Just Call Huang, A Design Ace

A licensed A-grade electrician, Huang Jin-shou has been an invaluable asset when Tzu Chi free clinics need things made or fixed, be it a mobile water heater, a mobile dental chair, a mobile dental lamp, or a mobile shower. Whatever the doctors need, they just tell Huang, and he will come up with a reliable solution.

The multitude of tools and parts in front of the house hinted strongly that the owner inside was probably a master technician. The tools, however, seemed to have gathered dust from inactivity. “I’m sort of semi-retired, and I only do jobs for my acquaintances,” explained Huang Jin-shou (黃金受), the first Tzu Chi volunteer in Keelung, northern Taiwan.

He has been a widower for many years. His only child, a daughter, lives in Puli, central Taiwan. Huang, almost 70, lives alone in Baifu, Keelung. Though his hair is all salt-and-pepper, he is healthy and spirited. Having devoted himself to volunteering and serving others, he is not at all lonely.

Among his other duties, Huang is a support volunteer for Tzu Chi free clinics. Members of the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) often provide free medical treatment in far-off places where medical facilities and services are scarce. Since these clinics are mobile by nature, the things and tools that the medical professionals need to treat patients must also be mobile. The challenge is that commercial equipment is not always mobile or easy to move. Trying to move a dental chair quickly makes that plain. Consequently, TIMA teams must adapt their equipment to their ever-changing venues. Huang has done a fair number of such adaptations since he started working with TIMA teams about two decades ago. He has been one of the go-to guys who excel at modifying or inventing equipment or tools to suit the needs of a free clinic.

Huang Jin-shou fixes a piece of malfunctioning dental equipment at a free clinic on Kinmen, an offshore island of Taiwan. You Xi-zhang

Mobile shower

On January 18, 1998, a TIMA team gave their inaugural free clinic for homeless people at Longshan Temple in Taipei. Chinese New Year was just around the corner, so volunteers also offered free haircuts alongside the medical services.

Huang was a support volunteer at that free clinic. He noticed that because there was no hot water on-site, those receiving free haircuts could not get a rinse afterwards. There were therefore hair trimmings on their faces and necks when they saw the TIMA doctors afterwards.

Seeing a need, Huang quickly sought to address it. He broached the idea of bringing hot water to serve the needy and make their visits more comfortable to Lu Fang-chuan (呂芳川). Lu, then the director of the TIMA Northern Taiwan chapter, was all in favor, but he wondered how that could be done. “If it’s okay with you, just leave it to me,” Huang said.

That marked the beginning of Huang’s new role—a handyman, a jack of all trades, a problem solver, the go-to guy—in providing TIMA personnel what they needed to care for patients during their free clinics.

He scavenged a recycled wall-mounted instant water heater and gathered all the pipes and hardware that he would need to assemble a portable water heater. Then he put that unit to use at the next free clinic event for the homeless. He hung the heater on a wall, hooked up the water and gas, and turned it on. Hot water flowed out into a pail. The hairdressers then scooped up water from the pail to rinse hair.

Though that was just a makeshift water heater, it allowed the street people who received haircuts to also get a rinse afterwards, so that they could go on to see their doctors feeling comfortable and looking dignified. But Huang was not satisfied. He wanted something better. He bought a generator, a pressure booster pump, and a water tank. Then he and a few other volunteers set to work converting a used van into a shower van. To prevent rusting, they put a stainless steel floor in the van’s interior, which they partitioned into two stalls. They installed shower heads and put in drains. When they were finished, they had a mobile shower unit. Now volunteers could offer the homeless a place to take hot showers.

The shower van was put to good use at many free clinics. Huang fondly remembered this brainchild that he had had many years ago. “I’m truly glad I can serve others by applying my electricity and plumbing skills for TIMA activities. I feel that I’m making the best use of my skills this way.”

A better way

Huang’s role is greatly appreciated.

Because some TIMA free clinics are held at locations that do not have a ready supply of water or electricity, Tzu Chi volunteers need to set up supplies onsite. Expertise in plumbing and electricity has therefore come in very handy for the clinics. In fact, the frequent need for people with such expertise prompted Huang to assemble a group of volunteer technicians.

These technicians ensure that clinic equipment is functional so that medical volunteers can focus their attention on taking care of patients instead of being distracted by non-medical challenges. Huang and his fellow technicians are unsung heroes who help the free clinics run smoothly.

As the ranks of TIMA medical volunteers expanded, so too did the range of medical specialties offered at the free clinics. More specialties have invariably resulted in more diverse physical requirements for the venues.

Of all the medical specialties offered at TIMA free clinics, dentistry has turned out to be the most equipment-intensive, and it needs more physical space than others. Because of their bulk and weight, dental chairs cannot be transported to free clinics, so folding beach chairs were once used for patients at TIMA clinics. Dentists had to stand or bend down to treat patients—a tiring, unsustainable, and unproductive posture for the doctors, who were probably quite sore before they had finished their third patient.

To make their work easier, Huang set out to make a dental chair that would be easy to transport and safe and comfortable for both the patients and the dentists. He visited a dental clinic near his house several times to observe its chairs up close, and he lay on one to feel it for himself. Then with parts and tools available at his home, he made his first prototype.

After several modifications, he finished his version of a mobile dental chair. It looked like a folding beach chair, but it could be completely disassembled to fit into its own carrying case and be taken to wherever it would be needed. Once there, volunteers just followed the directions to put the chair back together again.

“There’s no telling how much a patient might weigh, so I used sturdy stainless steel to make the main frame,” Huang said. The back and height of the chair were adjustable. Dentists could manually adjust the height and inclination as they saw fit.

That took care of another issue for the TIMA clinics, but Huang soon noticed something else to which he could apply his skills. He noticed that each dentist needed an assistant whose job it was to hold a flashlight and adjust its angle from time to time so that the dentist could see clearly in the patient’s mouth. As Huang looked at the scene, a picture formed in his mind of a lighting device that would fit the purpose.

He looked in his tool room at home for things that he would need to make a dental spotlight for TIMA clinics. He gathered some flexible conduits, wires, switches, and clips. Then he assembled those components with a flashlight and came up with an illuminating device similar to a gooseneck lamp.

At the next clinic, he attached the lamp to a dental chair. Everything worked fine initially, but after a short while the gooseneck lost its rigidity and drooped, no longer able to hold the flashlight in the desired position.

Huang considered how to fix the problem. After much thought, fiddling, and rework, he completed a second version of the product. He used a sturdier gooseneck and replaced the flashlight with an LED light bulb. On top of these and other improvements, he added a convex lens in front of the light bulb to focus its light onto a desired point. The light could thus be more precisely directed to where the dentist needed it and not make the patient’s eyes uncomfortable.

After Huang had solved the lighting problem, he found another issue to fix. Water is indispensable at any dental clinic. At the Tzu Chi free clinics, they used to put a bottle of water beside the dental chair for the dentist to use. Volunteers needed to replace the water bottle frequently, especially if the patient’s treatment was more water-intensive.

Huang wanted to give them something better. “I needed a big container that could withstand high pressure,” he explained. “A ruptured water container was the last thing that we wanted to see at a clinic.” He set his sights on the five-gallon soft-drink containers used in restaurants. He drilled two holes in such a container, one for air pressure to go in and the other for water to flow out. Then he hooked the container up to an air pump to complete a mobile water supply system. A dentist just needed to gently press a foot pedal and water would flow out of the container. Huang received accolades from TIMA dentists who used his handiwork.

Huang designed these racks with slots for herbal medicine bottles. They have helped reduce clutter at a free clinic Chinese medicine pharmacy.   chen li shao-min

Observant of the needs of TIMA members, Huang strives to do whatever he can to help physicians spend their time on caring for patients rather than on anything else.

Xie Jin-long (謝金龍), a TIMA dentist, said that when it comes to equipment for free clinics, Huang has been a wonderful help. “He not only sets up equipment for a clinic and puts it away afterwards, but he also keeps thinking about ways to improve our tools or equipment. He is our staunchest supporter.”

Huang recalled his career as an electrician and plumber. When he was just starting out, he signed up for government vocational training courses. He never expected that what he learned there would make him a great enabler for TIMA clinics. “He’s most fortunate who finds a task that he loves to do and does well,” Huang said. “I’ve found that task at TIMA clinics.” 

Fall 2017