The Story of a Stethoscope
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Wednesday, June 23, 2021


The Story of a Stethoscope

By AUNG NAING OO Saturday, January 22, 2011


Dr. Salai Pa Cin, a Chin doctor and pro-democracy activist, arrived at Three Pagodas Pass near the Thai border with Burma in October 1989. Like most of his fellow democracy campaigners, he left the country to continue the struggle after the failed uprising of 1988.

But as a pro-democracy activist heading to join the fight on the border, he had to be very careful. So he had destroyed everything—all his papers, including his medical license and ID card—to hide his identity so that he was not recognized at checkpoints along the way.

However, he had stubbornly kept his old stethoscope, one of the essential tools of his trade.

The doctor was lucky; he made it to border without any trouble, and the stethoscope soon came in very handy.

Not long after his arrival, he came to Manerplaw. As an educated Chin, the Chin National Front (CNF), wanted him to work for the organization. But it was the time when ABSDF leaders were thinking seriously about sending a mission to the Wa area. He met our group’s chairman, Moe Thee Zun, General Secretary Kyaw Kyaw and Secretary-1 Aung Htoo in Manerplaw at the office of the Democratic Alliance of Burma (DAB).

They told him we needed a doctor to join the mission to the Wa area, and he readily agreed to the challenge. By this time, ABSDF leaders had already persuaded Zaw Htun, a medical student from Regiment 208, to join the mission.

The doctor accepted the challenge and came with us to the Wa area as part of the medical team of our mission.

Once we arrived in San Lou Yong, Dr. Pa Cin and Zaw Htun were sent immediately to help out at the hospital with the many patients who had been wounded at the front line fighting Khun Sa’s army. They started working immediately.

The hospital had about 30 patients daily, most of whom needed minor surgery, which mostly involved, as Dr Pa Cin put it, “taking the bullets out of the wounds.” During their stay at San Lou Yong, the doctor and the medical student were able to build a small operating theater at the hospital.

Their contribution to the Wa was immense, helping them to save money, time and above all lives and sparing the wounded soldiers a few hours journey to seek medical attention in Thailand.

Previously the Wa camp had no trained doctor, just a Chinese chief administrator who doubled as the medical officer despite his lack of any real qualification. Worse still, the administrator was believed to be corrupt and was the source of displeasure, Dr. Pa Cin and Zaw Htun told us often. They felt that the wounded soldiers were not properly fed.  

Then in March—more than two months after we arrived—the fighting between the Wa and Khun Sa’s army intensified. Dr. Pa Cin and Zaw Htun were struggling to respond to the sudden upsurge in wounded fighters. 

So on March 27—Burma’s Armed Forces Day—the two decided to set up a field hospital in a location close to the front line, which in fact was about two hours away, so that the wounded could be saved in time and the medical work would be a lot easier. The Wa officers agreed.

The fighting seemed to be very intense that very night. The doctor and the medical student received 72 patients that night. They did not know how many had died at the front line.

One of the wounded was in serious condition, brought to the hospital with a gunshot wound to his thigh and bleeding profusely.

By the time he arrived at the makeshift front-line infirmary, the patient was already in shock. The medical team asked the Wa commander to take the wounded soldier to Thailand. But it was already late  at night. So all the duo could do was to provide general care and anti-shock treatment.

Unfortunately, the soldier died the next morning before he could be sent to the proper hospital in Thailand.

Zaw Tun, who was just a few months away from graduating before the uprising that drove him into exile, was dedicated to his work. When they wanted to relax from their unpaid, overworked volunteer job, Dr. Pa Cin and Zaw Tun often visited our school for a drink and a chat.

Dr. Pa Cin distinctly remembered a night when Zaw Tun stayed by the bed of a malaria patient, talking to him all night, realizing that he was going to die. A few days earlier, this patient appeared to be recovering. Then suddenly one day he got up from his bed, walked a bit and then fell over. He never regained consciousness.

Throughout their time with the Wa, those were the only two deaths.

Six months after their sojourn with the Wa began, they returned to Manerplaw, where Dr. Salai Pa Cin and Zaw Htun said goodbye to each other, not knowing if they would see each other again. Zaw Htun was going back to his mother unit and the doctor was going to work for CNF.

But after working together for six months in such difficult conditions, they had grown as close as brothers and the parting was difficult.

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Nyunt Han Wrote:
@ Dr Saw Lwin

In contrast Than Shwe is loathed by all except those crawlers who benefit from him. Very few admire this thug.

Free Man Wrote:
"Zaw Htun was simple and dedicated. He believed in the need for purity in the revolution and did not like some of the leaders with a “political agenda.” His natural response to injustice...."

I don't know who Zaw Htun is but feel devastated as I read about him. In fact, I respect him for his sipirt.

Thanks to P'doh Mahn Sha for doing what he could. It is also said that he was nearly executed for meeting with the CPB during their NDF trip up north of Burma, long before 1988 (probably in the 1970s). However, he was stripped of his position and sent to the front line as a soldier. I think P'doh Mhan Sha, given his background also, could have gone into trouble if some Karen leaders, especially the staunch anti-communist Christian Gen. Mya, knew that he had warned the two doctors about the danger.

Dr. Saw Lwin Wrote:
My salute to two true fighters for democracy for the people of Burma. I remembered Zaw Htun well as a respected and active medical student. We talked many times before and during 1988 movement. His brothers were (and still are) fighting in their own ways. May their hard work and sacrifices for the country bear fruits to their expectations in a near future. Dr. Pa Cin has been an inspiration to many of us who have a chance to know him and work with him. A determined, principled, no non-sense, humble, capable and respected leader who has a wonderful, supportive and equally active family that continues to fight for freedom and true democracy in Burma. My admiration and respect are always with them.

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