fuse blew the second time! That was yesterday! Unfortunately, the language barrier prevented me from explaining that. Besides, non-waterproof electronics is still in no way acceptable on a brand-new motorcycle!

On the way home, the thunderstorms started again
forcing me into a roadside restaurant. Good BBQ!
Can you see the bump on my left eyelid?
Tomorrow, maybe the next day, I suspect the fuse will blow again and then it's time to bring in an interpreter to complain properly.

Well, that was eye-health and motorcycle-health last couple days. I said they were interesting days, but not so unusual. Most days here are interesting.

A few days ago, my friend Chris and I went on another bike trip. $10 isn't a lot of money, but it's the principal of the thing. Maybe since I got the free healthcare, I can go back and cough up the entrance fee to the National Monument Park.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Exploring Naypiytaw

Last weekend, Chris and I went on another journey on our motorcycles that proved to be very challenging.  Twice we got stopped by roads that were 'impassible during the rainy season'.  Even though it hasn't rained that much here recently (at least as compared to Yangon), the roads were simply mud pits. It was really hard to navigate them, and even harder to give up and realize that we couldn't go any further.

Now, this weekend, my touring buddy was out of town, so I got to do something I like to do: go museuming. Is that a word? Anyways, visiting a museum is something people should do on their own time. This exhibit really interests me; this other one I could skim and just glance at.

Today I visited the newly opened Myanmar National Museum. Mind you, there's already a National Museum in Yangon, but from what i've heard, it's rather dingy and run down. Not so for the Naypiytaw version! Interesting. Very well presented. Interactive and educational. Even the signs were done well; the English was perfect.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Myanmar Roads

There's so much I'm enjoying about my new home of Nay Pyi Taw. More than anything it's about having the freedom of my own vehicle. Yangon had a lot more places to go, but as I either needed to walk or take a taxi, I didn't do as much.

Here, particularly since I've made some new friends who also enjoy getting out of town and seeing the countryside, I'm loving life, exploring this foreign country and recording lots of neat footage to make videos out of...


I thought I was going to retire there. I was the senior staff member. I'd been there longer than anyone. It. Is. Not. Fair.  But on the ...