What with recovering in Bangkok and Phnom Penh for additional 2 weeks after surgery, and going to Vietnam for a birthday week escape... October came and went too quickly. The recovery period was so nice because I was able to spend time with friends during the holidays. My birthday week was also amazing because I had the chance to be with my closest friends in a new city doing fun things. They spoiled me rotten, and I have to say, it was the best October 24th I've had in a long while.
I feel older, slightly wiser, and a little bit more mature. In the last 16 months of Peace Corps, I've done the biggest amount of growing in the shortest time possible. It's been a crazy but wonderful journey! I wouldn't change a thing.
I went home to some sad news yesterday (14.11.18). My host family's dog, who has been my closest and favorite pet in Cambodia, had been hit by a car and passed away. I'm still not used to the idea of him being gone and keep looking out for him whenever I'm at home.
The beginning of November has been very eventful. I finally got a chance to see Charlie Put in concert. I also got interviewed there. Life goals, achieved! Now that I'm back in the village, I have been swamped with work for the Garden Training my counterparts and I are hosting at the health center.
To be continued...
This month has been a blur to me. I can't believe it's going to be October in about 25 hours.
Left site and went to Phnom Penh to get a dermatological surgical procedure to remove my big mole on my upper back. There was a concern for malignant melanoma because the mole's been there since birth and slowly growing along with me.
September 7 - 14:
I continued to stay in Phnom Penh for a meeting and Peace Corps' Mid Service Training (MST). We, Peace Corps Volunteers, had training every day from morning to evening. Some days were more stressful than others, and we were always lacking in sleep and rest. I also had the opportunity to do follow up CT Scan and Ultrasounds about my kidney stone (refer to August's blog post for more info) and previously noted ovarian cyst.
September 15 - 16:
I returned to my site (village) with my friend Melino. We had a great time hanging out with my family, my students, and adventuring around Kampong Cham city.
I had to go to Phnom Penh again to remove my stitches from the mole surgical procedure.
I went back to work at my village's Health Center and had a normal day at work for 30 minutes before I got a call from the Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO). I was told that I need to go to Bangkok to meet with a specialist to talk about my ovarian cysts.
September 19 - 21:
I had been away from the village for so long, and now that I was back, it seemed I'm leaving again so soon. I also recently started my grant project so I had to prepare a to-do list for my counterparts too. I put a lot of effort in to spend time with my health center staff and host family in what little time I have left with them for that week. I had to hand wash all the laundry every day too, which is also dependent on the sun in this monsoon season. I could only wash a little bit each day. I had barely unpacked from the previous weekend, and I had to pack all over again.
I left the village at 7am with my usual Torry (minivan). 15 minutes into the ride, I realized I had left all my money at home so I had to tell the Torry driver to drive me home and help me pick it up. This is totally a "Classic Christine" move, but I'm just glad we caught it in time. I arrived to Phnom Penh had to run errands, such as going to the bank, buying some toiletries, catching up with a counterpart, and helping a sick friend. Not a bad day!
After meeting with the Peace Corps Medical officer in the morning, I left for Bangkok. It was a rather uneventful day. I went from Phnom Penh Airport to Bangkok Airport to my Peace Corps provided hotel. The highlight of my day was being able to go to my favorite 7/11 in Bangkok and buy my favorite onigiri Japanese snack for dinner.
September 24 - 27:
These four days consists of doctor's appointments and numerous tests to confirm and prepare for my cystectomy. Thankfully, my aunt arrived from Myanmar on Monday (Sep 24) evening to keep me company throughout this whole process. Every day, we were another waiting game. We finally decided on Thursday (Sep 28) that I would get my surgery on Friday (Sep 29). The surgery was done as preventative measure, rather than curative. If my cysts give me any trouble while I live in a rural village (with no or little emergency care), I am at risk of losing my ovaries. We all thought that this was the best course of action to take.
(Fun note: When I'm not doing medical tests, I was able to explore Bangkok and eat some of my favorite food. Definitely a nice break from all the serious business. I also ran into my Thai-American celebrity crush, who's currently living in South Korea and temporarily in Bangkok to shoot a commercial. Never in my wildest dreams I had expected to have an encounter like that!)
I was told to check in at 12:01am (yes, 1 minute after midnight) and got admitted to my hospital room at Bumrungrad Hospital. They started prepping me for my surgery since 4am. My surgery took about 2 hours, and it took me another 2 hours to become fully conscious. Everything went well. The surgeon took out a 7cm cyst from my right ovary and a 4cm one from my left. I was not allowed to eat or leave the bed, and I wasn't very happy about that. Fortunately, my aunt is also staying in the hospital room with me so I had a lot of help. Two of my uncles, an aunt-in-law, and a little adorable cousin came to visit me for a little while too. The day passed by quickly for me because of the pain killers. I was in and out of sleep for most of the day and night.
September 29 (Present):
Today was a great day. I woke up all refreshed and energized. The surgeon came to see me first thing in the morning and told me I could be off of my IV fluids, nonstop pain killers, and catheter. I was also allowed to walk (with help), go to the toilet by myself, and shower (carefully) too. The only downside is I can feel the pain more than yesterday and that they still put me on fluid-only diet for breakfast and lunch. Dinner was super delicious though (which is expected of a world class hospital). Since I'm already missing rice and don't really get to eat Salmon in Cambodia, I decided to order Japanese food: rice, baked salmon, miso soup, and stir fry potatoes and carrots. I felt especially extra happy and content after that. They also gave me more pain meds, so I'm definitely feeling comfortable too.
Right now, I'm writing this blog as I'm chilling in my hospital bed while my aunt is sitting next to me. We are having a Mission Impossible marathon ... and all is well!
I am recovering at a good pace. I'll most likely be discharged in a day or two. My follow up appointment will be in about 4-5 days. After that, I should be cleared to fly back to Cambodia and resume my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
SHOUT OUT TO PEACE CORPS AND ITS WONDERFUL MEDICAL CARE AND STAFF!
This is Mr. Him Soreurn.
I call him Om Som. Som is his nickname. "Om Pro" is the Khmer word for an uncle older than your dad's age. "Om" for short. Ergo, "Om Som".
Om Som is a vaccinator and caretaker of the Health Center I volunteer at. He also goes above and beyond for the health of our community members. Our community doesn't have Village Health Volunteers, so he takes it upon himself to connect with the villagers through house calls and home visits. If there is an emergency, he would also drive patients to our district hospital, provincial hospital, or Phnom Penh. Every time I have an incident (which is quite often), he also comes running to help take care of my problem.
Om Som has 7 children and 4 grandchildren. He and his wife are currently living in a neighboring village to mine, but his children and grandchildren lives separately from them. Since he doesn't have many family obligations at home, he spends quite a lot of time at the Health Center to help guard and maintain it.
I asked him about his hobbies or goals. He says "I'm 63 years old already. I don't have many goals for myself left. I just hope that my children will all be able to achieve their goals, and that the Health Center will also continue to reach many people in the community." His hobby is gardening. He plants flowers, vegetables, and trees at home. He is often seen tending to our Health Center plants when there aren't patients around. In his free time, he loves to do creative projects that are related to gardening. He would collect old tires from the neighborhood and turn them into flower pots that look like geese. He also trims certain trees at our Health Center to look like chicken. (See photos below)
Me (jokingly): Om, you can't just have one thing you like. Don't you have other hobbies?
Om Som: I like doing labor too. Like pour cement to even out the ground so that my plants don't get flooded over. Or building some container gardens.
Me: Om, that's still plant and gardening-related.
Om Som: I also like traveling now and then.
Me: Okay, where do you travel?
Om Som: Country side with palm trees or forests. I don't like cities.
I was thinking this is still plant-related, but I gave up after that. This is a man who is truly passionate about tree, plants, and his gardening work. I am truly impressed.
Not only is he the first Counterpart I've ever had, he is also my #1 Counterpart. When I took him to Food Security and Garden Training in March 2018, he showed his passion and participated eagerly in the training. We are also starting a Vegetable Garden project at our Health Center and in our villages, and I could not have done the research or write the grant without his knowledge and help. Despite our age gap, he has also become a good friend/uncle I can rant to when I am feeling down or stuffy.
I feel truly lucky to have met him and to have the opportunity to be working alongside someone like him.
Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) have the best health care coverage ever. This is solely my opinion based on my own personal experiences, but there is no doubt that the Peace Corps takes its volunteers' health issues very seriously.
There is a group of Peace Corps Medical Officers (PCMOs) assigned to each country where PCVs are serving. All of the PCMOs are highly qualified medical professionals from the host country or the United States. Not only do they educate volunteers on public health and disease prevention techniques, they are on call 24/7 for any medical issues. Even though Cambodia as a whole is not a developed country, Phnom Penh is developed enough to have great medical care. PCMOs directly work with the best health care providers (hospitals, testing centers, dentists, dermatologists, etc) to provide us with the medical care we need. In some cases, they will even fly us out to Bangkok if the required care might exceed the capacity of the health care providers in Cambodia or if the PCMO deems it safer to have the surgery or procedure there. Bangkok's Bumrungrad Hospital is one of the best in the world.
I can personally attest to all of this because I have been in too many incidences since I have arrived here in Cambodia. In the last year, I've had to use all the medical services provided by every health care provider mentioned above. Most recently, I had another incident 9 days ago.
I woke up with some cramps. I've never had cramps before so I knew it wasn't normal, but I went to work and forgot about it as it faded. Around lunch time, it came back again as a stomachache. I took some Tums and Tylenol and went to school to teach my students. At the end of my class, my pain slowly came back again. Once I got home, I told my host mom my stomach hurts so I'm going to shower quickly and eat dinner so that I can take some more pain medication. However, I barely lasted through the shower. The pain spread from my left stomach area to my back, pelvic, and abdominal areas. It felt strangely familiar, which scared me. I called the PCMO on duty right away. I don't even remember who picked up because I was in so much pain. After I explained my situation, they told me to leave the village ASAP even though it was almost dark. Usually, the Peace Corps won't let us travel after dark but they made an exception. Both PCMOs (Dr. Haor and Linda) keeps calling me to check with me as I pack, find someone to take me to Phnom Penh, and help explain my host family why I'm leaving so suddenly. It was such a scary ride to Phnom Penh too because there was no street lights and the cars, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians do not abide regulations. Thankfully, PCMOs checked in with me the whole time and came to picked me up at the entry bridge to Phnom Penh. I was taken to the Royal Phnom Penh Hospital immediately and was admitted to the Emergency Room.
After CT Scan and a Urine test, the doctors confirmed that I did indeed have a Kidney Stone and UTI, as I feared. I was admitted to the Hospital for 3 days to be monitored, controlled for pain, and received additional testing. While I was on my own in the hospital room, the PCMOs called me every 1-2 hours to constantly check in with me. They also keep in touch with the nurses and doctors who were in charge of me too. At the time of discharge, I was also provided a hotel room, meal budget, and travel allowances to continue resting in Phnom Penh. I was able to relax and recharge comfortable as they keep me checking in with me. After a week, they finally cleared me to come back to my village.
Before coming back, they gave me a full annual medical check up. In addition to getting 3 unexpected tooth fillings, I also received some unexpected news. The PCMO realized that I had a big mole on my neck, which has grown along with me since birth. Even though I've done a biopsy before to ensure it wasn't malignant, the PCMO was very concerned as it was still growing even though I stopped growing. He sent me to the dermatologist right away, who also agreed that it was safer to surgically removed the entire mole. This concern is something I have had my whole life, but I stopped worrying about it because of the previous biopsy. In a way, I feel that I would have never gotten it removed and continue to live with the mole and the possible risk of malignant melanoma. Now, I have an appointment next month for this surgical removal.
This is why I was very impressed by my PCMOs. They went above and beyond to not only care about my current medical needs, they also carefully think about my potential future health problems too. Moreover, they are very warm and kind in the way they treat all of us volunteers. We are so far away from home that we especially feel home sick when we are sick. The PCMOs make sure we don't feel alone and are well taken care of. Most importantly, the Peace Corps takes care of all the medical, transportation, meals, and lodging costs that comes with the medical issue.
I feel truly blessed and immensely thankful to have such a great team of PCMOs and the Peace Corps looking out for me in my times of need.
I also want to give a big shout out to my wonderful friends who came to be with me while I was stuck in Phnom Penh. Thank you, guys! <3
Ki Ki was a sweetheart.
For the last 10 months:
- she kept me company during my meal times when I was eating alone
- she sat next to me quietly as I watch TV on my iPad in the hammock
- she never gets jealous when our other dog wants my attention
- she always look for my face and depending on what I do next, she would stop or come closer
- she would wait patiently for her when I give them special treats from Phnom Penh
She was such a quiet and gentle dog. Even visitors and family members say she was "sophiep" or "sloat" (both meaning gentle in Khmer).
When I came home from Phnom Penh today, I was unloading my bags in the living room. As I was turning to go back outside again, I see a car hit Ki Ki right in front of my eyes. I screamed so loudly. I don't remember ever screaming like that before. The car didn't stop. None of the neighbors out and about reacted. My host grandma saw it happened, and she couldn't get up (leg issues) so she yelled for her son, my host dad. He came out to drag Ki Ki by her legs and put her next to the gate. As he picked her up, he confirmed that she was dead. He made a call and 2 of his staff showed up a few minutes later. They bagged Ki Ki in a rice sack and took her away. My host mom arrived home at the time, and she began to cut her vegetables as she was asking what happened to Ki Ki. Other people resumed their activities after exchanging a few sentences about the situation. It was like talking about the weather!
I was so surprised of how casual and normal this whole situation was. I was the only one who felt like the wind was knocked out of me. The only person who reacted more than me was our other dog. This is his wife, and she was carrying his babies. She was about to give birth in a week or two.
This is the reality here. People are wonderful, but house pets don't really get special treatments. While some city dwellers might treat their pets better, most villagers usually don't get attached to animals that much. This is part of the culture, and there is nothing we can do about it. I understand that nothing I say or do will change the reckless drivers or how society treats animals. However, days like today are just really hard to deal with, and it just really really really sucks!