Roller Coaster

I’m sitting on the hotel balcony looking at the darkest skies I’ve seen.  The air is cooler thanks to a mild breeze and night is falling but there appears to be a storm brewing despite the fact that the rainy season is not due for several weeks.  The lightning has just started and there is distant thunder.  It’s going to be a corker.  Maybe the internet will go down but I’m blogging anyway.  The power goes off from time to time but usually not for long.

I’ve just finished my second day in the hospital and here’s my first impressions.  The Director is away all this week which gives me time to settle in.  I share an air-conditioned office with him and two other VSO volunteers.  There is chilled bottled water in the fridge and a water-bottle mountain next to it (it would be a lake but it’s piled up in bottles).  On the desk as I work are four fighting fish.  I don’t know what nationality they are but they are in individual goldfish bowls separated by pieces of cardboard so they can’t see each other through the glass or they would get aggressive.  So they watch me. I’m not sure what they are thinking but if a fish’s memory is only 4 seconds it probably goes something like this: Is it a fish? Or is it a bird? Or is it superdoc? Is it worth a fight? Is it a fish? Or is it a bird? And so on…

The Director likes fighting fish.  He also likes gardening and can be seen in the evenings doing his share of the work.  Several guys outside right now are digging out some huge tree trunks which they have burned in an attempt to make them easier to remove.  New trees are going there.  Beautiful flowering shrubs and hedges, flowers and herbage with ponds and other features are everywhere.  The older buildings are being replaced by more modern blocks and the whole place is clean and has an air of progress and modernity.  The TB ward is brand new.  The new eye department was opened last month, built and equipped by Japanese development money under the Cambodia-Japan Friendship initiative. Tragically Japan now needs international aid and I wonder if her overseas aid programme will be seriously curtailed by the urgent domestic agenda in the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accidents.

Not in my hospital ...

The Director also likes fighting though he is a rather reserved individual.  He has pet hates as well as liking pets.  He will not tolerate corruption in any form and his attitude has caused friction is some quarters in a country where there is an extensive hidden agenda which disenfranchises and marginalises the poor more than ever.  It’s one of those vicious circles.  People who are poorly paid seek as many ways to enhance their meagre income as they may.  Most people have several jobs which is why they are often absent.  They are absent for weddings and funerals and meetings, and they are absent at their other workplaces.  And lunch lasts for 2 hours but that’s the hottest part of the day so that’s reasonable. Most people are very industrious and some are industrious in an honest manner and some are just industrious, earning in whatever way they can, like the levy on motorbike riders who have no helmet…  Everyone has to supplement his or her income however they can, like the school teachers who have not been paid for two months. But the Director will not tolerate anything underhand in the hospital, or outside it for that matter.  The Provincial Health Department is just down the road but it’s philosophy is many miles away from here.  I haven’t met the Director yet but I think I like him already. It’s been a very positive first day…

Children are welcome here

There are many children in and around the hospital too.  Some belong to patients, some to members of staff, some may be patients themselves, it’s hard to tell, but generally they are pretty sick if they are here for treatment.  Everyone is friendly, welcoming, curious, smiling and unhurried.  The day starts with flag break at 7.30 followed by the general meeting where difficult cases may be reviewed.  I come to the hospital as a pillion passenger on the back of Sokha’s motorbike the 9 km from Sisophon where I’m staying until I get accommodation sorted.  Day two we arrived part way through the meeting and discovered there had been two deaths during the night, one a mother having a Caesarean delivery.  She had severe toxaemia –  high blood pressure and swelling – and the anaesthetist was unable to put in an endotracheal tube because of the size and position of her larynx.  A spinal anaesthetic was established instead but her oxygen level fell steadily and she died.  The baby survived and weighs 2 kg.  So it’s happened already under our very noses.  They think she has cirrhosis of the liver too.  I can’t discover if she was in labour or not, what age she was, if it’s her first baby, what blood pressure stabilisation was done, how the GA is performed and the tube usually placed.  No post mortem will be carried out.  I can feel the pain of the loss of a patient for the staff as well as the family but it’s not culturally acceptable to show emotions here, in this nation of traumatised people.  Sokha told me today his father died when he was 6 months old under the Pol Pot regime.  They have only begun to feel free and safe here in the last 10 years or so.

The tragedy spurs me on to learn all I can about the way the health system works, the way the hospital staff function and the language before I am supposed to start work in earnest when I meet the Director next week.  This week I’m just supposed to find a home and open a bank account.  But I’m here and I’m involved and I can’t escape the emotional Roller Coaster ride that this country offers to all who venture here, and to the Cambodian people too.



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9 responses to “Roller Coaster

  1. Ursula

    Me , Bob and Joe and Bethan all love to hear your news.
    Hope the 3 scoops did not make you sick.
    Bethan has been off school for 8 days with a bug! Hope it comes to an end soon.
    hwyl fawr Adrian

  2. Christine Dinah Sansom

    Dear Adrian

    So so much for you to take on board – I really feel for you.
    I have just been to an update on Autism and Cow’s milk allergy at Clatterbridge- both are helpful for China
    With love and prayers from Chris

  3. Hilary

    How very poignant. The film ‘The Killing Fields’ (1984) was on TV last week; I recorded it and watched it. It made me wonder what happened to the children, indoctrinated to denounce families and friends, afterwards. They must be psychologically damaged. They must also be among the professionals of today. It all sounds like you could have work to do at a pretty basic level that might make a difference.

    • Everyone here aged mid thirties upward has a personal story to tell and usually don’t mind telling it which is a positive thing. Asbsolutely no-one escaped unscathed or unaffected someway. The final rebel factions were integrated into government in the late 1990s, similar to integration of IRA/Sinn Fein in UK but much more extensive of course.

  4. Dilys

    It was moving to read your blog. We here in the West cannot imagine the pain this country and people have gone through and all for what! I’m sure you will have a lot more of these terrible times before you come home. Keep up the good work and enjoy, they are wonderful people and maybe just need to have good people like yourself to help them.

  5. Helen

    Interesting reading.

    Spent today with Rach, Mum, Andy, and all the kids. Mini heroes first thing, then back to lunch at ours – Jonah playing with Brechdan outside – chatting away to him and wrestling with him. I think Brechdan enjoyed the attention but acted big brother like sometimes! Madeleine is growing up so fast. She is picking up words every day and has an awesome sense of humour. She loves Jonah too and the three of them walked hand in hand to see the horses (who were absent from the field!)
    Love you. xx

    • I presume Emily was one of the three, rather than Jonah, Madeleine and Brechdan. A couple of times Jonah and I found no horses and we went to Heaton Park instead. Bit far to walk though, even holding Brechdan’s hand…

  6. Teddy

    Hi Adrian. It’s been good to hear all your news, experiences and impressions. I can only guess at the amount of anger that is being stuffed down in a culture where it isn’t acceptable to show emotions. May God bless you in all you are doing – hope to the hopeless and light in the darkness.

  7. I’m told domestic violence occurs here much as it does in other cultures. Maybe in some cases that’s where the suppressed emotion emerges. All the same the people smile a lot and are very friendly to strangers. It feels very safe here.

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