As I composed this blog for GSV (to be shared on their blog later this month), I realized that I hadn’t shared enough about one aspect of my volunteer experience in Thailand. I have shared some of this before, but felt like it was warranted to share more in depth.
Recently, we went to the nearby cemetery to honor those who have passed before us, in anticipation of All Souls’ Day. It was a cooler day, with the wind dancing among the trees yet when the sun poked through, it was pointedly warm on my black shirt - as a reminder that I’m in Thailand and closer to the equator.
And my whole being ached, as I thought of the patients who had passed away since we arrived in Thailand. There was the woman who was sometimes hard to love, but who would bathe in puddles if she hadn’t come to our Care Center for a reprieve.
And closest to my heart was the woman I’ll call Nan. Nan had been a patient for years. She had had a stroke and had been in the hospital for over two years before she became connected with our project. She had horrendous bedsores. Typically, here it is expected that family members will assist with your needs in the hospital, including moving your body to prevent bedsores. She did not have anyone with her to do so.
She could not speak, had limited movement, and was restricted to her bed or a wheelchair. But believe me, she did not need words to express herself. If she did not want to do something, she was very clear. I remember one day that my husband, who had been assisting her and her roommate with some physical therapy and movement, tried to encourage her to use pedals to move her arms. And she was not having it. She pushed her whole body away from the apparatus.
When she liked something, her whole face would light up, like when I entered her room every Monday to give her a massage. And when she didn’t care about you or want to expend the energy to respond one way or the other, she had a spot-on “I-could-care-less” look.
Although it’s embarrassing, I’ll share another story. One time, as I was massaging her, I let out a little toot, and she and I stopped and stared at each other. And then burst into laughter. We couldn’t stop laughing on and off the rest of my massage session. It was the best.
She was intermittently constipated, and I remember that my husband was trying to encourage her to try to use the bathroom. She literally tried to stop entering the bathroom with her arms, and she wouldn’t forgive him for the week that he tried that.
The other staff and we had the responsibility to bathe her twice per day, and after she was all shiny and new, she loved being wheeled over to her favorite spot to check out the turtles.
Perhaps her happiest moments involved food and drink, and I still laugh when I remember last Christmas. Most of the feasting had occurred already, and I glanced over to her table and saw her sitting all by herself, her friends having eaten already. She had a big glass of red Fanta in both hands, and she was enjoying it so much that half of the plastic cup was smashed in as she squeezed it with joy and anticipation.
Even though she could not speak and needed assistance with most everything, she was so independent in her opinion and brought so much laughter and joy to the Care Center. We all miss her so much, including the other patients - some of whom warmly display a photo of her by their bed - their only photo on display, in fact.
And so I feel that I would be remiss if I didn’t honor the role she took in our lives this year. Even though I miss her something awful, I’m grateful that I had the chance to know her, and that she found joy, love, care, and friendship here in the project in Nongkhai, Thailand. And all of the homesickness and heat and annoyances and rough transitions as an international volunteer have been worth it - to have been a part of her life. I miss her obstinate spirit and mischievous smile, and I’ll carry her always in my heart.
And sometimes you just have to go to a retreat and stay at a place with a pool.