Danish Doctor in Mae Wang

A small abscess is a problem that could bring a patient to the Mae Wang Hospital and the treatment is fairly simple.
“It is a small procedure; you simply cut open the abscess and suck the inflammation out. It only takes a few minutes,” Mike Zangenberg says matter of factly, knowing what he is on about, as the Danish medical student speaks from experience gained during his two months as a trainee at Mae Wang.
Located some 40 kilometre northwest of Chiang Mai city, in a small valley surrounded by scenic forest coved hills the Mae Wang Hospital’s closest neighbour is a small police station and the road leading of to two small cities.
Despite its desolate location the small hospital is visited by a few hundred patients every day; the patients come from the mountain villages as well as the two nearby towns.
During these months the patients meet a rare sight as they come to the hospital – chances are that they are received by the hospital’s Danish trainee, Mike Zangenberg, who with his European looks and 190 centimetres is perhaps the last person the Thais expect to be greeted by when entering a GP’s office at the local hospital.

Medical studies
24-year-old Mike arrived in Thailand in February from Aarhus, where he is on his fifth year of medical studies. During his first two months in Thailand he worked in Bangkok, for a NGO and at the Siriraj Hospital respectively. During his stay at Siriraj, he spend some time to gather statistical information used to write an assignment in order to advance his studies at the university.
Late in April, he started his stay at the small hospital – housing 4 doctors and 50 nurses – a stay he had been looking much forward to; as it might enable him take on some more practical medical challenges, than the ones he faced in Bangkok.

Hands on job
So far the medical student has been far from disappointed, as he is allowed to get his hands on a lot of practical work within the hospital’s medical team.
“I have been assisting during operations, helping out at the emergency room and receiving patients at the GP’s office,” Mike explains.
The hospital receives the bulk of its patients in the morning and here all of the hospital’s three GP’s offices are occupied by the hospital’s own doctors. This time a day Mike sits in with the Thai doctors learning by their doing.
During the day the pressure is lessened and some of the hospital’s doctors leave. Then Mike helps the remaining doctors and receives patients on his own.
When Mike receives patients at the GP’s office, help is never far away, as he just had to round a corner to ask one of the hospitals doctors for assistance. This is a great comfort Mike confesses, as he is not trying to hide the fact that he is still under education.
“I’m here as a trainee – to learn,” he underlines.

Cut and wait
Mike arranged the first part of his stay in Thailand through the International Medical Corporation Committee (IMCC), which exchange medical students all around the world. But his time at Mae Wang is his own creation.
“I’m the first trainee on this hospital, but I’m hoping that it might be added to the organisations list for future students to see,” he says.
So far the hospital has not disappointed Mike, as he has been easily integrated in the daily routines at the hospital. One in specific has his interest; the surgical operations. When ever one is about, he makes sure to stay close, so he can assist the doctor performing the operation. But the operations are rare, and so far Mikes has helped with only three minor ones.
“We have removed small tumours; and women have been sterilised. They see a lot of that down here, but it is a rare operation in Denmark,” he adds.
From his first months one thing stands out. It wasn’t an operation, but one of the many birth Mike has also assisted.
“It was an uncommon birth, where we had to use a ventouse to pull the baby out. It was a dramatic experience, especially because the birth took long time, and it was beyond doubt that the mother was nowhere prepared for that,” he remembers.

Infectious Thailand
Among the more common things at the hospital are throat and lung infections.
“Is the things I have seen the most. I think most is caused by their food and hygiene,” he says adding:
“Most patients are people, who have been coughing for a few days, and then they come here, but a fair share have also been the victims of dog bites and need treatment for rabies,” he elaborates.
“I have also helped empting abscess for inflammation. It is a small procedure; you simply cut the abscess and suck the inflammation out. It only takes a few minutes,” he says plainly.
The infections are of great interest to Mike, professional interest that is, as he is currently considering to specialise in just that.
Becoming a doctor in Denmark is a time consuming task. First there is six years of school in order to become a GP. After this you work for 1.5 years, before you can start to specialise. The specialisation will take between four and eight years – all depending on which way is chosen.

Health Promotion
Mike has also been part of Mae Wang’s health promotion unit. Working with them he travels to isolated mountain villages, spreading the word that precautions can spare the villagers of illness and the following treatment.
”For instance they have a lot of problems with Dengue-fever. A decease that is spread my mosquitoes. The first time you get it is just a fever, but if you get several times it can cause dangerous internal bleedings,” Mike says.
”I order to prevent this decease the health promoters travel to the villages explaining, how the villagers should avoid stagnant water, as mosquitoes breed in it. Or we show them how to kill the mosquito larval with insect dust.”
“I have been on these trips a few times, and I can only add that some of the areas I have seen are incredibly beautiful,” Mike sums it up.

Speaking Thai
The Danish trainee is yet to see a direct reaction to him not being Thai, even though farlang (foreigners) are a rare sight at the hospital.
“They stare a lot… It can be a slight bit irritating, but I have gotten used to it. New patients come in every day, and they of course haven’t seen me before,” he smiles and adds:
“And the nurses are quick to explain, who I am and why I am here”.
Before Mike left Bangkok he took an intensive Thai course totalling 30 hours – time well spent before he moved to Mae Wang.
“Some of the staff does not speak English and most patients certainly don’t. Thus it is a great help that I am able to ask where the source of pain is; where it itches and so on,” he says.
Even though Mike speaks enough Thai to communicate with the nurses in their own language, he tries to keep the conversation in English, as this benefits the hospital.
“One of their goals is that I help the staff get better at English,” he finishes.

Facts about Mae Wang Hospital:
Employs 4 doctors, and the head of the hospital is surgeon.
Employs 50 nurses and around 100 non-medical staff.
It has beds for 30 patients.
The hospital has 100-200 patients a day, most come in the morning.

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