There are many unsung heroes who work on the front lines of caring for TB patients around the world, and Dr. Choe at the remote Tosan TB Rest Home in DPRK is no exception.
An effective director has to be skilled in many things. He must recruit and retain staff members to help a revolving door of very sick people who have a highly contagious, deadly disease. Patients come from different backgrounds and sectors of society, strangers thrown together by a common disease, and he, together with his staff, must manage them, motivate them, and care for them for months on end with compassion and kindness. The medicines often have uncomfortable side-effects, and he must encourage patients to finish treatment, and endure long separation from loved ones. He must also comfort his staff and the other patients when one among them succumbs to the ravages of TB, as they sometimes do.
He must make sure his care center can house and feed them. In order to do this, he must construct or repair buildings, starting with digging sand and gravel from the riverbanks, sifting it and mixing it with concrete, forming it into bricks, and then building those bricks into a building. If he needs other building materials such as wood, windows and doors, tile or other things, he must convince local officials to help supply those things to him, or allow him to reach out to a group like us for help. He must use the land allocated to him to grow crops – usually corn, soybeans, and vegetables in the summer, and greens like spinach, lettuce, onions and crown daisy through greenhouse production in the winter. This particular director, through his effort and stewardship, produces 1-2 tons of fresh produce every year for his patients – supplying 70% of their fresh produce needs.
He must make sure his facility has water – if they don’t have a protected well, then that means sending staff at least two times a day to collect water from the nearest source, which for him was 2,000m (1.25 miles) away. This was a real challenge for this place and took up a lot of time and resources until we were able to arrange for a deepwater well to be drilled there in 2015. After drilling the well, the director said that it saved them 60% of their workload because they no longer had to collect the water, or so much fuel for boiling the water to make it safe to drink. As winter approaches, he must make sure that they have coal or wood for burning in the winter months to support cooking, and also for warmth.
Each facility has unique challenges. In the case of Tosan, they lack for any electrical power at all – the nearest source of electricity is more than 1km away. If they could connect to it, it would supply a few hours of power every day. However, he lacks the transformer and wire for the connection, so for now he must manage care for his patients without any power for lighting, running equipment, or anything else.
It is truly a privilege to come alongside so many sincere, hardworking people like Dr. Choe, who brighten the lives of TB patients, bringing hope, healing and a future to many whose names we will never know.
Contributed by: Heidi Linton