As I’m sitting down to write my blog this week, I can hear the thunder rumbling in the distance. When it has been raining this week, it has often been a very hard rainfall. The pond outside our bedroom window is much higher than a week ago!
This blog is hard for me to write at the moment. I have been thinking about and facing the reality of death more often. If you have read our previous blog posts, we have mentioned a patient who died here perhaps 10 days after we arrived. The patient wasn’t at our care center long before his death, so we weren’t close to him (I hadn’t even had the chance to meet him while he was still alive). But it is an example of how common death is here. And I don’t mean here as in Thailand. I mean, that we are in a place helping people who unfortunately have to experience more than their fair share of death. This happens in so many places and in all countries. It makes me think of my hometowns of Chicago and Detroit and how certain groups of people experience more death (especially related to race and/or socioeconomic groups). But more on that another time.
One day at work several weeks ago, at Hands of Hope, I was chatting with some of my coworkers over our lunch break. We were standing by the tree on the wall, which the previous volunteer Tamarah lovingly made. It has photos of all of the people who work at Hands of Hope, live in the Care Center and/or the Garden, as well as the people they visit as part of the Outreach program. As my coworkers were pointing themselves out, they would point to the photo near themselves: their child/spouse/family member pictured next to them. Then they eventually shared about family members who had passed away. For two of the women, it was their husband they spoke of (And we somehow communicated this, when I spoke even less Thai than I do now!).
We received a new patient this week. He has been at the Care Center before. He is a quadriplegic. He has his limbs, he can feel pain everywhere, but he cannot move his limbs nor torso. He typically stays at home and is visited by our Outreach team. He lives with his mother. She is over 60, and they both receive welfare; however, it is only approximately $40 USD per month total. His mother has to earn the remaining household income, so she cannot always stay at home with him. Sometimes, she has to leave him all day to go earn money to support them. He goes to the bathroom where he lays and waits until his mother comes home to clean him up. He has stayed at the Care Center before, but he hasn’t always liked it. Typically his previous stays occurred so his mother could work consistently for awhile.
I learned a little more about his background today. He has a genetic disease with similarities to ALS, which slowly reduces how much he uses his body. Apparently, when he was first diagnosed almost 20 years ago, at age 18, he was able to drive himself around in a motorized cart/bike. Slowly, he has lost more and more of his motor function.
This disease is genetic and affects the males in his family. His father and uncle both had the disease and have passed away.
Since he can feel pain yet cannot move himself, he moans when he is uncomfortable. Our goal is to move his position every 2 hours. Previous volunteers mentioned that he would moan a lot. He has been here less than a week, but we can hear his moans throughout the evening or overnight, from our volunteer house.
Last night we had overnight duty, and we were very vigilant about changing positions every two hours. Thankfully he did not moan at all last night. (A side note: we are also very lucky on our overnight shifts, in that John and I are two people on shift together. All other staff members usually have overnight duty by themselves, which means they have to wake up every 2 hours right now). Whatever the reason, he had a good, restful night - which was also good for his roommate, a fellow patient.
I also had the opportunity to massage him today. I did some light swedish massage on his limbs. He is very thin. I mean, so incredibly thin. It breaks my heart a little bit. He seemed to enjoy his massage from me, so that is something. (He can speak a little, but his speech is sometimes unintelligible. Combine that with our limited Thai language skills, and it can be a little tough. Our main nurse said that he has difficulty understanding him, too, though).
There was also a death of a baby in the Outreach program last week. I can’t find an appropriate way (and may not ever choose to publicly share on this blog) to write about this death, but it has affected me greatly.
Besides my increased awareness of death, there is the different quality of life. Most of the people we interact with are infected with HIV/AIDS, or affected by it. For the many who are infected, their immune systems cannot handle as much. When we go on a 20-minute bike ride to and from the market, one of our new friends gets tired and sometimes needs to walk her bike for portions of the uphill return trip.
When we went on our field trip to the temples a couple weeks ago, everyone needed recovery time afterward, and several people have since ended up sick with colds and/or fevers (not saying that they cannot go on field trips, but only that their recovery is harder and can thus be easily compounded by any other sickness).
Many of these people have had traumatic experiences (emotionally, physically, both…). At the same time, many of them have been taking their ARV (anti-retro-viral medication) consistently for years, and yet their immune systems will never compare to a person who is lucky and blessed to have good health.
There are times that all of this awareness is difficult to see past. There are times that are better, or balanced by the lightness/joy of life a bit more. Thanks to my family for emailing and skyping with me regularly. I am grateful for that especially in the darker moments or days.
It is also tough because although the community has welcomed us with open arms, there are times that we are simply a community of two: me and John. Although I’m grateful for the unbelievable amount of time we get together, it can be tough that we are only the two English-speakers who really understand each other. We are used to interacting with many more English-speakers who understand us at a deeper level.
Yet we are also being altered by our volunteer year. As Kimberly at GSV said during our orientation, doing something like this is going to make you “weird.” She didn’t mean it in a bad way, but there are only going to be so many people who understand what we are going through in a more complete way.
That is why our blogs are so important, so when we drop back into your lives in a year, you will have some idea of what we went through. Because we are going to be changed and touched by this year. We already are.
So please keep reading. Keeping sending us those random emails, WhatsApp texts, or connections from time to time. We want to know about your lives back home as well, so we have an idea of what you experience over the next year, too.