Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tourists for a Day: Dr. Dang Thuy Tram Memorial Clinic

Shortly after I returned from Vietnam in 1969, someone shared with me an article written by a North Vietnamese journalist reporting from Quang Ngai. He described observing a woman doctor treating patients at a Quang Ngai hospital and how impressed he was by her concern for her patients. My friend asked me who that might have been, could it have been me?
I was puzzled because I was the only woman physician at the Quang Ngai Provincial Hospital. But how could a North Vietnamese journalist have encountered me? Years later, when the diary of Dang Thuy Tram (Last Night I Dreamed of Peace) was published, I understood that the journalist had been writing about her. She came to Quang Ngai province in the mid-1960s and worked as a doctor in a hospital and clinics dotted around the NLF controlled areas of Duc Pho. She was ambushed and killed at the age of 27 while returning to her hospital from visits to clinics. I had visited her mother and elder sister in Hanoi a couple of years ago and said I hoped very much to visit her clinic someday.
Saturday was a free day so we became "tourists for a day". Our driver took us down a smooth paved Highway #1, so different from 40 years ago. I recognized the rivers as we passed over them but the landscape is totally different now.
The clinic is a beautiful two story building with a goldfish pond enclosing two sides. In the side garden, a stone statue of Thuy Tram shows her stepping out of the background stone with one foot, her medical bag slung over her shoulder. All around the outside are benches bearing the names of people or groups who have donated them in her memory. We were met at the entrance to the clinic by Miss Rose, a physician's assistant, who showed us into the memorial room to one side. Here are numerous pictures of Thuy Tram, her mother and sisters, the translator who persuaded U.S. intelligence officer not to destroy the diary which was found among her effects at the ambush site, and others.
After touring this room, Miss Rose invited us into the clinic itself for tea. She explained that the clinic does both preventive care and acute care for illnesses. If a patient needs more advanced care, they are referred to the district hospital. Miss Rose works in the area of nutrition and counselling for children and expectant mothers. She also explained that, thanks to a substantial donation from an overseas Vietnamese woman, they are able to issue vouchers to very poor people in this area who don't have enough income to afford adequate food. We asked if we could make a contribution to the clinic to be used for food for the poor. She then called in the on-call doctor for the day so that he could accept our donation.
As we left, I commented to Margaret and Tinh that this is a wonderful and appropriate memorial to a woman who loved the people of Quang Ngai and devoted what short time she had to live in helping those suffering from the ravages of war. I had commented to Miss Rose, that Thuy Tram and I were working in the same province with many of the same concerns as young doctors and yet we were fated never to meet. I'm glad to see that this clinic continues to provide loving care to the people of Duc Pho.

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