From Thighland to Thailand

February 28, 2019

Thailand 7.5

Filed under: Uncategorized — markchinmd @ 4:14 pm

Thailand 7.5

February 28, 2019-Thursday

Today was a thirteen-hour day but that’s why they call it “WORK”. The good news is that during the day, Ghan got a call from the head of the Dept. of Health and a meeting was arranged with Ghan to plead our case for customs to release the mission supplies which included medical and dental supplies, medications, optometry equipment and most important of all, the lenses, frames, and grinders. Ghan strategically brought cookies to the secretary to ensure a smooth interaction. The official wrote a letter for Ghan to take to the customs agent at the airport. Bill, Ghan, and Mark Patton met with the customs near closing time and they had to go through about 12 bins/duffels item by item and explain the need of each item. They were convincing enough to allow EVERYTHING through to Medical Team International is back in business at full force! Halleluiah, God is good! Thank you Ghan for your nice people skills and kudos to Bill and Mark for getting our equipment to the hotel.

The team drove for over an hour toward Ghan’s Pamee village, which is adjacent to Tham Luang village in Mae Sai area of northern Thailand near the border of Myanmar (kind of like Fresno/Clovis). We went to Tham Luang village church, which was recently built and I believe it is one of thirteen Akha churches in the area. The dentists got the fan-conditioned villa of course, the optometrists worked in the sanctuary, while the medical team and pharmacy were positioned on the open air veranda and worked on their tans as well. The limited budget medical team got a Little Nemo squirt bottle with a fan to help cool us off. The villagers are very hard workers and we saw a lot of musculoskeletal disorders. The dentists cleaned teeth and extracted badly decayed ones while the optometrists worked on collecting prescriptions for grinding lenses at a later time. There were a few patients that we couldn’t help such a young man with enlarged, fused, fingers (syndactyly, macrodactyly), an elderly woman who fell and fractured her femur that did not heal, and man with a facial cyst that needed surgical removal. We will see if we can treat him at the clinic when we get our instruments. It gave me a sense of disappointment for both myself and for the patient not being able to treat these patients. We offer hope but sometimes can’t deliver. I know that we can’t treat everyone and we should be satisfied that we helped many others, yet there is still an empty feeling. Thinking about tackling that congenital hand in limited facilities and resources has made the phrase “physician do not harm” restrain my temptation. The teams felt fairly productive and then took a tour up Tham Luang mountain for some cave exploration.

Tham Luang mountain’s outline against the sky resembles a woman laying on her back. Tham Luang Khun Nam Nang Non means “the great cave and water source of the sleeping lady mountain”. The cave where the Wild Boars soccer team consisting of a coach and 12 boys, were trapped in a flooded cave system for over two weeks last year. Their full story can be seen at and Gail has a book titled, “Miracle In The Cave” which describes their ordeal. Ghan helped support the rescue team by making and serving them food. Luka and Da helped with communications especially with the news media in answering questions. We followed the walking trail up to the mouth of the actual cave where the team was trapped which happened to be fenced off. All of the soccer team was eventually rescued but a former Navy Seal diver Saman Gunan died after he was bringing oxygen to the boys. A tall statue was erected in front of a memorial building, which had large murals on the walls. We continued up to another cave, Thampra Cave, and got to experience first-hand with flashlight in hand going deep into the areas of darkness, coolness, and dampness of a cave system to try to imagine the conditions that the boys had experienced. It was eerie yet exciting. Some visitors were meditating in the recesses of the cave. One of the boys rescued was an English speaking Christian who answered to the navy seal who first made contact with them. After the rescue, all but the Christian boy adopted Buddhism. He remained committed to his faith. Fortunately the survivors are doing well and I’m sure a movie will eventually be made.

We then travelled higher up the mountain to Ghan’s village. Her younger brother has a drinking water bottling factory and we got a tour of that and met Ghan’s mother riding her motorcycle. Her other younger brother has a boutique coffee café Ahpo Kafei where we stopped to have coffee and enjoy the view of Tham Luang while waiting for Mark Patton to arrive from the airport. Bill stayed behind at the hotel to prepare for the next day and his newly acquired tools. A nice Akha dinner at a restaurant finished a quite busy and rewarding day.

We will be going to Sahasak School tomorrow. It has always been one of our favorite spots. I’ll let you know how it went.


February 27, 2019

Thailand 7.4

Filed under: Uncategorized — markchinmd @ 4:24 pm

February 27, 2019, Wednesday

Happy Birthday to Lynelle, Lynette, and to my sister Sandy!

FYI: Sometimes I’ll need to post the text first and then upload photos later since the uploading takes a long time so please check again for more photos that get posted. You can double-click on the photo to enlarge the photo if you want to see more detail. Thanks for reading and we appreciated your prayers for those who we serve so that they can appreciate God’s glory and for the medical team’s safety, physical and mental health.

Last night was interesting. The lights in the hotel flickered momentarily and we looked outside wondering if there was a blackout in the city like in 2017. We looked down the hallway and it appeared that smoke was bellowing out of Bill and Gail’s room. Oh no, some thought a fire, but no fire alarm. The “smoke” was steam. Bill was using the sterilizer and overloaded the circuits and his room lost power. Bill was exasperated. So Bill said he had nothing better to do during the repair so he got out his lantern and computer and finally got around to reading my blog that he assigned me to write but hadn’t read. I’m glad to help you with your boredom Bill I knew that the pressure was mounting and Bill would eventually blow his fuse.

Today we traveled to the Chiang Rai International Christian School ( where three of the youngest children of Ghan and Luka go to school. The school’s motto is “Serve the servant” by helping support missionaries and servants to live in Thailand. The staff is comprised of these volunteer missionary teachers from around the world. There are 207 students with a 60:40 female:male ratio. The student population includes missionaries’ children and others from Buddhist families who recognize the quality of the education for their children. Most of the patients we saw today were of the volunteer staff as well as a few students who wanted wellness examinations. But these examinations allowed us to interact with some particular patients who just wanted to be heard. Their hearts may have been hurting more than their bodies’ ailments and this gave them an opportunity to speak to those who would listen. I saw a patient for a wellness exam who had no complaint but when I asked, “Anything else?” as I was getting ready to release her, she responded, “Oh, I was treated for depression.” After digging and prying her history of depression for most of her life I found that she was off her medications after trying about 6 different ones and had suicidal thoughts but responded, “I cry all the time but I would never go through with it.” I enlisted Chris Chow to talk over alternatives for treatment and advised her to go to the hospital and get back on her meds and she agreed to go seek treatment. We, as health professionals, feel we need to fix something but the fact that we spent more time listening than doing was more valuable than actually offering them medical advice. It allows us to reevaluate what is actually a success or treatment failure in our ability to use our skills. Though we think we are missing our tools at the airport to effectively treat the patient, God is using us, as individuals, as His tools to help them feel peace, comfort, and the love of God. Our measure of success and purpose is not always God’s measure and He sets the standard.

Lena was sharing that she saw a mentally challenged 23 year-old yesterday at the Akha village, that looked twelve who showed up to the clinic alone making no eye contact. She was scared clutching her arms to her chest. Lena just wanted to go up and hug her but just put two hands on her shoulders. She was thinking, “Do you know that there is a God that loves you and that you are never alone? God is always with you and loves you.” That goes for all of us.

There is a point, a lesson for me with this next story so please bear with me or just skip it if it looks too long. Okay, I warned you.

I have been reflecting way too much on skin tags. The first two patients I saw on this trip, at the Akha clinic yesterday, after traveling 36 hours and experiencing major jet-lag, giving up 3 weeks of work at home, packing my expensive delicate surgical instruments honed with German precision, carrying 30 lbs in two backpacks wherever I go, receiving vaccinations and taking medications to prevent catching a disease, and enduring a 2 hour bumpy winding road avoiding car sickness, and after setting up two containers of medical supplies, in this dusky, powerless building, this very first patient wanted his skin tags removed from his neck. Skin tags, really? As I was blinking rapidly into his eyes with my bladder reminding me I have to pee, I was thinking about how stingy I have to be with the limited number of sterilized instruments that I have to use for this clinic, let alone for the next two weeks if I can’t resterilize them. I was strategically contemplating my response of “They’re benign looking acrochordons, you know benign fibroepithelial polyps that don’t have to be removed from a medical necessity point of view. It’s a want and not a need. And actually, you can tie a hair around each one and strangulate it and they will just fall off. Here, let me show you (so I can save my instruments for more important uses)” … I thought. With a deep sigh, I said “Okay” animating my two fingers in a scissor-like fashion and the patient nodding his head enthusiastically agreeing to the procedure. I took out my $1500 2.5X loupe magnifying surgical telescopes and my $1800 headlamp that I had been protecting and reluctantly pulled out my delicate sterile instruments thinking I’m now down to three sterile scissors and forceps and removed about 10 skin tags. He sat there as I clipped them off with precise surgical precision without an anesthetic (the needle would hurt more), grimacing with each stroke of the scissors. He was overjoyed and brought his hands together with a nod in a thanking motion. Okay he’s cured. “Cut to Cure” is our motto. “Okay, next patient?” The same thing; skin tags! I was thinking “You’ve got to be kidding, I need my instruments for something more important.” What are we, SkintagsRUs? Yes, they’re unsightly, distracting and I recalled from another trip when I removed about one hundred tags from his neck and armpits from a man that was so self-conscious he wouldn’t date. So I was at least thankful there were only 10.

Now reflecting from the patients’ point of view. These have been bothering them for years with no tangible resolution, which made them self-conscious or uncomfortable rubbing and getting these nuisance tags snagged in clothing. They are not going away, in fact, they would get longer, bigger, and more noticeable with time, in addition to other tags that are starting to grow. So they may, indeed, end up with dozens of skin tags over the years. These two patients with hope in their hearts woke up early, walked miles in the dark to get here and be first in line, like a Black Friday sale, patiently waiting for the team to arrive unsure if we could help them. They would need to allow some guy who they don’t even know take a knife to his neck and he won’t move as a knife is placed a few millimeters from his carotid artery, hoping he won’t flinch. He’s going to be sweating and scared.

To him, it is as important as taking out something else that shouldn’t be there (cyst, lipoma, tumor) and I should not minimize his concern and economize my resources. This is not cosmetic surgery to them and, believe me, I know cosmetic surgery; that’s what I do for a living. In a brief moment in time, we have to develop a trusting relationship, and treat this individual with care and respect in the manner that I would want to be treated myself. I had to take a step back and remind myself why I am here and realize what’s important to them, and not me. To reiterate, it isn’t about me. Shame on me! These type of patients humble me and in the world of me, me, me, look-at-me selfies, and social media and how many likes and followers we can get, we/I need to recognize others physical and mental needs and treat everyone with respect that each of us would want. I have taught my children to RSVP their loved ones: Respect them, make them feel Special, Value them, and make them feel imPortant, a Priority. We are here to serve and respect and love one another. John 13:34 Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. The patients ultimately got what they have been so patiently waiting for but God is also using them, so that I can be more like Christ with a more loving and comforting attitude, strengthening my relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. God works in mysterious ways.

We met at night with Pastor conducting lessons from the Chapbook and Kane leading us in music. We grow closer as a team spiritually and emotionally. There are a lot of tears tonight. We continued this theme of how the team has been affected by the patients that we treat with what instruments that we have. Lynelle was sharing her frustration on how limited care she was giving with the make shift instrumentation which was below her own standard of care. We have our own personal standards, but God has His. We learn a lot about ourselves on how numbers of people treated and productivity is not the important measure of success but rather how we can just expose our audience to the wonders of God’s love so that we may ultimately glorify Him.

Admittedly it’s a little heavy duty thinking that I’ll have to sleep on it and have Lena explain it to me in the morning. After all, as I have said before: “Lena is the wise one, and I’m just the wise guy.”

Your humble servant,

Thailand 7.4

February 26, 2019

Thailand 7.3

Filed under: Uncategorized — markchinmd @ 3:01 pm

Thailand 7.3

February 26, 2019-Tuesday

Hey, shout out to Lindsey Lowe. Happy XXth birthday young lady! Ask your papa for a gas powered back-up vehicle so you don’t ever get stranded in your Tesla. {Since he missed your birthday he’s feeling a little guilty so this is a good time to ask ;)}

Also congratulations to my sister Daphne and her fiancé Dale for their engagement! Nice rock for a birthday present Daphne; you did good Dale!

We apparently missed a Kodak moment last night. Ming, Chris, and Kane were hanging out in the lobby about 9 pm and Ming decided to go to bed. A few minutes later Kane heard, who he thought was Elvis Presley in the flesh, singing, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” accompanied by the pianist. To his surprise, it was our very own Ming singing into the microphone doing his best Elvis Presley impression. It is hard to believe because I just can’t imagine Ming gazing into the pianist’s eyes singing that song since he doesn’t look anything like Yolanda. Well we might just see Ming on the next America’s Got Talent.

MTI is up at the crack of dawn. Many of us are still adjusting to the time change. Some energetic members take walks early in the morning and hit some markets for treats. One insomniac is compelled to blog in the middle of the night so he won’t take time away from his forever-patient wife during the day. John gets in a quick, 5 mile run.

Today, we traveled about 2 hours along a winding road to Ban Huai Kee Lek School in the Akha village, a village that we haven’t been to before but Luka goes there monthly. We really get a sense of serving at these outlying villages knowing that they are not privy to the country’s health care system and it would be a hardship to go down the mountain for health care. We rode in these nice vans today, thank God. Yesterday, we traveled in the back of the school bus that FCBC bought for AYDC about 5 years ago. Its showing signs of wear and the team were tossed about in the back hitting our heads on the overhead bars that we were grasping many times sitting on worn out seats cushions. Many of us have our own, ahem, anatomic seat cushions but it still hurts today. Andy is a brave sole and was clinging for dear life standing on the bumper on the back of the bus. It looked like he was even taking a nap! That’s when Andy waved to the colony amputee who then followed the bus for about a mile in this hand-powered tricycle back to the compound just to see visitors.

The Ban Huai Kee Lek school is closed and the structures are empty due to the dwindling numbers of students but we were able to use the facility as a clinic. Some of the village students go to AYDC which houses and teaches children from these many distant villages. Residents in this mountain village were ready to be seen when we got there and had to quickly set up our individual clinics. Our interpreters were invaluable for communicating with the villagers. We saw many dental, optometry, and medical patients. We are still limited on heavy duty cleaning due the lack of dental equipment but they always can do extractions of bad teeth and scaling with makeshift tools. The villagers are manual laborers, as such, the medical team saw a lot of repetitive stress injuries and low back pain and we were lucky to have a nice supply of steroid injections and anti-inflammatory drugs to treat these chronic conditions. We also seemed to have been running a skin tag removal clinic as men and women alike wanted them removed. The optometrists are examining patients with a single retinoscope and making prescriptions for lenses that we will have to grind back in Fresno and then assemble them with frames into wearable glasses. Dr. Akira Tajiri, an optometrist who has gone on the mission trip before, invented the current lens/frame system that we use and has donated all the equipment and lens supply as well as control of his non-profit organization, Precise Vision Enhancement, to FCBC so that we can continue to provide glasses for future missions. We had to go through the same process after the last mission trip in 2017 and then send the glasses back to Thailand for distribution. Luka and Ghan will be coming to the USA in April so they will able to take them back with them. So keep a look out when they arrive in April.

All in all, we felt productive at this first pit stop and things are looking up for this trip with what we have at hand. Ghan met with a health administrator to try to get the equipment released and retrieve the missing bins. No final word yet.

The villagers prepared us a nice lunch and so far no one has gotten ill. Dr. Patton scared us when a fragile plastic chair broke from under him and he fell back and hit his head. No blood or stitches needed. I personally wasn’t worried because despite his kind and gentle demeanor, Dr. Patton can be hard headed at times. I got a scare along the way up the mountain when I was videotaping the outdoors with my new action camera on a selfie-stick when it hit a tree branch and flew off at 15 mph! We stopped and one of the drivers found the Osmo Pocket in the leaves on the side of the road. Okay, I admit that it was obvious that was going to ultimately happen but better that than getting my arm chopped off!

To brighter days and brighter decisions,

February 25, 2019

Thailand 7.2

Filed under: Uncategorized — markchinmd @ 3:40 pm

Thailand 7.2

February 25, 2019-Monday,

Happy Birthday to our daughter Allison (sorry I missed it AGAIN) and to my sister Daphne! Hope you both had a great time of celebration.

Our saga continues…
We still have no word on the missing bins or those that are under the possession of the Thai customs but today is preparation day so we went to 2 pharmacies and a medical supply house to get some needed drugs and surgical supplies.
Fortunately Bill has his makeshift “steam sterilizer” that can sanitize our instruments and it’s funny that Gail mentioned that she’s missing her favorite pressure cooker. What a coincidence? We raided the guesthouse at the AYDC (Akha Youth Development Center) and to much of our surprise we found a plethora of medications and supplies in storage that we can use on this trip. The dental team also scavenged so dental equipment that has been left from previous trips so we are in better shape than we thought. God provides. Halleluiah, God is good!

Bill promises this will be our easiest trip E-VER with no monsoons expected, no riding ox carts, no leaking boats, no military junta confrontations, no sleeping on floors under mosquito nets, and minimal squatting on toilets AND we will have running filtered water and electricity. We will have to teach Ed the proper etiquette, technique, and grace while attempting the squatty potty. Ed also mentioned that it seems that all we have been doing is eating. Well Ed, we never know when our next meal will be coming and you know what happens when they stuff the pig, it soon will be slaughtered. So be prepared, we are just getting started. Speaking of pig, Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year!

Our itinerary includes visiting the AYDC, several Akha villages, two schools, Pastor Phongkaeow’s compound by the Laos border and a prison. More details to come but one of the villages that we are going to, was part of a command center when the soccer team of boys got stuck in the flooded cave for days just a short time ago.

Ghan treated us to a wonderful lunch at her home and some took a tour and looked at some of the renovations while others rummaged through the supply room. Goo long hummaday Ghan!

After lunch, we travelled to a “leper colony” to visit the residents. It’s called the Home for Leprosy and the Elderly, which was founded by Tommy Tillman in 1988. No all, but some of the residents had been inflicted with leprosy and some extremities were disfigured or amputated. The resident don’t leave the compound much and yearn for visitors offering them the human touch. There was one elderly man riding a tricycle that we passed by and Andy waved at him. He propelled his trike with a vertical stick that he moved with his arm in a forward-backward motion and followed the bus all the way to the compound. It turns out that his leg was amputated from leprosy but that didn’t seem to stop him and he lived at the compound. Earlier in the day, some of the team members went shopping to bring the residents food and everyday hygiene items as gifts. We treated them with respect with minimal photography and we weren’t there to feed our curious minds. Actually, I think taking photos with them was welcomed. You see, Andy had visited the compound 6 years ago and took selfies with many of them. Some residents passed on but those that remained who had their photos taken with Andy he recognized. He was showing them on his phone and they were smiling together and it brought tears to Andy. One lady reminded him of his grandmother. We all can use a hug and touch from time to time. This was certainly a touchable moment. We will see if we can print some photos and have them delivered to them in the near future.

We closed out the night with Kane leading songs playing his petite guitar and Pastor’s lesson with the Chap book. Though we seem to be providing services to those under served, it’s more about developing our own personal relationship with God. I think I got it but I’m still jet lagged and will have to ponder that lesson and “hold that thought” because I need to get some shuteye.

Nigh nigh,

February 24, 2019

Thailand 7.1

Filed under: Uncategorized — markchinmd @ 8:18 pm

Thailand 7.1

February 24, 2019, Sunday

Hello Friends, Family, and Fans of the FCBC medical mission team. It’s been two years since my last entry and now it is exciting to begin this mission trip to Thailand.

First of all, on behalf of the mission team, we would like to thank all of you who prayed and participated in the planning and fundraising to make this mission trip possible. Special thanks to Bill and Gail who lead this team with impeccable organizational skills each and every trip. We thank the Naomi-Ruth group for sending us off with goodie bags and for Sonja Middleton (Ellen’s daughter in-law) who owns Chic-fil-A (Riverpark) and donated wonderful boxed meals for our bus trip to LAX. We thank Kane who donated “Because He First Loved Us” T-shirts, and to those who sent us farewell in Fresno and LA.

It is Sunday, so we lost a day. How time flies, literally. 😉 We embarked from FCBC from about noon Friday with a busload of team members and our luggage/bins of supplies and met up with the SoCal contingent at LAX. The 2019 Mission Team International (MTI) is comprised of members from a variety of churches but who all have ties to FCBC. They are Pastor Danny Jack, Ming Chong, Bill Ho, Gail Ho, Lester Lowe, Larry Lowe, Lynelle Winn, Lynette Yuen, Andy Alejo, Diana Lee, Lisa Shimada, John Shimada, Mark Patton, Jack Patton, Kane Kuo, Ellen Middleton, David Chow, Chris Chow, Ed Eng, Lena Chin, Mark Chin, MD.

It took over 36 hours, door-to-door, to go from Fresno–LAX-Taipei, Taiwan–Bangkok–Chiang Rai arriving 6 pm Sunday local time at Wang Come Hotel crossing so many time zones that were all zoned out and we all are sweaty, stinky, tired, sleepy, and hungry. AND we hit another snag at the Chiang Rai Airport. We have two supply bins MISSING and we spent two hours in customs trying to get about 10 bins/luggage released. They’re confiscating drugs, needles, scalpels, fluids, anesthetic agents for medical and dental, and optometry equipment. Déjà vu! Here we go again! The last trip customs kept a lot of dental and medical equipment at Chiang Mai airport and so the dental team resorted to painting buildings instead. I guess it’s the medical team’s turn to add a second or third coat of paint to those buildings. Please pray for customs to release our supplies, since it has now gotten very tight under military rule, and pray that we don’t have to bail out our fearless leader, Bill Ho.

This is Ed Eng’s first mission trip. Ed you don’t even know what you’ve signed up for! You should have read my previous blogs with warnings of monsoon flooding, flesh-eating mosquitoes (they like Chinese food), dysentery, and gun-wielding soldiers. You notice that there is no one is wearing his or her MAGA cap around here. It’s really not that rosy brochure Bill gave you when he was recruiting you, of tourists sipping mai tais on the beach with bikini-clad natives fanning you with banana leaves in the hot sun. Oh it’s hot all right (over 90 degrees today) and we have already found out that it’s humid as well. We are all too tired and will forgo the usual rookie hazing, besides, your a nice guy and has a good sense of humor and were going to need your laughter. Marlene, we will keep an eye out for your man but when he goes out for those famous Thai massages, he’ll have to find out what they mean by “happy ending” himself.

Well, all was not bad. Our demeanor changed when we saw old friends Ghan, Luka, Goo Gai, Plah and Gi and they with their children who we have watched grow up over the years since 2006! They are growing up so fast and have a bright future ahead of them. After all the airport and airplane food, we were treated to a wonderful seven-course Thai meal including mango sticky rice, my favorite! Luka, Goo Gai, and Gi sang some songs as well as Mit and Wan singing some contemporary music. We all sang “Happy Birthday” to Bill, Ellen, Lynette, Lynelle, and Jack and ate some cake. Our anguish turned to joy and excitement and we enthusiastically look forward to what God has planned for our mission trips this year. Our obstacles may just be detours on how God wants us to trust him and follow Him.

It’s interesting. While I was watching the movie, Crazy Rich Asians, on the plane I was reflecting on how different cultures and people live and what a contrast in lives that those decadent people in the movie portrayed and how that compares to the people that God has asked us to serve here in the villages of Thailand. What does “rich” mean to you…wealth, possessions, or God’s love?

In the early scenes the Matriach, Elenor Young of this “crazy rich family” is ironically leading a bible study reciting a passage from Colossians 3:1:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.”

Lena purposely left her iphone at home. Some of us would feel naked without it and without contact to the web. She said, “My gosh! I want to feel the Holy Spirit and to feel God’s love and not be distracted with phone calls, emails, or social media and focus on God.” Quiet time, what an interesting concept? May we all take a moment and silence our cell phones and focus on how rich you want to be.

Good night,

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