Take Can Tho multiply it by 10 add a children’s ward and you get the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital. It is a sprawling complex of wards, radiation rooms, chemo units and surgical suites. With 1,100 beds, their inpatient population ranges between 2,000 – 2,500 patients. I don’t know how many outpatients they treat on a daily basis, but it is simply overwhelming. Here the word patient takes on a whole new meaning. People wait to see a doctor, they wait to have treatment, they wait to use the bathroom. It’s probably best to just show you than to try to tell you.
All 4 cancer hospitals in Vietnam are also teaching hospitals and our visit to the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital coincided with the Annual Vietnam Meeting on Cancer Control. We were invited to attend the welcome dinner and all of the seminars and presentations that were scheduled over 3 days at the hospital. We also could go anywhere we wanted to in the hospital itself. Unfortunately because of the seminar, the staff was more overwhelmed than usual, so it was difficult to get anyone to spend time with us acting as an interpreter. We were really fortunate that a lovely man Hoi came up to us and introduced himself in English. His father was a patient at the hospital and he brought us to meet him.
His father Phu had worked for the US Army during the Vietnam War. He is now suffering from bone cancer. Hoi and his mother stay in the hospital with him to care for him while he receives chemotherapy treatments. His parents share the hospital bed and Hoi sleeps on the floor underneath them. They live 450k away from HCMC in Nha Trang. Hoi, his sister and his brother pay for his father’s transportation, hospital fees, food, and medicine and Hoi must take time off work for 2 weeks at a time to help his parents while they are in HCMC. Hoi then introduced us to his father’s room mates and guided us around the hospital to other wards and interpreted for us. In Nha Trang, his home town, he is a tour guide and is fluent in French, English and Vietnamese. He is a very educated man, but in Vietnam, awareness about cancer is sorely lacking and Hoi was concerned that being by so close to so many people with cancer that he might actually catch cancer. We assured him that was not the case. We have communicated via email and his father was doing very well the last I heard. I hope he still is.
Here are some photos that document what conditions are like in the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital. I think they pretty much speak for themselves. I just want to say that everyone there treated us with great kindness, they were open and warm and generous to us. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be a patient in these incredibly overcrowded conditions.