Some years ago I wrote an article about Sao Come. Call it fate, but a lottery changed his plans. However, not in the way you might expect.
2010 – From Jen’s House-mother, Tamla
“Unfortunately there is bad news about one of the boys, Sao Come is in the hospital and it looks like he will be there for anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks. He has septic arthritis in the knee.”
To understand the seriousness of this diagnosis, the following is an email response I received from a Dr. in Ottawa. “If the child has septic arthritis this means he has a bacterial infection within the knee joint. Usually the child would be sick with a fever and might appear quite ill with this diagnosis. The treatment would be long term antibiotics perhaps infused directly into the joint as well as orally or IV. The synovial fluid should be cultured to see what organism is causing the infection and to what antibiotic the bacteria is susceptible. This is a serious infection that could lead to destruction of the joint if it is acute. If it is a chronic infection such as an infection of the bone (osteomyelitis) this could be a more chronic indolent infection that might even need surgical debridement. If I can be of further help let me know.”
As you can see it is quite a dangerous and severe diagnosis.
Dec. 2010 – After Coleen’s visit to the hospital
I was at the hospital on Friday to visit Sao Come and he is unable to do anything but in true Karen style he offered me a weak smile. As we set about trying to cheer him up he said he wanted to laugh with us but he just couldn’t. The doctor who is treating him has told us that he will not loose his lower leg as originally thought. His father was with him and we are working out a timetable so that someone will be at the hospital with Saocome at all times. As it is in the Karen tradition no person is ever left alone, especially in a hospital or any other foreign place. Sao Come’s father is worried because he must go to work.
In Sao Come’s hospital ward there are about 10 beds and of course all male so his mother cannot stay. As there are no extra beds Sao Come’s father has been sleeping just outside by the window beside his bed. The mosquitoes are very bad, so I will purchase a mosquito net so that he does not end up in the hospital beside his son. The good news for them is that they will not have to worry about the bills as we will take care of anything beyond the most basic care that is covered by a health program. Chai, the house-father at Jen’s House will help with some of the rotations.
When I first met Sao Come he stood out. He seemed distant and sad and when I asked Tamla about it I learned that he had hurt his knee years ago and that it was often the source of great physical pain. Since arriving at Jen’s House, Sao Come had been to the hospital with a hight fever twice but was only given the equivalent of tylenol and sent home. The third time was different, his fever was very high and it was not getting better. It was only at Chai’s insistence, that the doctor investigated further and a diagnosis of osteomyelitis was finally made. Doctors and nurses here do not take kindly to being questioned especially by a Karen. If Sao Come had not been at Jen’s House his outcome would certainly have been much worse.
It was only later that I learned the full story behind his injury. When Sao Come was eight years old he was using a knife (not unusual for a boy his age) and cut his knee open to the bone. His father took him to the hospital in Mae Wang for treatment. However, the injury continued to flare up for years. Each time the pain in his knee reappeared it was the same long process of finding a way to get from Maw Wah Khee to Mae Wang and wait. As a Karen he was continually pushed to the back of the line, Thai people first. When he was finally seen he received pain killers, perhaps some antibiotics and sent home. The root cause of the recurring problem was never investigated.
Sao Come is now 13 yeas old, he has been suffering with this recurring injury for five years. At least now, there will be a proper record of his diagnosis in the hospital which will result in his ability to receive proper treatment in the future, if necessary.
Chai has spoken to the school and he will not loose his year. During his recovery he will do his school work in the hospital and I will go and teach him English. With the opportunity to become well I’m sure we will see a big change in his personality. Not living with chronic pain tends to do that. I’ll let you know how he is progressing.
Well Sao Come did recover fully, did not loose his leg and gained his high school diploma in 2015. He planned to attend Agriculture College.
Forward to Spring of 2015 – Today I received an email from Tamla. “Sao Come got drafted, he picket the red card, which means he hs to go to be a soldier in November. Ahhhhh! His father cried! He should be able to study with some army program but not sure of the details or where he will be stationed for basic training.”
I felt ill, Sao Come is a gentle young man and seemed that last who would do well in the army. There was no choice, Sao Come’s post secondary education was put on hold.
“Here’s how it works: In the first week of April of every year, the military holds a special lottery where you get to “draw” your own fate. If you draw a black card, then you’re free – have a nice life. But if you get the red card, well then you’re screwed, I mean privileged, to spend the next one to two years, depending if you’ve graduated from college or not, in one of the three services (Army, Navy, Air Force). However if you’re still studying or have medical problems then you’re (disappointingly) recused from the lottery for another year.”
To learn more about the lottery and conscription into the Thai army there is a great description by a young man at http://bangkok.coconuts.co/2015/04/09/what-its-almost-get-drafted-military
April 2016 – Saocome has now completed his basic training and is a soldier in the Thai army. He keeps in touch regularly via Facebook and I look forward to seeing him when I return to Thailand in November.
After his two years of service perhaps he will return to full fill his dream of going to college to study Agriculture. Time will tell!