Monday, February 3, 2014

Times Of Change--Remembering Vietnamese Boat People

Everywhere I have worked as a physician, I have had the honor of taking care of the local Vietnamese population. I also have enjoyed working with Vietnamese physicians and surgeons. We have become friends. And in a way, I have become 'Vietnamese on the inside.'

One of our GI nurses is in her late fifties, and is Vietnamese. After the case today, and in the recovery room, when the patient was all 'tucked in', I wished her 'Happy New Year'.

Even more, I came up to her, right in front of her, put my hands in the prayer position and said, 'I wish you a wonderful year filled with much love, joy, and happiness!' And gave her a hug.

She almost cried.

The supervisor nurse in the room, who is Latina, also followed my example, and wished her many good things.

Here is our Vietnamese nurse's story:

The wishing of blessings upon the elders on New Year is very Vietnamese. The extended family sits in chairs in a row. The oldest brother is the important one in their culture, and represents the parents if they are not able to be present.  She sat with her brother and sister and their spouses, and everyone had their present, their gift...

Her brother is the one who started all of the action for their leaving Vietnam at the time of the war.

Her family--her husband and small children--had no money. She didn't pay even 'one dime' to come to the states. Her brother and her mother made it possible for everyone to come.

Vietnam is an ocean country. Here are fishermen.

Here are the fishermen's wives waiting for the men to return from the sea.

Here is a market that is completely afloat, entirely on boats.

So the idea of paying a captain to take them in a boat across the Pacific Ocean to escape the war made a lot of sense to the people. However, it was very expensive. Many gave their entire life savings to buy a ticket to be on the boat.

Now we begin the story of the nurse and her daughter, who was eleven months old at the time. The food and water ran out. And so did her breast milk. She was unable to nurse the child. 

By planning ahead, she had brought concentrated milk to mix for the child. But there being no clean water available, she had mixed it with the river water, and the child developed diarrhea. She was very sick and the baby almost died. Her mother was 'only half there' as she remembers, for she was sick too.

Their small boat was captured by a Thai pirate vessel.

The pirates took the sick daughter. They went to another ship, near, but not touching, and tossed her overboard to the other boat!

If the throw had been wrong, the child would have fallen into the ocean and perished.

Somehow, despite the language barrier, the pirates knew that there was medicine and people to care for the child on the other boat they had captured and thrown the child to.

They treated the girl.

And in two days, they brought the boats together and threw her back to her mother's waiting arms.

'You see, in the ocean, there are waves,' the nurse explained, 'and if the boats get too close and the wave comes, both boats crash into each other and both are lost and sink.'

That is why the child had to be thrown to the other boat. And even doing so the pirates had taken great risk to themselves and everyone aboard both vessels.

'You know, even though they were Pirates, they were not all bad. They saved my daughter's life.'

Here is the story of the eleven-month old daughter, after she grew up, here in the states:

In childbirth, she could not push the child. The pregnant mother-to-be had congenital dysplasia of the hip. She could not open properly for the child to come out.

She needed to have emergency cesarean section.

Back in Vietnam, the nurse, who is the mother of the new mom, had given birth to her children at home because she did not have money.

If a complication like this had happened to her daughter back in Vietnam, where she would have given birth like her mother, she would have died. She and the baby would have died, together in childbirth.

So, again, with a shaky voice and tears in her eyes, the nurse said, 'without our blessing to be here, I would not have my daughter or my grandson today.'

So next time you see a little mom and pop store or restaurant in the Little Saigon neighborhood near you (this gentleman is from Washington, D.C.), if it's not too busy, ask them their story.

I guarantee it will inspire you.

Aloha and Mahalos,

Reiki Doc