Adopting Burma


Originally published in The Ferdinand News, Section A
By Lisa W. Hoppenjans

Otolaryngologist Dr. Richard Moss' love affair with Asia began when he read the novel Shogun as a student. A three-month rotation in Japan during medical school only served to further whet his appetite for an understanding of Eastern culture.

In 1987, he left the United States to work in Asia. Moss spent three years living and volunteering in Thailand, Nepal, India and Bangladesh.

He developed a deep admiration and respect for Asian culture and a profound love for the people. He met and married his wife, Supit "Ying" Moss, R.N., in 1989.

After three years, he ran out of money and returned to the United States. A graduate of Indiana University School of Medicine, he decided to settle in Southern Indiana.

He now practices in Jasper. But, a part of his heart still resides in Asia.

Moss recently returned from a three-week working vacation in Southeast Asia.

"I would have liked to have spent six months," he sighs. He visited Thailand and Cambodia, then spent a week volunteering and teaching in a Burma (now called Myanmar) hospital.

Although he had traveled extensively in Southeast Asia, this was Moss' first visit to Burma.

In 1990, a friend invited him to visit Burma and share his knowledge with local doctors.

"It would have been ideal, then," Moss says. "We didn't have children - not as many family obligations."

But, 1990 was during the height of Burma's move toward democracy, Moss notes. Political unrest led. to a crackdown, recently, limiting foreign visitors.

The two physician friends maintained a relationship via the internet. In 2004, the invitation was renewed.

His first impression of the country was, "Beautiful beyond belief."

A visit to the ancient city of Bagan is burned into his memory.

"It was a mystical city. Otherworldly," he relates. "Astounding - virtually as it was 1,000 years ago."

He displays a photograph showing the roofs of dozens of pagodas peeking through the verdant jungle.

"Those are relic pagodas," he explains. "Each of them supposedly enshrines a part of Buddha's body - a bone fragment, a piece of a tooth."

Many of the relic pagodas are gilded, Moss says, and many of the images of Buddha are fashioned of pure gold.

Buddhism is the country's primary religion, a religion Moss finds fascinating.

"It's a lovely practice, with an important message," he says. "It encourages people to get along."

Moss worked, lectured and performed surgery on selected patients for a week during his stay.

"Surgery in third world countries is risky," Moss relates. "You don't know the level of their equipment - even if the scissors will be sharp. You can never get angry-it would hurt their feelings.

"So, you endure silently, operating at 50 percent power. And slow down."

Admiration of fellow surgeons in Eastern hospitals is won when a Western doctor struggles with inferior equipment without complaint, Moss declares.

"They're wonderful to work with. They maintain a level of discipline and respect. Those are nice things to have."

He developed close relation-ships with many of the Burmese doctors.

One week, he found, was not enough time to impart the newest medical discoveries and techniques. Let alone, teach without suitable equipment.

Although Moss worked in a premier hospital during his stay, he found it "Utilitarian. There were no amenities."

Barracks-style wards hold an average of 15 beds. Although relatively clean, mattresses are. thin. There is no sheeting or bedding. Equipment is scarce. "There may be one MRI in the nation."

Basic health care is provided free of charge, although there is only minimal surgery provided. CT scans (more accessible than MRIs) cost $35, which translates from 6 month's to one year's salary for most people.

The government provides doctors with a car, a place to live and $15 per month. Most maintain private clinics in the evenings to earn enough money to live.

"All the things we (in America) assume we have aright to - dialysis, heart bypass-are not available to most of the people. For example, in-stead of a knee replacement, most people will be given a pair of crutches."

There are only 50 or 60 ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctors in all of Burma, Moss says, which, in a country of 65 mil-lion souls, means one ENT doctor for every million or so patients. In the United States, the ratio is approximately one ENT specialist per 15,000-25,000 patients.

"In America, we have no idea how wasteful we are," Moss asserts. "Our indiscriminate discards are treasure to them, even such basic things as suture, gowns and gloves."

That revelation led Moss to approach the powers that be at Memorial Hospital with a request.

"We set up a big box. Any medical supplies which are still perfectly serviceable, but don't quite measure up to U.S. standards, are placed in the box."

When the box is full, Moss will ship it to his colleague in Burma.

"In effect, Memorial Hospital is adopting Burma," lie grins.

He still hopes for some high ticket items, such as equipment the hospital is discarding be-cause "We're getting better stuff," he explains.

He will happily volunteer to hand-deliver items that cannot be shipped, he says, lifting an eyebrow.

Moss' abiding love, admiration and respect for Asia prompts him to continue his efforts to help those he has come to know while living and working there.

"But, no one should be so egotistical to think that they make that much of a difference," he says. "I-low much can one individual affect a nation? There's only so much you can do. In the end, they have to help them-selves. The nation must lift it-self up - beginning with education."

And, many Asian countries have done just that, Moss believes.

"The basketcases of the world aren't in Asia," he asserts. "The nations with so much anger and hatred are the ones that are busy blaming everyone but themselves.

"Embracing democratic, capitalistic principles unleashes the power of individuals. Eastern culture is ancient. There is a profound cultural depth. When many Asian countries recognized the system in the West, they embraced it and adapted it to their own culture. They promote a 'free exchange of ideas, while maintaining their traditions. Democratic capital-ism understands human nature."

Dr. Moss, his wife and four children live in Jasper. He has a lucrative practice as an ear, nose and throat specialist. He occasionally teaches Yoga classes and is a free-lance writer.

Still, his volunteer work re-mains a large part of his life. "It's something higher than the usual efforts and ambitions," he says. "Some part of your life must have nothing to do with making money."


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