It all started one Wednesday in Bangkok. I “played Songkran”, which mainly consisted of running around the streets of Bangkok, laughing and accidentally swallowing copious amounts of water while getting into water fights with strangers celebrating the Thai New Year. The swallowing water kicked off an unfortunate chain of events that, almost a week later, had me waking up with 4 or 5 old Thai grandmothers all kneeling over me, kneading my arms and legs.
Let’s back up.
On Thursday (day one, right after Bangkok) my friend and I traveled to Koh Chang, a beautiful island on the Gulf of Thailand. Two hours after arrival, I threw up the first time of many. All signs pointed to food poisoning, which usually has a recovery time of 24 to 48 hours. Except that wasn’t my case. Over the next four of five days, I ate 5 crackers and a mango and lost five and a half pounds while lying on a sandy beach.
After the 18 hour travel day on Sunday (day four) involving a Song Tao, van, ferry, taxi, bus, and another taxi from the island to Khon Kaen, my journey found me on the back of my room mate’s motorcycle to the hospital to get some tests done to make sure I didn’t have a horrible infection or virus and also to get an IV to start the rehydration process.
The hospital was a miraculous place. They got me on an IV because of my severe dehydration, forced me to drink 30mL of KCl, and ran a bunch of tests.
I checked out of the hospital the next morning feeling a lot better but still with a cold/general sickness. My Ajaan (mentor/professor) picked me up at the hospital with an overnight bag my room mate packed for me, and we headed straight to a four-day homestay in a rural village 3 hours away.
The next day, I decided to skip swimming with the villagers in lieu of a long nap because apparently healing from severe dehydration, malnutrition, and general sickness takes more than one night in a hospital. But then the grandmothers in the village decided I had slept too long. I woke up on the tile floor (beds aren’t common) to four, maybe five old grandmothers all kneading my arms and legs, one peering into my face. This was definitely the weirdest way I have ever woken up. They then proceeded to ask me if I had taken medication (the hospital had given me a gift bag full of it) and how I was feeling and do I need to go back to the hospital? Deciding I was too hot, they took a wet towel and pretty much gave me a sponge bath, all the while muttering things in Thai and occasionally tying strings around my wrist as part of the Bai See ceremony for luck and healing, never once letting me sit up or protest too much.
And that’s the beautiful part; from the nurses trying really hard to communicate with me in Tanglish (Thai-English blend) to my host mom constantly handing me water bottles to the village grandmothers kneading my arms and legs, concern and love radiated from people during the healing process. In some cases, all they knew was that I was sick, not even my name or why or how I was sick. And that’s the miracle of human kindness and compassion, I think. People simply went out of their way to help someone in need. No questions asked.