Physician takes his medical expertise on the road to Asia


By Lynda Borden, Jewish News Staff Writer
Originally published in MW Jewish News

If Dr. Richard Moss could have written a book about his travels, he might have called it An and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

But he didn't have to. The 36-year-old cancer specialist experienced it while traveling across Asia for three years on a motorcycle, armed with a knapsack and a doctor's black bag.

Moss is an ear and throat doctor who specializes in head and neck cancer. During his stay away from his native New York City, he treated cancer patients, often performing surgery for hours at a time in primitive operating room conditions.

"Call it wanderlust - I wanted to go," explains the former Morristown resident. "When I was 19, I read Shogun. That was years ago. I developed an interest in Asian culture. I wanted to go there and spend some time."

After reading the book, Moss traveled to Kyoto, Japan. He loved the culture and the people. After graduating from the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary in New York City and completing a fellowship in plastic surgery at the University of California at San Francisco, Moss was at the crossroads. He had to decide what to do with his life, he says.

One evening, after finishing his main course in a Chinese restaurant, Moss cracked open a fortune cookie and found a note: "Don't forsake your dreams for material security"

So Moss began to send out his resume to various teaching hospitals across Asia.

Soon after, the young doctor packed his bags and flew to Chiang Mai in Thailand, a bustling city of 150,000 Buddhist residents. He went to Chiang Mai University's teaching hospital and began working with the hospital's department of ear, nose and throat (ENT).

He also visited Nepal, India and Bangladesh, working as an ear and throat doctor in major centers.

"What impressed me the most about the people I saw was the advanced state of cancer that I saw. A lot of young men, from 25 and up, had cancer of the oral cavity and throat. I saw a lot of large, raw tumors," said Moss.

What accounted for the disproportionately large number of cancer victims?

According to Moss, the natives chew the seed of the beetlenut plant, which they roll in a leaf with lime and a variety of syrups, flavors and spices. He believes the lime acts as an irritant, although he says it has not been clinically proven. Moss notes that they also smoke a lot -of unfiltered cigarettes. And there were the cultural factors that contributed to the rate of cancer, like illiteracy and dependence on the supernatural.

"They use a lot of traditional home remedies," says Moss. "They invest in amulets."

Moss notes that although he visited areas in which Jews and Americans are rare, he never experienced any animosity because of either his religion or his nationality. In fact, Moss reports, the natives were impressed that he was American and were not concerned about his faith.

"Even in Bangladesh, which is a Moslem country, it wasn't a big issue that I was Jewish," he comments.

Bangladesh was the most interesting of the countries he visited, says Moss.

"There was an unbelievable amount of disease," he says. "The extent of disease made it exciting and challenging."

Moss treated patients who had "tumors as large as melons," he says.

"It's something you never see in the States," he comments. "They're all malnourished. There are no nurses. It's not sterile. The equipment is insufficient, to say the least."

The doctor performed most of the surgery without monitoring for anesthesia. There were no EKGs. Most of the monitoring of patients under the knife -was done by periodically checking their blood pressure.

Wherever he went, Moss contributed articles about cancer to the local newspapers as he amassed his surgical experience.

Despite dedicating so much time to the well being of others, Moss enjoyed his trip and saw much of the countryside.

He recalls being told about an American monk in Indonesia. The young doctor rode his bike through swamps and down winding dirt the trail, he met Uttamo, a monk who had achieved notoriety in the region for his wisdom.

He was a physicist from New York City who had left the U.S. in 1959 and never looked back. And he was Jewish.

Moss spent two weeks with him, learning. the ways of the Buddhists.

"You have to remove yourself from the material world," Moss says. "You dedicate yourself to looking into your mind."

Now settled back into his life in the U.S., Moss will soon be working at the State University of New York in Brooklyn, specifically at the Long Island College Hospital and SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn as a head and neck cancer surgery specialist.


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