We walked in the hospital without as much as a security guard checking our credentials, as there were no guards, or even doors on some areas, just tuk tuk drivers and family lounging around. We also encountered no nurses or hospital staff when we entered, just a few random stretchers and someone’s moto they’d parked inside.
You could tell she was happy to see us, though she couldn’t smile. But Bart commented that she looked much better and she could whisper a few words of thanks in Khmer to Simon for him to translate and even drink out of a straw now, as she had been living mostly on coconut water she dabbed onto her lips before. The woman had no parents and a family friend was watching after her little boy, but she had no money to eat or feed her child, especially now that she couldn’t work.
We spent about half an hour with her and she never complained about the pain, just that she was lonely with nothing to do all day and no one ever to visit her except her sister once. Our visit further cheered her up when I handed her enough cash to buy plenty of rice to feed her and her son for about a month. As is the Khmer tradition, we took a photo of me handing her the money. Bart and Siman promised to come check on her again next week and we all wished her luck with her upcoming surgery. Before we left, I tried to brighten her mood by putting Bart’s cowboy hat on her head, but quickly remembered making someone with a broken jaw laugh probably isn’t a good thing.
It took me a second to process what I’d just seen, but apparently the three women and their two dogs were living in the supply closet, and that rice would probably feed them all for a few weeks in there. One of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen!
I was worried about being intrusive or violating the privacy of these patients – the last thing I wanted to do was be a tourist in someone else’s misery – but they all smiled and waved when we poked our heads in the rooms. Their children said hello in English and ran up to us for high fives. Everyone was amazed when I said a few words in Khmer.
We walked by a man who was standing by the window with his wife with the help of a walker. He had a steel rod holding his left leg straight, with 6 steel pins running straight into the bones in his legs through bloody openings in his skin. His leg had been severely broken. His knee cap was removed and he had to keep the steel rod attached for 5 months but he was happy because he would walk again and didn’t have the leg amputated, a practice that’s all too common as a quick default when someone comes in with a serious injury.
We talked to everyone for a while, or rather Simon interpreted as we smiled and tried to comfort the patients and families, and then we gave them each a nice donation.
Bart and Siman had visited her several times before and the beautiful girl was now hairless and seared on almost all of her face, neck and arms. She wasn’t in her room when we went to see her but we ran into her family sitting outside on some benches in the shade. They told us she was in the ICU getting the first of many skin grafts. We went to the ICU and then made a nice donation to the family, who had tears of gratitude in their eyes.
We turned to walk down the hall and out toward the tuk tuk, which Siman had run out to collect for us.
“Goodbye! Goodbye!” we heard as a smiling little boy chased us down the hall. We had just given his father some money and his son tracked us down to thank us. But he didn’t know any other English words except “hello” or “goodbye.” The little boy paused for a moment as he tried to work out how to communicate what he was feeling. Undeterred, he thrust his hands up in the air to make a big heart, his smile expressing more than words ever could, in any language.
What a day. I’m eternally grateful to have met such wonderful, courageous people and I look forward to going back next week to visit and help a few more.
If anyone out there wants to make a humble donation to help feed these hospital patients or contribute to their medical care, drop me an email.
- Norm :-)
Yesterday - the very next day after we visited the hospital - I heard the news that Meas Vanny passed away, succumbing to her extensive burns and injuries. She never complained or lost her smile, and I'm honored to have known her in this life and helped her family a little. My only consolation is that she's no longer in pain and definitely going to a better place.