If you could spare me just a moment, I would like to tell you a story about a young boy who had a huge effect on me a few years back. Things were different then… HIV and AIDS were the main concern on everyone’s mind, especially here in Cambodia, where there was no medicine to treat it. The fear of living with or even touching someone who was HIV Positive was very real and many victims spent the last days of their life sleeping on a cot under the house where the cows were kept because of this. There were only three hospices run by NGOs and Wat Opot was one of those. The military hospital in Phnom Penh had a large ward for AIDS victims, but only provided a cot to die in. The family was responsible for the care of the patient.
We got a call one morning from the hospital in Takeo, which was run by Doctors without Borders. A family had taken in a young relative, whose parents had both died of AIDS. They had the child tested and found out that he too was infected and would most likely die soon… and so they took him home, but because the family had children of their own, they didn’t want the young boy to stay in the house with them and so they built a box for the boy to die in under the house and would not let him out of the box to play with the other children. They would feed him and give him water but were careful not to touch him when doing so. He lived that way for several months, observing life as a spectator. He became weak and frail from having no exercise, but for some reason held on to Life. The family eventually got tired of caring for him and decided to take him to the hospital in Takeo. He was put in a small, windowless room and given IV fluids while the doctors evaluated his condition. The family left him alone in the room and, without saying goodbye, headed for home.
I left as soon as I got the call and drove the 30 Kilometers to the hospital, but by the time I arrived the doctors had already gone to lunch and only a nurse was there at the desk. She lead me to the dimly lit room where the boy was staying and pointed to the bed where he was lying. He had been crying but offered no resistance as I picked him up in my arms and carried him to the car. He was as light as a feather and seemed to melt into my arms… not wanting to let go as I put him into the back seat of the car. He slept most of the way home and was still groggy when I put him in bed.
By morning Kosal was wide awake and alert to the fact that he was no longer in a box. Other children were around and greeted him and even touched him as they helped him get dressed in new clothes. He couldn’t walk at first but by the third day, he was getting around on his own, and by the third week I was telling him to slow down because I was afraid he would hurt himself.
For the first time in his Life he was being treated as a normal child, and he was loving it… almost as much as he was being loved by those of us who watched him develop physically, mentally, and socially.
By 2004 the ARV medicines had arrived in Cambodia and most of our patients were put on them. The dying decreased and there was, at last, hope for our patients of having a normal life. Some of our younger patients, however, were already in the latter stages of AIDS, and prospects for their survival were less optimistic.
In January of 2005 Chhang, one of the other children and a friend of Kosal became sick and died a few hours later. When he died, I was holding his hand and as he took his final breath he shouted my name and a bright light shot out from his eyes and passed right through me. We cremated his body and as was the custom at the time everyone attended the service,.. except for Kosal. This was unusual behavior for him but I was too upset about Chhang’s passing to force him to go and so he stayed alone in the dorm.
The following day Kosal developed diarrhea which continued throughout the day and so the following morning I called the doctor, who recommended I take him in for a check-up. We were short-staffed at the time and so I asked the cook to take him in by motorcycle after finishing breakfast, thinking it would only be a short visit… but the doctor wanted him to stay overnight for IV therapy and so I told him to send the cook back to fix lunch, while I found someone else to take her place. They had put Kosal in the same dimly lit room as before but when the cook went in to tell him she was leaving he was sleeping and so she left him without saying anything.
I found someone who could spend the night at the hospital and sent her there by Tuktuk, but when she arrived at his room she found him dead. I was shocked when the Doctor told me to come and pick up his body. No explanation was given as to the cause of death because no one was in the room at the time of his passing. Hospitals at the time did not have nursing care and so it was not unusual that no one went in to check on him.
It was late afternoon by the time we got back to Wat Opot, so I decided we would do the cremation of his body in the morning. I laid him in the casket room and lit the incense and candle but as I looked down on his lifeless body I remembered the light coming from Chhang’s eyes when he died. Some Buddhists believe that the Spirit of the deceased, at times will linger in the area of the body and for that reason, they put out fruit, rice, and some money so that the Spirit will feel comfortable. A candle and incense are also kept burning for the same reason. That practice didn’t make any sense to me before Chhang’s death… but witnessing the Energy that shot out of his eyes completely changed my mind.
Because Kosal was not very sick at the time, I wondered what it was he may have died from. He could have had a heart defect or possibly a reaction to the IV fluids, or… had he awakened in that dimly lit room and called for someone, and when no one came, felt he had been rejected again?
The thought that Kosal could be somewhere close by, brought tears to my eyes and I knew that there was no way I could let him spend the night alone in the holding room. I covered him with a blanket and then made my bed on the floor next to the casket and stayed with him until the cremation was over the following morning.
THE THINGS WE HAVE GONE THROUGH TOGETHER
Thanks for stopping in!
If you would like to be a sponsor of our community please go to the CONTACT page.