Our Gang in Da Nang

I know that Zach’s enjoyed being adventurous with his food, but I like to keep my meals simpler. On Sunday night, when we arrived in Da Nang, I ate the best meal I’ve had since we landed in Vietnam. We sat down at a resturant right on the beach. Rose immediately went to the back to go pick out our fish, as it swam around in tanks. Soon after, we were brought a pot of broth which was set over a flame. Rose plopped in various pieces of seafood, ranging from crab to tuna, and brought the pot to a boil. Vegetables were added and noodles were set on the table. After a few minutes, our fish was ready. We spooned the soupy mixture over the noodles and enjoyed every bite. The fish literally couldn’t have been more fresh. I got the simple and delicious meal that I had been craving. Not a single drop was wasted.

On Monday morning we woke up to go meet Dr. Thanh, the othopedic pediatrician at the hospital in Da Nang, who luckily spoke very good english. It was clubfoot clinic day, and there were many patients lined up outside of the office. Zach headed off in the direction of the casting room to get footage of patient’s casts being removed, while I observed Dr. Thanh go through the string of patients, checking to make sure that the range of motion in their feet had progressed. There must have been 10 children there to see him that day. It felt like a clubfoot treatment assembly line.

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After meeting so many patients and parents, it was time to recast four of the babies. Zach and I followed Dr. Thanh and his technician back to the casting room. It’s interesting to see the differences between doctors when it comes to casting the children. Dr. Morcuende in Iowa emphasized to us that it is extremely important for patients to be relaxed. If babies tense up, then it makes it more difficult to manipulate the feet, and therefore can make treatment much harder. It seems like often times, the challenge isn’t as much being able to put the foot in the right position, but getting the child relaxed enough. Dr. Thanh and Dr. Morcuende both clearly practice this. They will do anything to get the child to relax. They both put aside their inhibitions, making funny sounds and silly faces. At one point in the casting room on Monday, Dr. Thanh, his technician, and the patient’s father all start making repetitive meditative sounds. I think it put the entire room into a trance, including the tiny little baby. I also noticed that Dr. Thanh avoids bright lights and examination tables. Instead, a parent will sit in the chair and hold their child while he casts the child’s feet. One woman was even allowed to breast feed her child during the process. I’m not necessarily advocating for this method; its ultimately up to the comfort level of each doctor. However, there is something to be said about avoiding any unnecessary trauma for the child as they go through the experience.

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After casting three distressed children, we ended with a giggly little boy. I admit, I had to put my camera aside, and play peek-a-boo with him while Dr. Thanh put the gauze and plaster on. I kept telling myself “I’m helping to keep him distracted,” but I think that was more to justify hearing his contagious laugh. However, Zach got some good footage of the our little back and forth.

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After casting, we sat down to interview Dr. Thanh. He was as excited to conduct the interview in English as we were. He told us with enthusaism about how much pride he feels when he sees one of his patients walk, and how much sadness he feels thinking about children who won’t recieve treatment. It was evident that this is exactly what motivates him to continue doing his job. He also gave us some interesting stories about some of his older patients with neglected clubfoot. Overall, our interview with Dr. Thanh was a huge success, and really gave us some insight into some topics we hadn’t yet explored.

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After enjoying some delicious noodles with Dr. Thanh for lunch, we headed off to our first patient’s house. Since Da Nang is a relatively large city, we didn’t have to travel far at all. We arrived at a house in an alley way, and were greeted by the patient’s mother and grandmother. I recognized their little boy, who was fast asleep in a bouncy chair, from the clinic. He had come into Dr. Thanh’s office, equally as sleepy. Once his mother woke him up, it took him a few minutes to orient himself, but once he did, he started walking around, curiously checking out the strange people in his house.

We sat down with his mother for an interview. Zach is usually the one directing most interviews, and I usually jump in if I have a question. But this time, I was the main interviewer. Zach got up for a few minutes to film the grandmother and the boy in the alley as trains rolled by the house. During that time, the mother started to really open up to me. Although I didn’t know what she was saying at the very moment she responded, I could feel her emotion. Her voice cracked and her lips started to quiver. I felt silly because I didn’t understand what she was saying, but I also wanted to cry with her. Tung, who was translating for us, told me that the hardest part about her child’s clubfoot is living with four other families. Often times, the other children in the house grab the boy by his braces and drag him around. She doesn’t feel comfortable leaving the braces on for long, because she worries for her child’s safety. Additionally, she said that the other members of the house act supportive, but when everyone fights, they often use her child’s clubfoot against her. She told us that she feels like she has no one to go to, no one that will understand her, and just keeps all of the anger and sadness inside. Even though she is confident that her son’s feet will be fully funcitoning in the future, she worries her family will hold it against him. If he were to make any mistake or has any other issues, she hopes that her in-laws will not attribute it to her, or her son’s clubfoot.

Her story was heart wrenching. I was so glad she felt comfortable opening up to me, but I felt sad that she had to go through these hardships. At the end of an interview, I couldn’t help but give her a big hug. At the very least, this little boy is so lucky to have such a caring and compassionate mother (and grandmother).

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Our day wasn’t over quite yet, we still had another interview to go to. We arrived at a one room house, which was quite literally one room, containing a kitchen and a shower, and met our next clubfoot family. The room had only a small window for light, so right away, Zach new that we would have to find a new filming location for the interview. The parents of our clubfoot patient, a little boy about four years old, suggested that we move out to the courtyard area, because it was quiet and private. Well, I guess relative to our other interviews, the crowd we attracted was minimal, but pretty far from what any of us would consider private. But it didn’t really matter anyways. Within the first few moments of the interview, the mother started to open up, and we witnessed the first real outpour of emotions (by a parent) during our time in Vietnam. The mother immediately burst into tears as she relived the earlier months of her son’s treatment. The family had to move from Hue to Da Nang for financial reasons, which temporarily put their child’s treamtent on hold. It was apparent that this period of uncertainty still causes her anxiety and pain. However, both parents have seen major improvements since restarting treatment, and said that watching their child walk for the first time was the best day of their lives. After the interview concluded, I went in, and gave my second hug of the day to the mother.

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After another simple and satisfying dinner of chicken and rice, our gang made our way back to the hotel where Thanh, Louis, and Tung rented motorbikes. I hitched a ride on the back of Louis’ bike, while Zach sat behind Tung. We spent the night riding around Da Nang, trying to find some things we needed for our camera gear. We struck out, as most shops had closed already, but still had a great time seeing the city all lit up. One observation about Vietnam: the people love their LED lights. Every sign and street decoration is made of flashing little lights. I cannot decide if its cool or tacky, but it made for a more exciting ride Monday evening. We returned the bikes, and headed over to a billiards hall, where I watched everyone play pool and acted as lead photographer. Thanh proved to be the best, beating everyone multiple times.

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The next morning was Christmas Eve. We headed off to Hoi An, an ancient city known for its crafts. I spent the better half of the day walking around the shops with Rose and Jana, while Zach followed Louis and Thang, the driver, around. I helped Jana and Rose pick out fabric for coats they were getting tailored, and even got a custom pair of shoes for $30 for myself. Zach purchased some rope and the world’s dullest pocket knife – exciting, I know. How utilitarian.

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We got back to the hotel around 7:00 pm, just in time to rest up before our big Christmas dinner! The hotel had planned a Christmas eve party with food and music, so the group decided to go. Besides the food being sub-par and the music way too loud, it was fun. Well, I guess the party itself wasn’t amazing, but we all made the most out of it. It was our last night all together, so we went outside to take some group pictures. Somehow this turned into a “Strongest Man” competition, with all of the guys picking each other up and making funny faces. It was actually very fun, and a great way to spend our last moments together.

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Thang and Thanh left to make the two-day drive back to Hanoi Christmas morning, so we made sure to say our final goodbyes at breakfast. Louis stuck around for a few more hours before flying back home. We decided to spend the morning sightseeing, so Louis and Tung rented motorbikes again to ride around. We ended up driving to the other side of Da Nang to a giant statue on top of a mountain, overlooking the water, which actually turned out to be a pagoda. On the way up the mountain, my motorbike (driven by Louis) got a flat tire, so we had some time to explore the area. The smell of burning incense traveled troughout the mountain, contributing to the serene feel. Our tire was fixed shortly, and we headed back to the hotel and said farewell to Louis. Our group had now shrunk from eight to five. Zach and I were very sad to see our new friends go, but have really cherished the times we’d had with them. The rest of the day was devoted to rest and relaxation, before heading out Thursday morning to Ho Chi Minh City for our next adventure.

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4 comments on “Our Gang in Da Nang
  1. Scott Gorelick says:

    Zach and Hannah:

    We just love reading these blog posts and seeing the pictures of you two having the experience of a lifetime!

    We are continually reminded of how extraordinary you both are, as we observe how genuinely, respectfully and compassionately you connect with other people – doctors, infants, parents, grandparents, passers by, and the members of your gang.

    Rest assured that you are leaving positive and lasting impressions with everyone you’ve encountered. It’s just who you are and how you live your lives.

    And we could not be more proud!! We love you both. Travel safely and keep blogging.

    Dana & Scott (Mommy & Daddy)

  2. Ann Denny says:

    I can hardly wait to get your blogs. They are so informative that I feel like I am there with you. Thank you for all you do.

  3. Marci Goldberg says:

    Love reading your stories and love what you’re doing! Be safe and enjoy the experience! Happy New Year!
    Love, Marci and Phil (Goldberg)

  4. Grandma and Grandpa says:

    Grandma and Grandpa are so proud of what the both of you are doing. It seems like you are having a wonderful experience! This will help people throughout the world. We love you and cant wait to see you and speak to you. Much love… Grandma and Grandpa

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