It's Tuesday morning, and we're up early, full of anticipation. It is our first day "on the job" in Mongolia, and we're anxious to get started. The emotional impact of the events of the previous evening have made us more eager than ever to get into our assigned places and go to work.
Eloise and I didn't get to shower last night, so we're hoping to be able to do so this morning. Why didn't we shower last night? Well, I'll tell you. One problem - the water. The cold water was okay, but the hot water was running a rich red color. I tried to convince myself that it was just a little rust in the lines, but it didn't work. I just couldn't make myself shower in water that looked like that. I can accept, even cherish, the metaphor in the hymns about being "washed in the blood of the Lamb", but this is here on earth and just looked a bit too real for me. So, a cold water wash-up had to do. We were hoping the situation would improve by this morning. It has, and we manage to get a fairly decent shower.
Later, we learn that the hot water comes from lines that travel throughout the city, from a central heating point somewhere. So, the hot water that comes through our bathroom, if not diverted by our tap, goes right back out and on to another location. This seems very strange, until one stops to realize that the same thing happens at home with the cold water that circulates through the city water lines. The only difference is that we heat it ourselves at the point of use. Still, circulating hot water doesn't seem to me to be a very efficient plan. One would think there would be a lot of heat loss as the water travels through miles of lines.
After a good breakfast in the dining room, and a motivating pep talk from our leaders, we break up and proceed downstairs to join our respective groups. Two of our guys, Ray and Jay (now there's a combination!) are going with Pastor Midor on a journey through the steppes, to visit individual families in their gers and witness to them. Pastor Midor is a Mongolian, a very committed Christian with a true evangelist's heart. He has been described, accurately I think, as a modern-day Paul. The love of God shines in his eyes, the fervor of his calling resonates around him like an aura, and one feels blessed just being in his presence.
Pastor Midor and Ray and Jay plan to spend the next week on this journey, riding camels and/or horses, and leading some pack animals as well, with the supplies they will need. It sounds exciting! I wish I could go along, but of course, a woman on a trip such as this wouldn't be proper, and probably not terribly practical. Here's a picture of the three guys:
The trio of traveling evangelists leaves the hotel to go find their animals, and the rest of us gather, preparing to depart for our areas of service. Eloise is going to the sewing center, along with others. There they expect to be teaching the Mongol women how to sew, and helping them make clothing and blankets and quilts for the children. Eloise is armed with her special left-handed scissors and a lot of expertise. I can only dream of sewing as well as she does.
Another group is going out into the town, to visit ill and needy elders in the apartment buildings. I was originally scheduled for this duty, but since the apartments can have five stories or more and of course, there are no working elevators, there is no way I can navigate all those stairs with my damaged knee. One of our men, Bobby, has generously loaned me an Ace knee wrap, and it helps some, but it's not a brace. It serves more to give me a more secure feeling and to remind me not to put any stress on the knee. Stairs at this point are simply not an option. So, I'm reassigned to join the team going out to the remote medical site. This is what I did last year, and so I know that I'll spend most of the day sitting on a bench. I can just about handle that.
We get into our assigned vans and the journey begins. To our surprise, the vans are not the beat-up, bedraggled and suffering Russian vans we rode in last year. We are in relatively new vehicles, with doors that actually close and are not tied on with bits of rope. The windows open and close, a real novelty. The vans are roomy and the seats are comfortable. We are told that the Russian vans were otherwise engaged, and they were not able to get them for us. I'm not sure whether this is a tongue-in-cheek statement, or the truth. I'm sure the Russian vans would cost less to rent than the ones we're enjoying this year, and while those old vans will beat you to death, still I can respect the need for good stewardship of the ministry's funds. Our bruises might be painful, but a big dent in the budget would hurt a lot more.
Besides, the old Russian vans were fun. I'm a little disappointed that our first-timers will miss that experience. Still, even in the newer, more modern vans, the trip over the countryside is no walk in the park. It's not as rough as last year, due in part to better suspension in the vans, but also due in large part to the fact that it has not been raining. Last year, there had been a lot of rain, and the track (no way can it be called a road) was rutted and slippery, with a lot of wash-outs and deep gullies that had to be traversed. Still, we made it, and we had fun. We'll make it this year, too, but it won't be quite as much fun.
When we arrive at the site, it looks much like it did last year. We're in the same beautiful location, on the bend of a swiftly-flowing river. Our triage tent has been set up by the industrious Mustangs, and there are gers for the doctors and the pharmacist. Dr. Tom will be in one ger, Dr. Ron in another, and Tammy, an RN with a lot of field experience as a Navy nurse, will function as a doctor this year, in a third ger. She's savvy enough to send anything she feels is beyond her expertise over to one of the MD's, so it's okay.
At this point, let me explain who the Mustangs are, for those of you who didn't read last year's journal. They're the older teenage boys from the ministry, and they live and function in a sort of "boot camp" situation. They chose the name "Mustangs" for themselves, and it's great to watch the spirit of pride and almost military discipline under which they live. They're capable and hard-working, and very obliging. If you need something done, and done quickly, ask a Mustang. They're eager to help and to please.
They live at the main compound, near the village of Hongor. This compound is located on the land that was deeded over to the ministry by the Mongolian government, and it's beautiful. It's situated on a lovely section of the river, and would be prime land in any country. The greenhouses, the warehouses and the Mustangs' dormitories are located there. As you will see later, the new "church ger" is located there as well. In time, Jerry and Susan will build their home there, next door to the church. It will be lovely, a roomy ger built over a dugout basement, which will have one wall of windows with a beautiful view of the river. If ever anyone deserved such a home, they do.
Back to the Mustangs. There are twelve of them, I think. They wear their fatigue-style clothes, and various styles of hats, so they're very identifiable. I recall many of them from last year's trip, and am happy to see them again. They come over for hugs, and to demonstrate the improvements in their English. I remember one young man in particular. He's never without a smile on his face, and we nicknamed him Smiley last year. They are so sweet, it's hard to imagine that they have all come from situations of abuse, abandonment, poverty and want. Most are now Christians, but I must stress that this is not pushed on them, it's a free and willing choice.
When a team such as ours is visiting, it's the Mustangs that do the very important work of setting up and breaking down our camps. Those boys can set a ger up in less than two hours, and can tear one down in twenty minutes. They can take our tent down in about five minutes. I don't know how long it takes them to set it up, but I imagine it's not very long.
Once we arrive and start seeing patients, the boys function as escorts for the patients, helping them get through the intake area where they are given a registration card, and then they keep them in proper order of arrival as they go through our triage area. Once we have seen the patient, gotten their vital signs and a brief history of their complaints, there is always a Mustang standing ready to escort them to the benches outside the doctors' gers. They're careful to keep the waiting lines at about the same length, always taking their patient to the shortest line. There are usually two or three who just circulate around the camp, running errands, fetching bottles of water for us when we run dry, and holding babies while moms are being seen by the nurses.
When we arrived this first morning, it was immediately noticed that one of the young Mustangs had a serious problem. He was barely walking, just hobbling along, with his knee bent and obviously painful. Investigation revealed a badly infected, hugely swollen knee. He had fallen from his bicycle a few days back, sustaining an abrasion and possibly a puncture wound to the knee. It had become infected and abscessed, and needed immediate attention. He, in true teenage boy fashion, had just gone about his business and had not reported it to anyone.
Dr. Ron immediately set to work. The knee needed to be incised and drained, but we weren't prepared for surgery and had no scalpels in our supplies. Not to worry - Dr. Ron is resourceful. He used the largest-bore needle he could find, and more or less perforated a line across the abscess until it opened on its own. Once it was cleaned out, the wound was packed and bandaged, and the boy was started on a course of strong antibiotics. None of this came a moment too soon. An infection like that could have easily invaded the joint and it's not inconceivable that it could have cost the boy his leg. However, with the improvised but effective treatment, and the antibiotics, Smiley was walking much better by the next day. Yep, it was my happy-faced little friend. The pain subsided rapidly, healing started immediately, and by the end of our visit his knee was fine.
We went right to work seeing patients, and my companion in triage this time was Barb, a nurse from Canada. She and her husband have joined our group, will be working with us for our entire stay, and then they will continue on and travel in Mongolia for a few weeks after we leave. I miss my colleague from last year, Toom Chris, but soon find that Barb is fun, friendly and very capable. I know we're going to be friends, and will have a great time working together.
This grows lengthy, so I'm going to stop here and pick up today's events in another installment.
A Certain Sadness
1 day ago