Sometimes the attributes that make us good at what we do are precisely the ones that make it painful or difficult for us.
Much has happened that I want to share since my post before Christmas.
We really had an amazing group of Christmas celebrations that were filled with joyous moments: children dancing, people preparing 'Secret Buddy' gifts for each other with glee, lots of laughter and, of course, delicious eating.
The definitive Christmas moment came during the Garden of Friendship Christmas party the evening of the 26th. We had the big reveal of secret buddies. One person starts and dances around, pretending the gift is for different people until finally settling in front of their actual buddy to the delight of the recipient and all of us watching. Person after person until one remained: Joe. He has diminished cognitive function after an HIV related brain infection.
He raised his hand and stood up because he still had a gift to give (the staff help him with this.) A staff member then reminded him who his buddy was, and he was confused for a moment until they told him Room 2. His "buddy" was one of our most sick patients who could not come out for the celebration. He turned and ran to the room to proudly deliver his present to a man too weak to feed himself: a touching moment, a warm heart. In a funny twist of fate, the patient had him and the staff was able to give Joe a snack he enjoyed very much.
We went on holiday to Phu Kradeung National Park. A kind co-worker drove us the 3.5 hours to the park where we climbed a mountain and camped on the plateau atop. Each morning rising early to hike to see the sunrise from one side, and each evening trekking to the other side for the sunset. The only way up is to walk, and all the food and drinking water at the top is carried up by local workers. We carried our gear as we overheard workers talking about how much they were carrying (the most was about 160 pounds). Men and women of all ages did the hauling, and at 30 baht/kilogram it might be well-paying labor.
A unique experience highlighted by beautiful views, close-quarters camping, cold showers, warm rice porridge, and a whole lot of stars.
Please see the slide show at the end.
We rang in the New Year quietly back at the volunteer house. Lauren is still away on her holiday. We read and watched some Netflix, and Susan was asleep before the turn. I stayed up until just after midnight because we weren't scheduled to work again until the 2nd.
The 2nd came early as a co-worker woke me at 06:15 because she was concerned for our sick patient. I found him having difficulty breathing and we quickly took him to the hospital. Another worker and I loaded him in the passenger seat of the truck and rushed to the Emergency Room. He was taken care of quickly and after an assessment the doctor admitted him to rule out meningitis.
The morning was full as I headed to the convent to assist Sr. Mary with some medication, and then I went for my final rabies shot. Being short-staffed due to the holidays, I am sad to say that we hurried out of the hospital (as my co-worker had worked the overnight shift as well). I positioned our patient comfortably, and we left with the understanding his family was being contacted and another individual was on their way to look after him.
Shortly after returning to the care center, I received a call that he had passed away: awash with emotion. After reflection, I recognized I was mostly upset for 2 reasons.
First, I wish I knew that he was not alone as he died. I sensed fear in his eyes a few times over the last month, and I think I saw it that morning. I hope someone was there to hold his hand and tell him it was okay. I fear he died alone and went unnoticed for awhile.
Second, I wish I had looked him in the eye and said goodbye and told him he was loved. Although I treated him gently and kindly throughout the morning, I let the expectations of the day get the better of me. Of course these words would have made me feel better, but I hope they would have mattered to him as well. Hopefully he was comforted by other memories as he died.
As I become more intentional, I hope that I can be better about considering how my choices align with a humanitarian ideology. I am coming to believe the daily choices we all make will eventually impact lives around the world in a real way.
I think of the many people I have known or cared for during my time here who have passed away. I am ashamed to admit that many of their names have faded from my memory. I tell myself I can recall their faces, which pacifies my conscience but is also probably not the truth.
Caring about the loss of the memory of the individuals is closely related to my love for them during our short time together. I mourn their loss, and I mourn again the loss of vivid memories of them. In my chosen line of work, a profound memory of each life that has ended would be far too painful to carry forever. I do hope that they have a positive impact on some aspect of my thought, action, or being, and that they continue to be honored by that invisible thread that keeps us connected forever.
"Caring for one another is hard work. It requires endless awareness, adaptation, and responsiveness. But it is one of the most important and rewarding things that we human beings do" (The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life, p197).