Report on the 2013 Mission to Ömnödelger August-September 2013

Medical Clinic Ömnödelger, Donations to Tugsbayasglant Nunnery, and Bat Sumber Aged Care Centre

By Anthony Brown and Candace Cole, Clinic Practitioners

We arrived in Ulaan Baatar (UB), the Mongolian capital, on August 5th. During the first few days in the city we completed our preparation and provisioning for the medical clinic in Ömnödelger, and began our medical treatments of friends and family of our host as well as members of the local community. Working two hours in the morning and then another two hours every evening, our little “clinic” was soon busy.

Kitchen utensils, rice cookers, a hot water boiler and an air conditioner worth $4,000 donated to Tugsbayasgalant nunnery in Ulaan Baatar
Kitchen utensils, rice cookers, a hot water boiler and an air conditioner worth $4,000 donated to Tugsbayasgalant nunnery in Ulaan Baatar

Soon after arriving we accompanied Rinpoche and our host Bold to the Tugsbayasglant Nunnery, downtown UB, where Gaden Relief Projects donated $4000 worth of kitchen and cooking equipment as well as a number of air conditioners. It was a beautiful day with blessings by Rinpoche and the nuns and of course expressions of great appreciation.

The next day we took a break from our preparations and drove out into the country to witness a remarkable event. The word had gone out right across Mongolia that they were attempting to set a world record for the number of horses and riders in the one place at the one time. What eventuated were 11,500 riders and their mounts, all in traditional costume forming a four kilometre long procession easily eclipsing the former record. It was a great spectacle, not easily be captured on film although we do have some good pictures of the many great characters, their traditional dress, beautiful horses and unique saddlery.

After three days in UB we headed down to the Central Gobi Desert where we spent five days staying in a traditional ger (yurt) attending Buddhist teachings and again treating those who presented with any problems. No treatment tables here just a thin blanket on the floor and doing the best we could with limited translations. The vast expanses and this remarkable monastery that just rises up out of the miles and miles of desert is a sight to behold. The ger that houses the teachings, remarkably, can hold more than 200 people!

From there we headed back to UB for a night before the three or four hour drive out to our mission in Ömnödelger (also sometimes spelled ‘Umnudelger’). After inspecting the rooms they had put aside for us we respectfully opted for the only hotel in town which boasted a toilet and a sink where we could have a wash.

The next morning we received a warm welcome from the governor or mayor who introduced us to the head of the small local hospital. She informed us that they had put aside a treatment room for us and that everyone in the area knew of our plans. That afternoon we got straight to work.

Assessment and treatments moved along at a sometimes frantic pace with numbers increasing each day. The local Mongolian nomadic and semi nomadic people are tough, stoic and proud and were open to whatever treatments we might suggest. For the vast majority this was their first experience of acupuncture and we were not surprised to see some strong reactions. By the third treatment, almost without fail, they would be reporting a marked improvement. Of course there were some that could only come for a single treatment but most had two or three treatments, and some patients received four or five treatments in the short time we were there.

This small hospital offers minimal emergency care and seems to provide a kind of triage for medical problems. The staff doctors at the hospital can identify problems that require laboratory, radiological or specialist assessment. The closest location for any of these services, however, is in the nearest city which is several hours away by car.

Doctor Candace Cole examines an elderly woman at Ömnödelger
Doctor Candace Cole examines an elderly woman at Ömnödelger

Medical assessment and treatment depend on the patient’s ability to pay. Since very few of these poorer nomadic people or those who live in the small town can afford this, their problems often progress without further assessment or intervention.

The herdsmen and women lead a tough life working in harsh conditions with winters dropping to 40 degrees below zero and no chance to leave a herd or flock unattended. Whilst some of the semi nomadic people also have a small dwelling in town for winter use, the whole family live in a ger out in the valley throughout the warmer months and the men stayed in the ger with the animals close by all winter! Children learn to ride a horse from as young as four years old and there are many injuries, some serious, from horse falls.

Add to that the common diet in Mongolia and we were not surprised to see, apart from all the physical injuries, arthritis and rheumatism, an abundance of digestive issues, inflamed gall bladders and gall stones, diabetes and high blood pressure to name just a few. All patients received acupuncture while western medical treatments for acute and severe problems such as stomach ulcers, skin rashes, and injuries were provided as needed.

The diet that we observed and often ate ourselves was based around sheep or goat boiled in water with potatoes and salt as the main course. Then in the very oily water that was left, more finely chopped meat was added, more salt and then handfuls of white flour to form a heavy, thick and oily soup. There was always bread and of course plenty of homemade cheese and fresh milk, butter and a wonderful yoghurt all straight from their own animals. The main beverage was “tea” Mongolian style: half a pot of water brought to the boil to which is added a little black tea. Then the rest of the pot is filled with fresh milk and a healthy dose of salt! An acquired taste to be sure. Yet another interesting taste sensation was aira, a traditional Mongolian drink made from fermented mare’s milk.

Unfortunately for us westerners, vegetables were few and far between and trying to keep our own digestion in order quickly became a priority. When we did politely beg for vegetables one or two boiled carrots would often be what materialized. Luckily the hospital cooked us lunch each day whilst we were in Ömnödelger and agreed to our requests for boiled rice and steamed vegetables only. We then cooked our meals at night in the Russian-style truck which also served as the transport for all of our supplies and equipment, as well providing accommodation for our translator and assistant in the clinic.

Whilst in Ömnödelger we also managed to squeeze in a short trip to the remote and beautiful Palden Bereveen temple with its brilliantly coloured and ornate interior. Among those we treated there was an old monk (83 years); Anthony found his pulse to the best of any he had assessed since arriving in Mongolia! A testament to a simple life.

Soon after returning to UB and our morning and evening treatments, we again accompanied Rinpoche and Bold along with two monks and another benefactor to the Bat Sumber retirement and aged care facility two hours from the capital. Here Rinpoche and the monks performed a blessing before every resident received a gift as well as new blankets and socks. Unlike here in the West, the concept of aged care is quite new and rare since the custom dictates that the children, family and extended family look after the elderly. In fact for UB, a city of around one million people, and for the whole of Mongolia, this is the ONLY such facility.

In summary, the mission was a great success, with well over 300 assessments and treatments given.

There was significant benefit to the patients, whose treatment would otherwise have been much delayed or nonexistent. The choice of this small town of Ömnödelger was appropriate in that it offered access to both the local town’s residents and the nomadic people. The hospital facility provided a warm treatment room with electricity, treatment tables, lunch and whatever assistance they were able to manage. Due to the limited nature of care available in the hospital our services were very much needed and appreciated. The town’s governor and hospital doctors were not only welcoming but also became our first and very grateful patients. An open invitation to return was extended to us by all.