I think it will be hard for me to capture with words all that this year will bring. Firstly, there are so many stories of all the people we encounter. Secondly, sadly, death is a regular occurrence. One of our patients passed away last weekend. He had only arrived at the Care Center that week. His parents came to visit him, and then he died that same day. The staff and other patients weren’t close to him yet, so that made it easier to bear. But it still speaks to how common death is here. I still cannot get over how thin he was.
Thirdly, there are different expectations of health care, which adds to a seemingly higher mortality rate (I haven’t researched statistics yet, but I’m guessing that it’s higher). For instance, the staff at hospitals have so many patients, so it is not possible to provide all aspects of their care. The patient’s family and loved ones are expected to make up the difference, doing things like moving the patient’s position to prevent bed-sores. If the patient is without a home or the family cannot get to the hospital for any reason, then the patient does not receive all the care s/he needs. This is no fault of the staff (overnight nurses have 15+ patients to care for, and doctors see 200 patients in a day).
Some of these patients end up at our Care Center, like “Nancy.” She suffered a stroke and can speak very little. She cries often for no apparent reason and was completely paralyzed, but with the help of a previous volunteer (who is a physical therapist), now has the use of her arms and can sit up and feed herself. Nancy also had a very bad bed-sore - a huge open wound in her back - which has healed significantly since her time at the Care Center.
I started massaging people here this week, and Nancy was my first patient. She was crying a bit at first, which is not out of the ordinary. Sometime during and after my 40-minutes with her, she was the most calm that I have seen her since my arrival. I think she even dozed or went to a calm, altered state for awhile.
Then there are all the workers at Hands of Hope, where I spend more of my time. Most of them live with HIV/AIDS. Their work is so repetitive (cutting, glueing, quilling, etc.), so they often have repetitive stress/strain. I will massage them some, too, and perhaps lead some self-care exercises. I will probably start with contrast therapy. If any of my massage therapy/bodywork colleagues have some self-care suggestions/exercises along the way, I would love it!
As seems to be a regular pattern for me, let me end with some random highlights or moments from the week:
- We ate our most delicious meal yet (delicious = arroy in Thai with a flipped “r” sound). It was at the Good Shepherd Sisters compound. They help some of the women, by employing them at this restaurant. John and I had medium-size, rice noodles with pork in the most delectable sauce. It was almost like the Vietnamese dish, pho. Even though this restaurant will be the longest bike ride for us so far, John and I have already planned to eat here on our weekends regularly.
- We have had some major flat tires with our bikes, but thanks to Vilai (the on-site mechanic), they were fixed within a day or two.
- Oh, and did I mention that we “helped” with rice-planting our first week here? What intense work.
- I am looking forward to our weekend (which will be ongoing by the time you read this), filled with internet time, grocery shopping, and cleaning our volunteer house.
- I’m also thankful for all of John’s cooking. He cooks our dinner every night. I did make some successful oatmeal-banana pancakes (made with eggs). I think we will expect to eat eggs and rice every day when we return to the U.S.
- The clouds are so formidable here - maybe because there are less buildings blocking the view. Whatever the reason, the sky seems to go on and on like the ocean.
See you next week! (In Thai: pohk pohn ahteet nah!)