Spanning more than 40 years apart, two important missions have left Dr. Steven Adelman continuing to fight for the progression of the Vietnamese people.
During the early 1970s, Adelman helped evacuate American soldiers and guarded established military perimeters as part of the U.S. Army's 525th Military Intelligence Group during the Vietnam War.
On a three-week medical assistance trip in April, the licensed psychologist with a practice in Versailles returned to Vietnam with his family and medical colleagues. He aided in medical training for Can Tho University's educators and students, learned about the medical care system within in the country and at the Can Tho Hospital, and discovered what was needed for advancement of its community health services.
For Adelman, these two missions painted vastly different pictures of the same country. However, the Vietnam veteran's most recent visit gave him encouragement of the country's societal development. It also gave Adelman ambition to push forward the country's medical needs as he currently communicates weekly with Vietnamese psychiatric professionals in developing a community mental health program.
Planning a return visit within the year, Adelman is inspired by the Vietnamese people he has befriended during both missions. He found "good memories" were made and will be made in the future.
"As result, I have had good memories of the Vietnamese, unlike some of my friends who were traumatized and do not have those good memories (from the Vietnam War)," Adelman said. "The overall wonderful motivation that the medical students had were like sponges, absorbing everything we said. It was wonderful to see how motivated those students were and their willingness to learn. It gives you hope for the future."
A tale of two missions
A Los-Angeles native, Adelman joined the U.S. Army in 1965, serving with the 525th Military Intelligence Group in Vietnam for more than a year.
"We were part of the people that were evacuating Vietnam as the soldiers and government pulled out," he said. "In Vietnam, I ran a courier service for the intelligence company, and we flew all over Vietnam in helicopters."
Adelman said during their missions in Vietnam they were shot at, bombed and other such attacks. However, they all survived. At night, he also pulled reaction Force missions where he and fellow military personnel manned perimeters at night. His Army group also worked with the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam). One of the soldiers was Adelman's counterpart, became good friends, and spendt time together on weekends with the Vietnamese soldier's family.
Adelman stayed in the U.S. Army until 1988, however while he was still a soldier he received his undergraduate degree in social psychology. In the late 1970s, he received his master's degree from Webster University, and after retiring from the Army, went back to get his doctorate of psychology from Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, which landed him in Missouri.
Since 1998, Adelman has worked with eight nursing homes in the Lake Area region and is currently the juvenile court psychologist for the 26th Judicial District Circuit Court. He worked for Royal Oaks Hospital and decided to open up his own mental health clinic, Adelman & Associates, in Versailles in 2005.
In addition, Adelman has taught psychology courses for 10 years at Columbia College-Lake of the Ozarks campus. He finds the students very motivated, much like those he worked with on his medical assistance trip in Vietnam.
"When they go on to do their master's work, I utilize them as interns at the clinic. If they do an internship with me, they see some of the clinic's patients, which also provides a community service," Adelman said. "There are so many people that don't have health insurance, so it helps them and gives the students great experience."
Adelman's son, Sean, followed in his parents' medical profession pursuits and is currently working as an orthopedic surgeon at a hospital in Seattle, Wash. Sean's friend, an anesthesiologist, has traveled to Vietnam on medical assistance trips at the Can Tho University and Can Tho Hospital for the last four or five years.
"He has a great love for the Vietnamese people; and he does this on his own, supporting it financially on his own, as well. He gets groups of doctors and other professionals together to go over and go on these assistance visits, doing it every six months," he said. "Because he knew my son, Sean asked if we wanted to go to Vietnam. We decided to go."
Moving forward in medical advancement
During the April trip, Adelman traveled with Bob Battes, a general practitioner, a general surgeon Larissa Coleman, his wife and ER nurse Terri, and his daughter-in-law and physical therapist Sue Adelman. Included in the group were also Natalie Lamberjack and Adelman's three grandchildren, who all helped teach English to the students and others at the Can Tho University.
Adelman said the initial reactions to Vietnam's medical programs were quite outstanding. He said the Vietnamese people only go to a physician when they absolutely have to, first trying to utilize family and friends for advice and home remedies. If they do go to a doctor, it is a specialist to assist with a particular problem. He added that medications in Vietnam are approximately 50 years behind the western world, with little coordination of care or a system to make sure the patient is seeing the right specialist.
At the Can Tho University, Adelman said its structure is to train physicians, nursing, dental and pharmacy students, who all start off in the same courses. Adelman and Battes gave lectures and taught the teachers about new medications, different therapies regarding mental illness and also gave lectures to about 320 medical students on mental health issues. In between these activities, they also visited mental health facilities and worked with patients.
During the community visits, Adelman befriended Dr. Thong Nguyen Van and Dr. Nguyen Dat, psychiatric professionals who he is currently working with to help further community mental health programs in the country.
"I am working with them on a research project with (Battes) to help them get a community mental health program going in Vietnam. They are 40-50 years behind us in mental health. They are using medications we haven't used in 20-30 years. They don't have access to the newer medications and the cheaper generic medications. They are paying for brand name meds, where if they could get the generics it would save them so much money," he said. "They also have never recognized what PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is. They are realizing that a lot of their veterans from the Vietnam War have suffered from this and never sought out treatment because they were ashamed. Now they are coming out, and they don't know how to deal with it."
Adelman said the medical assistance group's findings also included seeing better treatment for geriatric medication and hospice care and beginning development of the Center of Mental Disabilities (Down's Center).
A veteran's view of Vietnam
As Adelman helped instruct the Vietnamese with medical training and development of their programs, he also learned a lot about the country's own progression since the war and its people.
He said it was customary for visitors to take students and medical staff out to a seven-course dinner, which costs about $300 for a group of 70-plus individuals. One of his favorite moments of the trip was talking with the medical students, many of whom came from poor families and had never met a foreigner.
"They never talked to someone like me before and were so scared and nervous when they approached me because they didn't know how I was going to react. When I put my arm around them and talked with them, they realized it was OK and were so warm and friendly," he said. "It was a wonderful feeling to share with those people."
After he, his colleagues and family spent 10 days at the Can Tho University and Can Tho General Hospital, Adelman and his family took a short vacation touring the country to see the sites. They were able to snorkel and see a variety of fish, visit some of the fishing communities in Vietnam, see some of the tourist-driven, beautiful resorts in the area that had developed, and return to the demilitarized zone where the Vietnam War took place.
Adelman said they passed the site of a fire base with only an old tank and memorial left. They also met three young American soldiers near the memorial doing research on cave warfare, and one of the soldier's fathers fought in Vietnam in 1969 in the same unit as Adelman did five years later in Vietnam. They also visited a memorial to the North Vietnam people and a small museum that depicted the view of the north Vietnamese during the Vietnam War.
In addition, Adelman said it was interesting to see how dirt roads during the war now are four-lane paved highways, and the Ho Chin Min Trail become a paved road that terminates at a river way with caves visitors can enter.
"The country is so sophisticated now and the people are doing better. It is unbelievable the transformation of the country in a 40-year period. You see a lot of veterans who have gone back to visit, which I believe is so good for them. A lot of the veterans think about the jungles and it has changed, so much," he said.
Adelman's wife said when they visited the museum that depicted the view of the North Vietnam people during the war, one of their guides said, "The Vietnamese are moving past the war as they have countless times." For Adelman, he hopes his colleagues' work both in America and in Vietnam will help the Vietnamese people progress even more onto what they have already built in their country.
Highlights from Adelman's medical assistance trip in Vietnam
Below are some even highlights Dr. Steve Adelman shared about both his medical assistance trip in April to Vietnam, as well as some site he and his family saw while they were there.
• ER clinic - The clinic had six beds, no privacy, no walls or curtains between beds. The physicians tend to speak with the male family member instead of directly with the patient. Supplies in the clinic ER were minimal, and the ambulance was simply a van with seats along each side for patients and a large red cross on the side of the van.
• Nursing - There is no state or province registry for nursing. They complete clinicals and are ready to work as a nurse. Nursing is a four-year degree; physicians pharmacists and dentists are six-year degrees.
• University scholarships - The Can Tho University has scholarships available for the very bright students. At the end of their schooling students take a very difficult, detailed test to determine if they might be eligible for further schooling. Several of the students received scholarships, always based on their grades.
• Center for Mental Disabilities (Down's Center) - There are also children with Cerebral Palsy and mental disabilities. These children are well taken care of and in many cases taught living skills. Members of the medical assistance group worked with high functioning kids that could follow directions, participate as a group, and communicate, although some of them were very shy. Mental issues are considered an embarrassment to the family. One mother asked if Down's was contagious and how it could be avoided. The realization that these children have the same emotional and physical needs as any other child is difficult for them.
• Can Tho General Hospital - This 1,000-bed hospital had five to six bed wards with no privacy. The beds are approximately two feet apart, and no curtains separated patients. Families waiting for patients sit in chairs in the hallway or on the floor. Patient confidentiality is non-existent in the general setting; however the group were not allowed to enter clinics without special permission.
• Vietnam religion - Through the Adelman family's guide, Bi, they were taught a great deal about the Hindu religion. Also Buddhism is not a religion but a philosophy.
• Cau Da Harbor - The Adelman family took a boat from this harbor to a fishing village on a small island. There is no fresh water on the island, the residents have to have water brought to them by boat. It is a simple life, where fishing is how they make their living, according to Adelman.
• Tri Nguyen Aquarium - In the shape of Davy Jones' Ship from the movie, "Pirates of the Caribbean," this aquarium featured the lifestyle of the local fishermen including how they make many of their boats by hand. The boats, made from woven bamboo, last about three years and are used daily to fish. After leaving the aquarium, the Adelman family found a small cove while back on the boat where they also snorkeled, seeing many varieties of fish.
• Vietnam historical sites - Aside from visiting the demilitarized zone from the Vietnam War, the Adelman family also visited the tomb of Ming Mang, who was the emperor in the 19th century in Vietnam. They learned the emperor had 500 concubines and 142 children. He was loved by his people, and created a dike system in the delta to irrigate the region. They also visited a Buddhist Temple, which was one of more than 100 Buddhist temples in the former Vietnam capitol, Hue.