THE LATE TOM DOOLEY'S LEFT-HAND MAN
Ron Wintrob, a fresh intern with expensive tastes and an itchy foot, was the first Canadian recruited by MEDICO, Dr. Tom Dooley's medical adventure in the Far East. This is the record of Wintrob's meetings, in turn, with Dooley, MEDICO, jungle disease in Laos, and guerrilla war
FOR A YOUNG DOCTOR, Ronald Wintrob has very definite ideas about what he wants from life. He looks for truffles in his pâté de foie gras, keeps his fifty-cent cigars in a carved rosewood box, carries a slender umbrella and wears monogrammed silk shirts. On three occasions in New York and Paris restaurants, after sampling the wine in his glass, he sent the bottle back. He thinks a $25,000 income as a psychiatrist would support his taste for travel and the finer trimmings of life.
Yet Wintrob recently spent nine months in the guerrilla-infested jungles ol Laos, living on water-buffalo hamburger and treating harelips, war wounds, opium addiction and “all sorts of other things 1 know nothing about."
Now' twenty-six, the son of a Toronto clothing manufacturer, Wintrob graduated from the University of Toronto medical school and spent a year as a junior intern at a hospital in Brooklyn, New York, before he was sent to Laos by Medico. Inc., the freewheeling international medical organization founded three years ago by the late Dr. Tom Dooley and Dr. Peter Comanduras. Wintrob seemed an improbable choice as an all-purpose jungle doctor. But Medico itself was improbable.
Dooley, an ex-Navy doctor from St. Louis, had practically no funds when he started his project in 1955 at a single post in Vang Vieng. Laos. But he wrote two best-selling books, made innumerable appearances in person and on television and rapidly became North America's most famous young doctor. While all this was going on. Medico’s treasury was growing until it held $1,500,000, and the one post became seventeen posts in Viet Nam, Cambodia, Malaya, Laos, Kenya, Haiti. Jordan. Afghanistan and Peru. These clinics were manned by a continuous llow of fifty to seventy-five doctors. thirty Western assistants and dozens of native doctors and nurses-in-training. In 1955 Dooley became one of the first doctors available to treat three million Laotians; in 1960 Wintrob—the first Canadian to join Medico —was one of at least a dozen Medico doctors in Laos.
Wintrob was drawn to the Far East out of curiosity. “Basically I’m an itchy-footed bastard,’’ he said when he returned to Canada. “But I had to get a job that paid something.” His negotiations with the Canadian government for a Colombo Plan post to Malaya fell into a bureaucratic pothole. Then, halfway through his internship, he heard about Medico. “All 1 knew was that Dooley w'as a great publicityseeker who had cancer and therefore became famous for saving natives,” Wintrob said, but, in February 1960, he applied anyway. So did his Brooklyn roommate, Howard Rubinoff, another intern from Toronto. Two months and several telephone calls later they got their answer: Medico had 150 applications already on file—they could forget it. But suddenly, in the middle of May, Medico offered them posts in Cambodia and Viet CONTINUED ON PAGE 62
CONTINUED ON PAGE 62
TOM DOOLEY’S LEFT-HAND MAN continued from page 21
He recognized Dooley by the wake of admirers. “Sorry,” said the MEDICO boss, “no room for you”
Nam. Rubinoff was already committed to a Swedish hospital, but Wintrob was willing. On June 10 he was hired by Dr. Peter C'omanduras, Medico secretary-general and cofounder, for a salary of $300 a month, to be deposited in a Toronto bank. All his traveling and living expenses in the Far Fast would be paid by Medico.
Ten days later Wintrob was asked up to the office to meet Dooley. He recognized him in the hall by the noisy crowd following his headlong charge to the elevators. “Dr. Dooley?” he shouted, running alongside. “I’m Dr. Wintrob, your new man for Cambodia.”
"Oh. glad to have you on the team,” boomed Dooley. "Don’t know where we’ll find room for you. but we’ll work you in. Come see me tomorrow at nine,” he added as the elevator door slammed shut.
For three days Wintrob took time off from his busy obstetrical work at the Brooklyn hospital and trailed Dooley as the medical celebrity phoned Dave Garroway and Arthur Godfrey, popped in and out of his Waldorf Towers suite to take showers and change clothes, attended a cocktail party in his own honor, and met his public — all this while dictating almost constantly to two secretaries. Finally, on the third day, Dooley took Wintrob to lunch in a nearby cafeteria. “Sorry, Wintrob, but there’s no room for you,” he said brusquely. “We have too many in the field already. 1 can't morally send a useless man out to the Far East on the American public’s money and leave him sitting on his hands, wasting time and dollars.”
Three days later Wintrob’s internship ended and he headed back to Toronto,
jobless and emotionally bruised. “I’d never been so badly treated in my life—not even in Brooklyn.” he said. He found a job assisting a general practitioner near Toronto for $700 a month, and began casting around for a hospital appointment to salvage the rest of the year.
On September 3—the day after he was offered a well-paid post as a psychiatry resident in Copenhagen—a Medico official phoned from New York. "We want you to leave for Cambodia tomorrow,” he said.
“I’ll think it over,” said Wintrob. He got his first tropical inoculations the next day; and seven ego-balming days later he phoned back to accept the job. Twenty hours later he was flying from New York to the Far East. He had time to phone a friend in London, and a cousin in Istanbul. In Beirut officials saw Israeli stamps in his passport and wouldn't let him leave the waiting room. In Karachi a bevy of tall, blond Norwegian stewardesses on holiday came aboard. Wintrob's orders were to change planes in Hong Kong for Pnom Penh, but the stewardesses were spending several days in Hong Kong. So did Wintrob.
He landed in the Cambodian capital to find 110-degree weather and no one to meet him. "Just forget about it,” a hotel official advised him. “There’s a holiday on, and you can’t get a telegram through for at least three days.” Two cognacs and one cigar later Wintrob bumped into Clint Chambers, an Oklahoma doctor from another Medico post.
“Lord, am I glad to see you!” Chambers said. "There’s an urgent wire from Tom. You’re to take the next plane for Bang-
kok — he wants to send you to Laos.” It took two days to wangle an exit visa. Meanwhile Wintrob and Chambers discovered a restaurant that served Grand F.chezeaux ’49—“the greatest wine I’ve had in my life.” vows Wintrob.
At Bangkok’s Erawan Hotel Dooley glanced up from his tape recorder and eyed the young Canadian he had fired three months earlier. "I thought the New York office told you you couldn't leave with that beard.” he said.
“If they had, I wouldn't have left.”
"Well, we’re having dinner with the prime minister tonight at six — cleanshaven.”
Wintrob skipped the dinner. But beards, he was discovering, were an obsession with his boss. The next morning Dooley snapped, “The plane for New York leaves at 8.35 tonight. Unless you get rid of that thing, be on it."
Wintrob stayed. The next day Dooley sent him out to buy two tickets for Vientiane, Laos. “Well, one of these is for me.” he said. "And the other, if you don’t shave, is for my briefcase."
Meanwhile, in his conversations with American “refugees" around the Erawan
pool. Wintrob learned that Lao natives associated beards with the bitterly resented French—a handicap to a field doctor. So he shaved. Dooley, he said, “laughed like mad" and took a roll of pictures of Wintrob.
In Vientiane Dooley tore through the streets in a jeep called The Wild Old One, a gift from Jack Paar. When he wasn't shamelessly scrounging for drugs, he was lecturing princes, prime ministers and ambassadors—Communist, neutral or American impartially. Then he and Wintrob left for Muong Sing in a four-passenger Beaver.
Jungle flying is at best a chancy business. This time the pilot lost his way. The plane skittered fifty miles into Red China and skimmed over storm-clouded 8.000foot mountains. While Wintrob clutched his stomach and reflected on how young he was to die, Dooley flipped through a novel and fell asleep.
They landed on the tiny Muong Sing airstrip an hour behind schedule. The isolated settlement of 4.000 was the peripatetic Dooley’s official post: his mother called it “his best-loved village." As the army jeep churned through mud-choked streets. Lao natives appeared beside their reed huts, hands joined over their heads, chanting their welcome: “Wise man of medicine coming from America!"
Wintrob was startled by the mixture of primitiveness and modernity in Muong Sing. The muddy streets were laid out in perfect rectangles, and among the tattered reed huts was the exquisitely carved twostory house of the town’s richest man, a Burmese trader who could cash $3,000cheques on a moment’s notice.
The three whitewashed buildings of the Medico compound were ringed by mango, banana and banyan trees. A bear, a chim-
panzee and a gibbon—gifts to Dooley from grateful patients—prowled the yard on chains. A houseboy called Professor Dumbo replanted the garden daily, after ravages from stray chickens, horses and water buffalo.
In the twenty-mat hospital patients slept in one common ward, with husbands, wives and children gathered around them. They cooked their meals over small fires in the yard. “To Westerners it looked more like a flophouse than a hospital.” Wintrop recalled.
He shared a bedroom with the rest of
the four-man medical “team”; they slept on reed mats topped by Abercrombie and Fitch mattresses. (One corner of the room was screened off for visiting females with heavy blue and silver Thai silk.) The water was carried in buckets from the pagoda-like well, and plumbing facilities consisted of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” behind the compound. But the quarters did boast one unspeakable luxury: an oil drum in the kitchen, rigged with pulleys as a hot shower.
Dooley whisked Wintrob off on a tour of the village, interrupted by numerous
offers of German beer, Lao whisky and ten “bad” ceremonies. (In this singular Lao honor the recipient is showered with chickens — one live, one cooked — rice, coconuts, eggs, bananas, pinches of salt and sugar. Strings are tied around each wrist. For luck the strings are supposed to rot until they drop off. but Wintrob cut his off after two days.)
Back at the clinic, Dooley recorded a radio broadcast while Wintrob faced his first sick call — which, since it was the weekly market day, included about sixty Chinese, Thai, Burmese, Yao, Meo and
Kha Ko tribesmen. Some bad walked a week to get there; all suffered from a complexity of diseases that Wintrob had never seen before. (Worms, dysentery, TB, trachoma and malnutrition were accepted as natural, but ninety-five percent of the patients asked for “fever medicine” for their malaria.)
Dooley flew off to Burma the next day.
Wintrob noticed the villagers decorating small C'hristmas-like bamboo trees; the Lao nurses explained they were offerings for the big celebration at the Buddhist temple. “Well, what the hell, we can make one too,” Wintrob decided. The Medico team carefully chose a tree smaller than
the mayor’s, but better decorated — with soap, money, pencils, pens, children’s clothes, toys, and pounds of costume jewelry (from the stockpile of American donations). “The Lao thought America must be a fine place to make such an offering to Buddha, and they gave me the place of honor in the temple—right in front of the high priest,” said Wintrob.
I he next day he began his shattering introduction to real jungle medicine. A Lao tribesman brought in his son, a thirteen-year-old Buddhist monk; the saffron robe covered broomstick arms and a belly bloated by malnutrition. Wintrob treated him for the usual diseases, and for acute
vitamin deficiency. He played Italian folk music on a wind-up phonograph, and bounced the wraith-like boy monk on his knees to make him smile. "After a week he had an almost complete remission, and he was laughing and happy,” said Wintrob. “Such a lovely kid!"
He was sent home with a handful of B-l vitamin pills. Four days later the father brought a cart filled with peanuts, coconuts and chickens. He dropped on his knees and tearfully tied strings to the young doctor’s wrists.
But a week later the boy was back again, his condition worse than before. "And the fact is we didn’t have a damned thing —not a vitamin pill — left to give him,” said Wintrob bitterly. (Almost the only source of medical supplies, apart from occasional government handouts, were boxes of random samples from U. S. doctors.) The little monk took four days to die. Wintrob played the Italian music for him, and on the final day performed an abdominal tap. "I knew it wouldn't work,” he said, “but it let them take him home rather than die in the hospital. There was nothing else to do. I never felt so badly about losing a case. And 1 don't think I'll ever forget the look on that kid’s face.”
The feasts: a “terrible responsibility”
On his fourth morning at Muong Sing, on the way to hear the Voice of America broadcast. Wintrob stumbled over a Kha Ko tribesman crouched patiently on the doorstep. His wife had delivered a dead baby, but the placenta hadn’t come out with it—a terrifying omen. No one w'ould go near the woman. Could Wintrob come to the village and help?
They walked fifteen miles through the jungle, only to find—as Wintrob suspected —that the remedy was a simple tug. He slept that night on the floor of a hut with “ten tuberculars, the guys smoking opium and the women chewing betel.” The next morning he commandeered a horse for the trip back to the clinic.
A day later a similar case arose in a nearby village. A I.ao army colonel — a prince, and one of the king’s “four or five hundred” half-brothers — drove Wintrob out by jeep. This time the crisis w'as genuine, but with "delicate manœuvring" the placenta was recovered. Meanwhile, such was the excitement of the forty-five spectators in the small room that no one noticed a claw-hand on the newborn infant until Wintrob pointed it out. A murmur of amazement and respect filled the room. A month later Wintrob was invited to be guest of honor at the big baby feast.
"And that was a terrible responsibility,” he said. “Everybody does as you do — unless you smoke and drink, they don’t either. When you go the party’s over.” Wintrob plunged manfully into the ceremonial “khao puhn" (noodles, peppers, coconut milk and water-buffalo meat), slapped down the acrid rice whisky, and swung into the Lao national dance. The Butterfly Around the Flower. He had several days of dysentery to show for his efforts, but his success as a guest of honor won him invitations to weddings, temple celebrations and pilgrimages.
Wintrob found the Laotians gentle, stoical, embarrassingly hospitable. “You can’t refuse a gift, so you’d get drunk just trying to walk down the street,” he said. Although many had never seen a doctor before, the patients were grateful and uncomplaining, willing to undergo even painful operations.
But their very stoicism made for problems. “We had terrible arguments trying to get them into the hospital, and worse ones to keep them there,” Wintrob said. “As soon as they felt a little better they walked home.” Pills were a kind of magic
to be collected, sold or bartered — but rarely swallowed.
A typical case was an eight-year-old Kha Ko girl brought in for treatment of the open sores on her legs — w hich her parents had treated with monkey skin and coco-powder paste. But she also suffered from malnutrition, worms and such advanced trachoma that she was almost blind. The result was an apathetic, almost hostile child—rare among those friendly people.
Her treatment included plenty of baths and a heavy dose of medicine that rid her
or the worms. Within a week she w’as active and happy, riding a hobbyhorse and running after the nurses. Her satisfied parents took her back to the mountain tribe before the trachoma could be controlled. “And the Kha Ko never change their clothes or take a bath." said Wintrob ruefully. "1 can’t say what kind of shape she was in a month later.”
When Kum, a seven-year-old Thai girl, was brought in with pneumonia. Wintrob badgered her sceptical parents into agreeing to an operation to correct her harelip as well. He boned up in his textbooks and
plunged into an operation some plastic surgeons would hesitate to undertake—in a combined operating room and dispensary where the electricity came from a small kerosene generator, the sterilizing was done in a ten-quart pressure cooker on the kitchen stove, and not all of the necessary instruments were available. There w'as no laboratory to test blood, no blood for transfusions, no plasma, no scales, no sterilizing solutions, such as iodine, no Xray machine. Always short of gauze, they relied on knitted string bandages that could be boiled and used again and again. The
only resuscitator was the doctor himself. using mouth-to-mouth breathing.
The only anesthetic available for Kum was ether poured over her face. Several times during the three-hour operation she woke up crying, and the surgery was stopped while more ether was applied. But when the bandages came off there was scarcely a scar left on the pretty face. A month later, her parents showed up with a large load of vegetables, fruit and flowers. (Wintrob’s “fees” ranged from single oranges and sprays of frangipani to Thai silk pyjama pants and a cache of cocaine.)
At the end of one busy day at the clinic Wintrob noticed a young Yao standing off to the side, head bowed, hands over his face. “What do you want?” the Canadian asked in the Lao tongue. The man dropped his hands. His face was a gaping hole, torn by the angry swipe of a bear ten years before. In two operations, Wintrob grafted skin over the man’s nose and loosened the scar tissue so the eyes could blink. "His vision improved a lot,” Wintrob said. “And we gave him a face.”
The staff at Muong Sing was a motley crew with a wild variety of duties. First assistant Alan Jack Rommel, twenty-seven, a graduate geologist and ex-army medical man from Indiana, threw over a profitable prospecting business to get back into medicine. “He'd do anything for those people,” said Wintrob. "In the middle of the night during the rainy season he’d take off his shoes and walk twenty miles through a deluge to help with a difficult delivery.”
Second assistant John Kim was a Korean war orphan, adopted and educated by a Middle Western GI. Kim was headed for Notre Dame medical school and a prosperous big-city practice, but first he took a year off with Medico to “repay his debt to Asia.” Tom Kirby, a twenty-one-yearold language student from the University of Chicago, was official post administrator.
charged with keeping the books and equipment in order. But like the others he soon learned to make house calls, deliver babies, pull teeth, give medications, do minor surgery and sew up water buffaloes.
After the morning medical rounds and sick calls, time hung heavily at Muong Sing. The surrounding jungle was declared strictly off-limits by the Lao Army; pingpong and basketball were the only available sports. Wintrob gave basic physiology and medical lectures in French to his five Lao nurses-in-training. He dipped into Dooley’s ample library (novels by Camus, Pasternak. Graham Greene, Maurois and Tolstoy; reflections by Chester Bowles and Adlai Stevenson). In the evenings they listened to short-wave radio or read by Coleman lantern, sitting around the "dining, writing and complaining” table on wooden crates or hard-backed chairs.
But the afternoon hours were spent in the yard, watching the dip in the hills where the plane would reappear. When the fiery tropical sunset began they would reassure themselves, "Still ten minutes to go.”
During Wintrob’s first two months at Muong Sing Dooley flew in twdee for whirlwind overnight visits. He promised to come for Christmas too, but when the plane dropped on December twenty-third, only the pilot and a pile of neatly wrapped presents for the team were aboard. “Tom wants you down in Bangkok,” the pilot told Wintrob.
The next day Wintrob saw why. “Dooley’s cancer was raging again. He was whiter than his hotel sheet, and forty pounds lighter,” he said. “He was just hollow, and in terrible pain. Regardless of what I thought of him personally, I almost cried just to look at a young man so literally ravaged in one month.”
In their emotion-packed talks during the next few days, Dooley decided to evacuate the Western medical staff from
Muong Sing. Fighting had already broken out in Vientiane. If it came to northerly Muong Sing, a scant five miles from the Red Chinese border, even a plane would be jeopardized on a rescue flight. And the only other way out was a two-day trek on horseback, over 6,000-foot mountains into Burma.
But Ban Houei Sai. a village of 2.500. bordered Thailand and the Mekong River. A boat could be kept available for lastminute evacuation. And Wintrob could replace Estelle Hughes, a Negro woman doctor scheduled to return to the U. S., at the Medico post.
Before he flew to New York Dooley insisted that Wintrob look over his X rays, with the telltale shadows down the spine. Dooley pressed for an opinion; Wintrob hedged. "It looks bad, Tom. But we’ll see you back in a couple of months.”
Dooley brightened with the unreasoning hope of any patient confronted with the final question. “Maybe-—the diagnosis is still a little bit in doubt,” he said. Three weeks later he was dead.
Meanwhile, Wintrob “borrowed” a small supply of demerol from the U. S. embassy
doctor and flew to Houei Sai, to find four wounded KMT (Chinese Nationalist) soldiers waiting. Wintrob said they had crossed mountains and floated downriver for two weeks after being sprayed by Burmese Air Force Spitfire bullets in one skirmish of the endless Far Eastern warfare. “By rights half of them should have been dead,” said Wintrob.
He used up the demerol while amputating arms, legs, chunks of gangrenous flesh — by flashlight, since the kerosene generator wasn't working. He w'ent begging in Vientiane for more drugs and flew back to find six more KMT wounded. He decided that with better surgery there might be a chance to save their limbs, so he took the four most serious cases to the Baptist hospital at Chien Mai, Thailand. They chugged thirty miles upriver by boat, bounced over dirt roads by truck for another two hours. But the next morning two more hands were amputated anyway.
Back at Houei Sai, two more KMT were waiting. Eventually twenty soldiers—complete with wives, children and camp followers—overflowed the twenty-mat hospital. Wintrob installed them in two bamboo thatch buildings behind the compound, and some degree of normalcy returned to Houei Sai.
But for a Westerner in Asia, the normal is never normal. The local Lao “doctor” approached Wintrob about the case of the village’s chief monk, completely crippled with rheumatoid arthritis. Wintrob supplied him with aspirin and steroid pills. Within a week the monk was walking again, and the native doctor generously shared the credit with Wintrob. A ten-yearold boy with a fractured femur spent two
days hacking off the cast up to his hip with a knife. When his grandfather told Wintrob he was walking around again. Wintrob climbed to the hut and slapped on another cast. "The kid never spoke to me or his grandfather again,” he said. “To him the cast was much worse than the broken leg.” Most Lao men relax over several pipes of opium a day; the Meo tribesmen, in fact, are among the world’s largest producers of the potent poppy juice. Taken in moderation, the drug tends to counteract dysentery and soothe tubercular cough. But one old man, who was smoking sixty
pipes a day, asked Wintrob to help him kick the habit.
After probing the strength of his resolution to quit. Wintrob handed him a large vitamin pill. "Listen—if you take just one of these and smoke opium any time in the next year, you’ll drop dead.” The old man was terrorized into a complete cure.
Soon Wintrob was besieged by addicts. "Give me one of the big pills." they all pleaded. Since the magic cure couldn’t be guaranteed to work on everyone, Wintrob compromised with Thorazine, the drug used on American narcotics addicts.
“Smoke half the pipes you usually do, and take four of these pills a day,” he told them, with a few threats for good measure. Ten addicts were successfully rehabilitated through the opium clinic.
Among the KMT camp followers was a thirteen-year-old boy who suffered from extremely painful urination. Wintrob operated to remove a bladder stone — and the word spread like fire through the "bamboo telegraph.” In the next ten days ten more cases straggled in — some from a hundred miles away. Wintrob did fifteen bladder operations altogether, including
A doctor’s “fees”: vegetables, flowers and fruit; silk pyjamas, hand-woven clothes, and cocaine
one on a four-year-old boy from “a week away" who was urinating with terrible pain forty times a day. His father slept with him on the hospital mat. shared his newspaper-wrapped cigarettes with the boy, and burst into happy tears when the stone came out uneventfully.
In early February Wintrob flew back to Muong Sing to retrieve some scarce drugs and reassure the Lao nurses, who were operating the clinic themselves. "After Dooley died they never thought we’d be back," he said. The Medico houseboys ran to the airstrip, weeping and wailing their welcome; the natives lined up beside their huts, bowing and crying, "Wise man of medicine coming from America!” When Wintrob walked through the village, two houseboys could barely carry the gifts of oranges, coconuts and chickens. Twenty strings ringed his wrists. The chief houseboy himself presented Wintrob with three embroidered cloths from the Yao tribe— rare pieces of workmanship which represented a whole year's weaving. "That trip really shook the rusty foundations of my cynicism.” Wintrob admitted.
Two weeks later he set off for the Medico hospital at Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, to learn some surgery. (Passing through Vientiane he paid customs duties on ninety-nine parcels from the U. S.—most of them donations of women's secondhand clothes, high heels, costume jewelry, lollipops, laxatives and weight-reducing pills.) His traveling companion on the big Thai airliner was the Medico bush pilot, Ted Werner, a twenty-eight-year-old Californian who had two graduate degrees (in mathematics and biology), five cars (two Jaguars, two Porsches and an Alfa Romeo), and every piece of electronic equipment that ever caught his eye. Between them they consumed seventeen bottles of Moët et Chandon champagne en route.
They landed at the Malayan hospital just in time for Chinese New Year. The only patient left in the hospital was an old woman with such a severe case of hemorrhoids that she couldn't walk. Coming home, Wintrob found the plane reservations booked solid. It took him five anxious, exasperating days to reach Houei Sai, by plane, train, consulate limousine, truck, pirogue and river packet. (“Firstclass, luxury air-conditioned" on the train, he discovered, meant a fan revolving lazily over wooden benches and slatted windows.)
He stumbled into the Medico post at seven p.m., wanting a hot shower and a long sleep "more than life itself." Instead he spent the night in the operating room, amputating and suturing; five new wounded soldiers had arrived.
That arduous trip seemed to mark the beginning of bad times for Houei Sai. Two weeks later Ted Werner, flying in with a badly needed drug supply and three Medico team members, was forced to make a crash landing at night on the streets of a Thai town. A native woman was killed, and the passengers badly shaken; the Medico plane never flew again.
Meanwhile, the Communist Pathet Lao troops saturated the countryside and ringed the towns. In Vientiane. Wintrob saw an air conditioner humming noisily behind a blown-out wall in the U. S. embassy. In the middle of April he cotdd sense a change in the atmosphere around him. ‘‘The Lao were as friendly as ever, but they knew they were sitting in line to catch hell from the Communists—and I was going out free.”
On May 10—shortly after the cease-fire was declared—Wintrob left Houei Sai for the last time and hitched a flight to Nam Tha with a Seventh Day Adventist missionary. The town—the site of Dooley’s first Medico post, a few miles from
“Could you help me with things we do not have?
Muong Sing and the Chinese border—was already deserted by the natives. Communist troops were reported five miles away. "The village seemed like a skeleton, crumbling and gloomy." Wintrob said. He took an army helicopter to Luang Prabang and the safer outside world.
But before he left Luang Prabang he met Lan and Phyla, two of his Houei Sai assistants, who had come down to write the government nursing exams. They had just learned that Lan's father had been wounded, and Phyla's brother killed, by communist troops, in revenge for their association with the American medical unit. The two boys themselves were badly beaten by communist soldiers. Yet they took the load of drugs which Wintrob had wheedled out of the government, and went back to the jungle hospital.
“Sure, l felt sad about leaving,” Wintrob says. "The whole thing was falling apart, and the people were scared out of their pants. They’re going to have a terrible life under the communists. And it was depressing to see how little we had really accomplished.”
Wintrob didn't expect Medico to find a replacement for him at Houei Sai. Operating costs of $90.000 a month to maintain the seventeen farfiung posts had eaten into the original funds; and the Tom Dooley Memorial Fund, with Arthur Godfrey as chairman and Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy as supporters, raised only $100,000 more. The Laos operation was dying on its feet. But in July Dr. George Powey arrived at Houei Sai from Washington. At this writing, he is still holding out against the inevitable evacuation.
For six weeks after he left Laos Wintrob was a tourist; he slept in a maharaja’s palace in Jaipur, wined and waltzed in Saigon's elegant new Caravelle Hotel, ordered shirts, suits and cigar boxes in Hong Kong, dined in a classical Tokyo
garden, rubbernecked in the temples of Kyoto, and sipped sherry at the Top of the Mark in San Francisco. Meanwhile, three more young Canadians went out to Medico posts in Cambodia, Viet Nam and Malaya.
Back in Montreal, where Wintrob is doing his first year of psychiatry at the Allen Memorial Institute, he received a letter from a Lao assistant in far-off Houei
“My doctor that I love and respect. For five weeks you have left me and that makes me very sad, you were my very good doctor in the past, and now you are very far from me because you are in another country and very far. But myself I think of you. My doctor that 1 respect, 1 am going to tell you thanks for all the good things you have done for my country and myself. I have nothing to repay you for these good things except that I respect you, my doctor. Our hospital is very sad because we have many sick people since you left and we have no doctor. Also I am very sad because my prospect is very black. We have no one who teaches about the medications so clearly and strongly as you used to do. Our Medico family at Houei Sai is in good health. My dear doctor, could you help me with the things we do not have in Laos, like a Medical Dictionary,and a Meek manual, French or English, if you please. That's a good thing that will help me to prepare for the final examinations of the medical school in the month of May, 1962. Finally 1 thank you for all the ways you have helped me. My wife and 1 are in good health and happy. Do not forget your Lao association; and please also send me the photos of my wedding day.
1 wish you good health. Excuse my little French.
and please also send me the photos of my wedding day”