Floating Doctors Inc

The Floating Doctors Mission is to reduce the present and future burden of disease in the developing world, and to promote improvements in health care delivery worldwide. Our Goals Include: Providing free acute and preventative health care services and delivering donated medical supplies to isolated areas. Reducing child and maternal mortality through food safety/prenatal education, nutritional counseling and clean water solutions. Studying and documenting local systems of health care delivery and identifying what progress have been made, what challenges remain, and what solutions exist to improve health care delivery worldwide. Using the latest communications technologies to bring speciali...
Nov 10, 2015

A Long Way From Help

9:00 AM and our clinic is filling up fast!
9:00 AM and our clinic is filling up fast!

I love when our reports are written by our volunteers--their perspective is often unique and I love to have their voices added to support our project, but today I want to personally share an experience with you all.

We visit about 25 communities spread over 7,000+ square miles of jungle-covered mountain and mangrove island mazes.  Some of the communities are a shorter boat ride from our base, but some are VERY far away--and the Ngabe community of Rio Caña, where we went last month, is the furthest community we currently visit, on the exposed, open-ocean side of the Bahia Azul peninsula.

Rio Caña is about 70 miles by boat from the nearest small community hopsital, and VERY hard to get to--it requires a lot of planning and the willingness to endure pretty bad weather and rough seas to get there.  It is about 6 hours in a huge dugout canoe, at the end of which there is a treacherous river entrance blocked by a sandbar with big surf.  I know longboard surfing is widely popular, but until you have surfed a 50' hollowed out log down the face of turbulent waves to enter the Rio Caña, you have not truly longboarded.

In this community, small emergencies are almost always big emergencies--because the chance that the patient may be able to travel to help is VERY low--at best, the trip would cost more than most families live on for 2 months; at worst, bad weather and 15-foot seas make the trip a complete impossibility even if you were a millionaire.  These are the communities we specialize in serving--the ones where a lot of people see a doctor for the first time in their lives when they come to our clinic.

On this visit, there were several 'small' emegencies--a horribly infected ax wound on a young man's foot, a young girl with acute appendicitis, a young boy whose entire scalp was an infected mass of pus and fungus...the list goes on.  All of these things are dealt with in more developed regions by a trip to the family doctor or to the emergency room; here, they are treated mostly with hope, which unfortunately is not always enough to prevent a terrible outcome.

We saw 250 patients, pulled about 60 abcessed teeth, ultrasounded about 25 pregnant moms, and made sure the 'small' emergencies STAYED small and were dealt with promptly.

No one who has not shared a journey to distant communities like Rio Caña can truly understand what it takes to make it out there and to provide good health care so far from the comforting presence of a nearby hospital with specialists and advanced services, but if we don't go out there...the young man loses his foot (and perhaps his life); the young girl's appendix ruptures and she dies, the young boys' scalp infection poisons his blood.  

This is why our volunteers endure such hardships to get there, and why we go to such great lengths to reach these communities.  I wanted to write the report myself today because I wanted to bear witness both to the courage of our patients, and to the dedication and endurance of our medical teams.  Am I a hero?  Absolutely not--but I am priviliged to work with heroes every day.  Hope in Rio Caña and other rcommunities is no longer the only care available.  

The health care our volunteers provide is some of the most loving, caring medicine I have seen anywhere in the world.  In 2016, the infrastrucutre we have worked so hard to build this year will more than double our capacity.  It has been a tough journey to get this far; travelling to Rio Caña is like a microcosm of the journey of our organization.  When I look back at how far we have come in such a short time, the daunting challenges in the future suddenly don't seem quite so insumountable. 

When someone tells you something is impossible, alwyas remember what Tom Hanks' astronaut character in 'Apollo 13' tells visiting congressmen while giving them a tour of the space center:  "You know, there's nothing remarkable about us going to the moon.  We just decided to go."  

What will you decide today?

Shy but trusting; a little girl talks to our docs
Shy but trusting; a little girl talks to our docs
A boy brings his sister to clinic from far upriver
A boy brings his sister to clinic from far upriver
Jungle Dentistry:  60+ extractions!
Jungle Dentistry: 60+ extractions!
Emergency extraction:  acute appendicitis
Emergency extraction: acute appendicitis
Lots of rain, lots of chest infections to treat
Lots of rain, lots of chest infections to treat
Jul 8, 2015

Ensenada: A New Journey

The most beautiful beach
The most beautiful beach

Today's update comes from Abteen Asgharian, who, while one of our younger volunteers, proved himself to be a huge asset when he joined us for a week in the remote community of Ensenada.

Going to a foreign place without electricity or running water was a concept I had never before experienced.  I didn't know what to expect on this mission.  In the beginning of this arduous yet exciting mission, my mother and I traveled to the heart of Panama- Panama City.  It was a beautiful city; it had an adequate amount of diverse fast-foods from all around the world and wonderful tourist sites such as the Panama Canal. After almost a week in Panama City, we traveled to Bocas del Toro, where I met some interesting members of Floating Doctors.

Bocas del Toro is located on the island of Colón, on the outskirts of Panama.  On the Sunday of June 21st, we went to the Floating Doctors warehouse.  It was the orientation.  A few of the members talked about their experiences in the past and what to expect on this fun experience.  I felt a little bit shy and uneasy at first just thinking about no phone for three nights, no pleasant bathroom, sleeping in a hammock instead of on a regular mattress, and the same food for three nights.  Honestly, I had never thought of being in a situation like that.  I never lived too wealthy or too poor- I loved my life just the way it was and thinking about the whole new experience of living a poor life in a foreign community just sounded astonishing.  I didn't worry too much about this idea that night, though, for I really wanted to see what it was like to live life "differently."

The next day was the first day of our journey to Ensenada, and our group dropped all our bags on the boats for the start of a two and a half hour boat ride.  It was a relaxing, enjoyable ride as the scenery was quite exquisite and a few droplets of water splashed when the boat approached the big waves.  When our group arrived at Ensenada, I was dumbfounded.  My first glimpse of the scenery there was a few rooftops made out of wood, something I usually didn't see coming from the United States.  We set up our hammocks that day and went out to the beach for a peaceful swim.  Wow- that beach was easily one of the best beaches I've ever visited!  The sand was smooth and soft, the water was not too cold nor hot, and there were a ton of trees all scattered together, making it look like a jungle.  It was a great first day at Ensenada, but my journey was only beginning.

The second and third day of Ensenada were busy, as we had to see over 100 patients each day.  I was working in administration with a couple other hard-working members.  it was a difficult, tiresome task, but I really improved my Spanish in those two days I was working.  Moreover, I had the opportunity to gain a sense of satisfaction from looking on the faces of the locals and knowing that my hard efforts are for a good cause.  Although I didn't help with the prescribing and handing out of medication to patients, I still felt that my work had helped Floating Doctors a great deal.  Surely, these two days I won't forget in a long, long time!

The following morning, our group packed our items once more for a trip back to Bocas del Toro.  It was an amazing experience, and I've been truly blessed to have the opportunity to help others and live the lives of the locals for three nights.  I really loved the environment I worked along with the friendliness of the locals there, and the love of the members of Floating Doctors.  Without these three elements, I don't think I would have enjoyed the trip as much.  In my previous years, my parents and I have made donations to many different causes, but I didn't feel the special impact from those donations compared to what I experienced first-hand in Ensenada.  For certain, I would go on this journey again (hopefully more fluent in Spanish) and maybe I'll feel a bigger impact than the first time.  I recommend this to everybody, as it teaches you the other side of live people don't usually experience and the feeling people get when they help others in need.

 

Photos courtesy of Sam Paci

Not a typical view in the US
Not a typical view in the US
Apr 24, 2015

Floating Doctors Goes Dental!

Dentist in the dark. No rest in Norteno...
Dentist in the dark. No rest in Norteno...

Today's report come from Dr. Kevin Lan, our indefatigable Lead Dental Provider.

In the early months of 2015, Floating Doctors added another paddle to its ever-expanding Cayuco (wooden canoe) by launching its dental programme in tandem with the flourishing mobile medical clinics. It has always been the dream of Ben LaBrot, the founder of Floating Doctors, to have a long-term dentist join the crew. The need for dental treatment is in high demand but unfortunately very rarely accessible to the Ngäbe communities.

In its inception, the team’s first clinic was set in the mountainous village of Norteno. From dawn till dusk, spanning over two days, 80 patients were seen by our tireless dentists who maintained high spirits despite the failing light and increasingly limited resources. It is this drive and motivation to deliver healthcare in such challenging conditions that epitomises the spirit of our leadership team and volunteers representing our organisation.

Since then we have visited multiple communities where we are continuously amazed by the extent of dental caries prevalence, especially in young children. On each clinic we will see an average of 30 patients, many who have suffered in pain with toothache or infections for several months or even years! Imagine, or can you remember the debilitating sensation of dental pain and being without access to dental treatment for that length of time? Our clinic is currently restricted to extractions and minor oral surgery, but with time and correspondence to those with invaluable resources or expertise, we will strive to make Ben’s dream come true.

The development of the Floating Doctors dental programme would not be possible without the support and kind donations from our benefactors and organisations, for this we cannot extend our gratitude enough. We have set a target of $10,000, which once achieved would provide all the equipment necessary for a fully functional dental clinic to serve the Ngäbe communities. With Floating Doctors we have a fantastic opportunity to implement positive changes to the oral health of the communities in Bocas del Toro. 

It is a privilege to share this journey with you. Our working environment is such a challenging, exciting, very tiring, but thoroughly rewarding experience. Improving a patient’s quality of life is not based on what procedure or medication I give them, but my ability to show compassion and care to a person where they are expected to expose their problems and fears to a stranger whilst overcoming language, cultural and social barriers.

Chao, until next time..

A community kitchen turned dental clinic
A community kitchen turned dental clinic
Yolando ready and eager for his 1st ever check-up
Yolando ready and eager for his 1st ever check-up
William wants to grow up to be a surfer or dentist
William wants to grow up to be a surfer or dentist
 
   

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