Thursday, May 26, 2016

Nurses Heart to Heart

Last week I had the privilege of flying a special group of ladies around Mongolia in my plane.  "Nurses Heart to Heart" is a small charity out of Atlanta, Georgia.  Anita, who runs NHTH, was in Mongolia several years ago as a nurse carrying out a medical transfer for a patient who needed to go to America to have heart surgery.  While she was in Mongolia, she was approached by a local Mongolian nurse and asked if Anita could show her (the Mongolian nurse) how to do CPR.  She quickly realized that there was little to no knowledge of CPR in the medical profession in Mongolia, and NHTH was born out of that experience.  Since then, Anita and her group of nurses have returned to Mongolia every year, visiting new provinces and giving CPR training to the medical professionals in each province. 
Nurses Heart to Heart, 2016
This year, the trip began early on Sunday morning.  I was out at the airport and had my airplane ready to go for a 6:30am departure, and the nurses showed up right on time.  This year the group consisted of the 3 nurses from the US, our Mongolian translator, and 4 Mongolian nurses who have worked with Anita in the past.  We loaded up the plane with their baggage and the CPR mannequins, and were airborne right on schedule. 

Leaving Ulaanbaatar in the early morning hours.
Our first stop was the town of Dalanzadgad, located in the south Gobi desert, about a two hour flight south of Ulaanbaatar.  We landed at their local airport and were at the local hospital by 9:30 that morning.  For me it was the first time to go through their whole CPR class process, but they have done it enough times in the past that it didn't take long to get everything set up, and before long the first group of people were absorbing the lesson.  Anita and Sarah (the translator) have done this for many years, and it didn't take them very long to get back into the speak,translate,speak,translate groove.  Sarah has worked with them and has translated many, many lessons over the years and she is able to do very good translations, even adding additional information at times when appropriate.  It took a while to get fully into the swing of things, but when the nurses got down on the floor to practice with the CPR mannequins, things really loosened up and the laughter and fun learning environment really helped all of us to get into the lesson.

Time for Learning
For almost all of these nurses and doctors, they had no real knowledge of this basic lifesaving skill.  Some had read about it in a book or maybe sat through a lecture at some point during their medical training, but for almost every person who was trained on the trip, this was the first time that they were able to physically learn and practice the skill using practice dummies.

Demonstrating and describing what to do if an infant is choking.  From left to right, Sarah, Tanya, Boloroo, Anita
After the classes were finished, the local hospital administrator and Anita would sign a certificate for each of the ladies to certify them for CPR, and when they were presented with their certificates they were also given the opportunity to receive a Mongolian Bible.  Although not every person decided to take a Bible, many did.  It was a fun time to watch them walking out of the room discussing their new skill, holding on tightly to their certificate and Bible. 


After that first class we all quickly fell into a routine.  We took time to enjoy our lunch, then we were back at it with another class of nurses and doctors that afternoon.  What was my role in this whole thing?  Well, when we first walked into the room that morning, Anita turned to me, passed me her camera, and said, "You will be our official  photographer, if you're all right with that."  Although I am not a great photographer by any stretch, I do enjoy taking pictures, so that became a primary responsibility for me.  I also helped out with set up, take down, and anything else that needed to be done. 

Sunday passed for us all in a blur of activity.  The ladies from the States were still really feeling the jet-lag from their trip over to Mongolia, and I had been up early to get out to the airport in time.  Once we landed, we had just been going non-stop, so when our heads all hit the pillows in our rooms that night it was no trouble to fade off to sleep.

Sarah and Mariana on ice
Monday morning was nice, as we were able to "sleep in" and get rested up a little bit more.  We were staying in Dalanzadgad that day and weren't flying anywhere else until Tuesday morning.  After a small breakfast we headed back over to the hospital and prepared for yet another class that morning.  By this time everyone was finding their "groove" and the class flowed very smoothly throughout the morning.  It wasn't long before the class was empty again and we cleaned up and headed back to our hotel.  There was no class scheduled for that afternoon, and we were able to take the time to do a little bit of sightseeing.  There is a range of mountains near Dalanzadgad where, if you take the time to drive out there, there are several valleys where you can walk out on the thick sheets of ice that build up over the cold season.  It was fun to take some time and relax a little bit and have some fun out in nature.

A gap between two layers of the ice, running back into the ice sheet.
Ice Canyon
 Tuesday morning came early, and we were all back out at the airport just as the sun began to peak over the horizon.  Once again we loaded everything into the plane and headed north one hour to the town of Mandalgobi.  We were on the ground there by 7:30am, and we once again were able to quickly check into our hotel and by 9:00 we were at the local hospital and setting up for classes.  Although the setting was different, the classes once again went very well and smoothly.  Once again the nurses conducted CPR classes in the morning and again in the afternoon.  By that evening I was really feeling the early mornings and busy schedule of the past days and weeks, and I excused myself after supper to head to my room to get some much needed sleep.  After I left their company that evening, the ladies were able to get in touch with a local pastor and were able to visit his small church and encourage him in his work there.

Hands-on practice

Wednesday followed a very similar pattern to the previous day.  We were up with the sunrise again and headed west to the small community of Arvaikheer.  The initial plan had been to conduct two CPR classes during the day, then the following day was left fairly open so that the team could spend a little bit of time sightseeing and experiencing the community before we were to fly out on Thursday afternoon.  When we arrived at the hospital that morning, the administrator was talking to Anita and mentioned something about doing three classes.  Further questioning revealed that they were anticipating and planning on having two classes on Wednesday and one more class on Thursday morning.  Anita quickly and graciously changed the plan to allow for the extra class on Thursday morning, and we got to work.

Rest time
One thing that I have not mentioned yet is that before we left each province, the NHTH ladies would donate several CPR mannequins and a few other basic medical supplies to each hospital so that they would be able to practice their skills and hopefully also teach others these skills as well.  Because of this, each class took a little bit longer than the previous class to teach as there were fewer and fewer CPR mannequins available for practice at each stop.
Donating materials to the hospital
By the end of the day on Wednesday I could see that the level of tiredness and fatigue was reaching a fairly critical level with the entire team.  Although everybody was feeling drained, this kind of trip doesn't come along very often and we all piled into a van to drive out into the countryside to visit a local family. 

Myself and the man of the family, in front of their ger
Our experience that afternoon speaks volumes about the hospitable nature of the Mongolian people.  Of course the family had no idea that we were coming, yet when we showed up on their doorstep they immediately dropped everything that they were doing to welcome us into their ger (yurt) and extended every hospitality to us while we were there.  The ladies were able to ride a Mongolian horse, and they even offered us their extra dress-up traditional clothing for picture taking.  It was a lot of fun to visit for a short time and spend that time in the company of that family.
Myself, Mariana, Tanya and Anita with the Dad, Grandma and Son of the family.
Thursday morning came quickly, and it seemed to take everybody a little bit more effort than usual to get through the class that morning, but everybody pushed through the tiredness.  I had my pilot brain in already in gear for the flight back to Ulaanbaatar (UB) that afternoon, and when the afternoon forecast changed quite drastically we were forced to pick up our bags and rush out to the airport as fast as we could.  There had been a small chance of light rains in UB that afternoon, but the latest forecast called for snow mixed with rain as well as reduced visibility that afternoon which would prevent us from flying back to UB that day.  We were able to bump up our departure time on short notice, and we found ourselves back in UB in front of the weather that afternoon. 
Our flight path for the week.

Although it was a very busy and tiring week, it was also incredibly rewarding.  Many doctors and nurses were taught a basic skill that has the potential to save numerous lives in the future, and most of those people also walked away from the class with a Bible that we hope and pray will be opened up and read by those who received them.  I got to know the 3 ladies from Atlanta quite well and I joked that they were my 3 Moms (Mums for you Brits out there) for the week.  I think that Mariana, being only a few years older than I, felt a little old when I said it like that, but I figured that we could simply ignore those pesky age gap  considerations!  Anita and Tanya both have children who are around my age, so it wasn't a stretch for them.  Early on Saturday morning the ladies boarded their flight back to Atlanta, and just like that they were gone!  It is an honor and privilege to be able to fly groups like this, and to help out in whatever way is possible during our time together.  I look forward to what will come next!

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