Sports doctors, the unsung heroes of Việt Nam’s success

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Doctor Dương Tiến Cần (right) takes care of a player during the AFF U23 Championship. Photo of VFF

PHNOM PENH — Doctor Dương Tiến Cần had a high temperature and cough, and a test proved his suspicions – he was a COVID-19 patient. But Cần could not rest for he still had work to do, taking care of the U23 football players who won the AFF Championship title on Saturday in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Cần was one of two doctors assigned to follow the U23 team. He worked on a range of issues, such as dealing with injured players and helping with recovery after gruelling games. His goal is to get players back in action as quickly and as safely as possible.

But on this working trip, apart from his normal duties, Cần had to deal with a big problem; the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected many players.

“We discussed the matter before we left for Cambodia, but I could not imagine that it would spread so fast among our team,” said Cần, whose second son was born a few days ago in Hà Nội.

The doctors’ day started at 6am when they sanitised the hotel area where the Việt Nam team stay. They had to clean the elevator and the stairs that led players from their rooms to the restaurant.

They kept reminding players to keep a safe distance and suggested foods that are good for their physique.

They also took charge of doing quick tests for players, once every three days.

But they could not stop COVID-19 from attacking the team. The first players tested positive on February 17, just a few days after the team landed in Phnom Penh.

The doctors’ workload increased. They had to continue their normal duties while carrying out a care programme for the sick members.

“It was a really big worry because more cases would come out soon. Our duty was doubled. We had to take care of players on the field, giving them energy drinks, preparing ice packs and giving treatment to players’ injuries. Then, we prepared medicine and traditional herbs and food for the patients. We were overloaded with work,” said Cần, who himself tested positive 10 days later.

Cần however could not rest – almost 30 patients needed him.

He was not allowed to work on the field but he took care of players at the hotel and supported his colleague by phone when necessary.

Doctor Dương Tiến Cần (first row, second from right) poses for photos with athletes at the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines.

“It was the most memorable trip. Luckily, we received help and encouragement from the Việt Nam Football Federation, Việt Nam Anti-Doping Agency, and the team’s coaching board. We were tired but knew that it was a national task so we had to do our best,” said Cần, who did not tell his wife about the situation.

“Players’ strong determination and their iron mindset to play for Việt Nam moved me. They got injuries, they were exhausted but they did not give up. We, the doctors, also fought hard,” he said.

He added that being a sports doctor is a glorious profession, because he often stands in the background, witnessing first-hand the great moments of victory. Doctors are not an important part of the tournament but not many people have the chance to see the national flag flying high and sing the national anthem together with winning athletes.

F0 caring for F0

Last month, doctor Trần Thị Trinh of the women’s football team was also in the same situation.

Doctor Trần Thị Trinh cooks Vietnamese food for the women’s football players while they competed at the Indian Asian Cup 2022. Photo of Trần Thị Trinh

She followed the team to Spain for a training camp and then to India for the Asian Cup, which saw Việt Nam overcome a COVID storm to earn a spot at the 2023 World Cup.

“My most memorable moment was when 14 players tested negative and were allowed to fly from Spain to India. We all cried with happiness,” Trinh said.

“COVID-19 attacked our team. Seven players and two doctors tested positive after the last friendly match in Spain. We were shocked to hear the news. However, we did not think about ourselves, but players.

“We worried because they had high temperatures and coughed a lot. It would strongly affect their lungs and may cause respiratory failure. Luckily, as sportswomen they had a good physique and quickly recovered,” said Trinh.

In India, Trinh and her colleague also worked as chefs to cook Vietnamese food to make sure of the nutrition regime for players.

“Players recovered but they were still weak, and so could be easily injured on the field. The diets of the players also did not have beef and pork, so they lacked good nutritional food. We had to cook for them,” Trinh said.

Trinh said it was a tough trip but she will never forget it.

Doctor Trần Thị Trinh (centre) and players in the dressing room after securing a place at the 2023 World Cup. Photo of VFF

“Our job is hard but the players work 10 times harder. They practised regardless of the weather, rain or shine. Looking at them, I find my job is nothing and love them more. I think I am lucky to have the chance to contribute my humble labour to the success of the team,” said Trinh.

“On February 27, National Doctor’s Day, I wish all the best for my colleagues, especially those who are sports doctors and physicians. I hope they will stand strong in the pandemic and contribute more to national sports. Happy National Doctor’s Day!” said Trinh, whose next task is to accompany the Việt Nam Team at the 31st SEA Games this May in Hà Nội. — VNS

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