Apr 28, 2015

The Worst Trip to the Hospital Yet

In an instant, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake leveled Nepal's capital with over 4,000 in casualties. By grace I had changed my travel plans to visit the country in mid-May instead of throughout April (aka right now). After I read the news of the natural disaster, I couldn't fathom exactly how terrible it was, or what I would have done if I was there. In a macabre mood, I watched online footage of the 2004 and 2011 tsunamis, trying to instill a sense of horror in myself so I could take in the magnitude of such devastation. It only served to make me feel more numb.

One should not seek the horrors of death.

Since returning to Thailand I've been working at the KUMON tutoring center helping children learn English. As a reward for the teachers and student assistants' hard work, the principal decided to have a pool party at the local "resort." It's been over 100 degrees everyday since the oppressive hot season began, so when we arrived at the pool six of the boys and I jumped right in. The other teachers and guests sat around the perimeter watching us splash around.

We were in the pool for what felt like less than ten minutes when I saw the oldest – Tete, 19 – swim out to the center. Someone was floating there, so I called out he was going to swim right into them, which he did. Tete pulled the person – Ford, 12, another student – to the side of the pool. He tried to push him up the side, but Ford slid back in. It was then I realized what was happening.

I raced over as the other teachers pulled Ford's body out of the pool. Now on his back, water streamed from his nose, then gushes of foamy blood poured out of his nose and mouth. He was unconscious and not breathing. I thought, He is going to die.

What words can describe what that moment felt like? I remembered you're supposed to do CPR, but... There was a short in my brain circuitry. I couldn't tell right from left to know what side to press down on Ford's heart, or even if that was really the correct thing to do. I didn't think I could breathe into his mouth with all the bloody foam pouring out of him.

A teacher pushed down on Ford's belly, trying to get the water out. We shouted his name. Bubbles came from his nose – then his mouth opened and he suddenly gasped in a breath. Then another. He was alive. A few moments later his eyes fluttered slightly open. The teachers struggled to carry his heavy weight up onto a pool lounge chair, where he proceeded to throw up blood. His eyes were open now, and he was talking a little.

My arms were shaking terribly. I couldn't do anything except rub his back when he sat up. His hero, Tete, stood beside the scene watching it all. Some time later the paramedics arrived and carried Ford away into the ambulance on a wheelless rescue stretcher. The younger boys were standing on the opposite side of the pool, dripping wet and watching in a stunned daze. Everyone at the resort had evacuated the pool, regarding it with a sense of distrust.

The principal went with Ford to the hospital. When she returned in the evening, all of us went together to visit him. In the open-wall hospital, families had set up bamboo mats and mosquito netting tents along the cement "patios" to spend the night near their sick loved ones. In the pediatrics ICU, only three visitors could go in the small enclosed room at a time. The boys took turns with the teachers first, then I walked in.

I passed incubators of impossibly tiny babies to reach Ford's bed. He had a tube through his nose and another down his throat. He was hooked up to a machine that kept beeping warnings about his frequency of respiration. His lungs still had water in them, so the hospital was waiting to give him medicine. However, his eyes were wide open, aware, and teary. His mother – a nurse who was on duty when her son came in – stood at the head of the bed. His father was behind her, his body tensed with so much worry he looked crumpled in on himself.

I said a few words to Ford; it was all I was capable of. His parents and the hospital staff were there, he was under good care... I couldn't do anything for him. His mother pulled out an extra large adult diaper from a bag at the foot of the bed; it was our signal to go. The principal, teachers, students, and I left and went back to the resort to sleep the night. And by sleep, I mean watch foamy blood pour from Ford's nose and mouth a hundred, hundred times in my mind's eye.

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