Readers' Submissions

Rubber Gloves And Scabby Dogs

  • Written by Kiwi James
  • October 1st, 2004
  • 12 min read


Rubber Gloves And Scabby Dogs (Not A Dana Story)


In Astonet’s submission “Thai Myths” 22/9/04 he says “Thailand is a poor country. You have no alternative, folk must die in their homes….I know and you know, poor people without means to pay are turned away – this is the case even under the government's so called and insufficiently funded 30 baht health scheme.”

I having been living in the village here for six months and in that time I have been to 7 funerals, 2 had died from car accidents the others died in their homes. I want to tell you a little about three of these people and the differences of health care they received, one had a little money and the other two almost none at all.

The locals have a fear of the District Hospital. They have a saying “If you're sick and need to go to hospital, don’t bother just keep going straight to the temple for your funeral”. When my wife became pregnant I took her to see the doctor at the hospital. I could not believe it when we went into his consultation room. Here was his mangy, flea-ridden scabby dog sitting under the bed. When the doctor put on his rubber gloves and wanted have a look between my wife’s legs, I said “you've got to be f***ing joking". I was so angry. I told him he should not have his dog here and he should know better. This guy was not some old codger. He was fresh out of medical school. We later heard that the dog even follows him on his ward rounds. No wonder the locals have that saying. Fortunately the main provincial hospital is a modern facility and that’s where most try to go even though it’s an 80 km drive.

Ok, back to the stories about the villager’s health care, or lack of it….. The first story is about a guy who was 26 and who became very ill. The family have an old pick-up so they were able to take him to the good hospital where he was diagnosed with liver cancer. A week later the doctors told the family to take him home as they could do nothing for him. The family were able to afford to pay for the pain relief medicine. I think it must have been morphine. We went to visit him. It is the custom here that when anyone is seriously ill people will come and be with the family, many will stay all night. It was very sad to see this young guy, he also had a beautiful wife and baby. At 4.00 AM the next morning he died, I think the morphine speeded up the process and he died peacefully in his sleep.

The second story is about an old guy, he was 70, this happened two months ago…… My wife Kay and I were having lunch in our home when one of the neighbours came running in shouting something. Kay said she is saying her relative has committed suicide and wants me to go to the house. I quickly run to the old guy's place. When I get there people are standing outside and crying. I hesitate for a few seconds but they motion for me to go inside… There are more people in the living room and then they again motion for me to go into the kitchen… What a shock! Here was this guy hanging there! I screamed at the people there to help me, I lifted his body and tried to undo the rope, someone got a knife and cut it, I laid the guy on the floor, I checked for his pulse….nothing! Then I did CPR, not mouth to mouth but the two hands together pushing on his chest, I will never forget the sound of the air going in and out of his lungs. I did the CPR for about 10 minutes, but it was no good. His daughter was there beside me, I put my hand on her shoulder and said sorry.

I went outside and a few minutes later the police arrived. I thought they might want to ask me some questions but no they never talked to me. Kay told me why no one would cut the rope – they are scared to touch a dead body as they believe that his ghost will return that night to visit them. Later Kay made me have this little cleansing ceremony done by one of the village elders so that I would not get a visit from his ghost. The old guy had planned his suicide and had written a letter. Earlier that morning he had joked with his grandchildren that when they come home from school they would be taking him to the temple. The old guy had been sick for some time. He had been to the hospital but they just sent him back home and told him they could not do anything for him. Rhey did not give him any pain relief medicine. In his letter he said that he could no longer take the pain and so decided to end his life.

The third story is about an elderly woman. She has a son who looks after her. They are very poor. The son does a little farm work to get buy. His mum became very sick and he wanted to take her to the hospital. In the village there is a person that makes his living out of hiring out his pick-up truck. The son wanted to hire him and the charge was 150 baht, but he only had 60 baht and the guy refused to take him unless he was able to pay in full, so the son had to go up to the mountain to get bamboo shoots to sell to raise the money needed. Once again the hospital told the son to take his mother home as they could do nothing for her and gave her no medicine. When I heard this story I said to Kay we should go and visit her. It was a pitiful sight to see this dear old lady in such pain. She could not eat and was only living off the water that rice is cooked in. She was hanging on waiting for her daughters to come from Bangkok to visit her. There are times when you should be a generous farang and this was definitely one of them and you shouldn’t make a song and dance about it either, no need for us to buy into that gaining face BS and it only takes a little baht. Her son did go and get some medicine, the old girl lingered on for a month or so, her daughters never came to visit, a very big no no for a Thai…

After that I told Kay to put the word about that we would gladly take people to hospital. So far we have taken a boy with a broken arm, another boy with concussion. He fell out of a tree, a cousin's wife who was in labour and 15 relatives and hangers on all pilled into our pickup to go and visit a family friend at the hospital 80 km away, that was some trip!

So, three stories that are probably very typical of what happens with the 30 baht health scheme for poor people. It’s obvious that the scheme is under funded and the hospitals are under such a tight budget that they are unable to give out the appropriate medicine for these dying people. I suppose their thinking must be, better to give proper medical care to those that will survive than to the dying.

On a lighter note, funerals here in the village are such a fun time, 3 days of celebrating the person's life. The customs are very similar to what the Maori people do back home in New Zealand so I am quite used to what happens…… For 3 days it’s almost a continuous party, most people will stay for the three days and also no-one will work here in the village (bad luck). There is lots of food preparation and cooking going on, eating and drinking, music from dawn to dusk and movies for the children.

But one thing they do differently here is……after a bribe has been paid to the police the gambling will start. They will mostly play Thai cards games peedeak and koyku and a 3 dice game called hilo…… At the last funeral we went to a policeman phoned to say his boss was on his way as word had got to him that there was gambling at our village. Everyone quickly stopped and put away the cards and the dice etc….. When the boss policeman arrived he said “Stop what you are doing and stay where you are”….. He then walked around, he did not look happy… he said if I catch anyone here gambling they will go to jail…. Everyone was silent until old toothless uncle jumped up and said “yeah that’s right, you will all be locked up and then he went on and on about how bad gambling was and how it was such a big sin and you deserve what you get etc…and then he turned to the boss policeman and told him he would make sure there was no more gambling.. Of course what so funny about this is that uncle is the biggest gambler in the village… I wonder if the boss policeman knew it was one of his men that had informed us?

I still receive emails about my 3 submissions from last year titled “Good Girls On The Net”, people wanting to know did it all work out in the end… Well I can thankfully say it most certainly did work out… I arrived in March of this year. As my dowry to Kay’s Mum I agreed to build her a house, oversaw the construction, never had any trouble with the builders, the only problems were with the suppliers trying pass off second grade materials. April 26, Kay became pregnant, yes we even know the exact day, it was a planned pregnancy, two weeks later we did one of those home test kits, what a fantastic feeling to see those two little blue lines appear. We cried tears of happiness. The next day we told Mum, she was very happy. By the end of the day the whole village knew. No one minded that we were not married yet, as it seems they consider you married when money starts to change hands. Naughty Mum had already told all her friends that Kay and I had been sleeping together. We had all been staying at uncle's place while the house was being built, that damn bed in the upstairs spare bedroom sure had a loud squeak. We used to sneak up there in the afternoons…..first lesson on village life, everyone knows your business, what your doing and who with. Mum asked us if we would stay and live in the new house. She of course wanted to be with her grandchild and have the financial security of a farang living in the house. So yes it was an easy decision to make to leave Bangkok and live in beautiful Loei province.

We were married on 18 June, a traditional Isaan wedding, morning ceremony in the new house and an evening dinner which was held on the school sports field, the whole village came, over 200 families. We had a band and singers and dancing girls, the place rocked until the wee hours, Isaan morlum singing starts to grow on you after awhile. I soon settled down into village life and living with the family, which consisted of Kay, her brother Boar (15), niece Donut (9) and Mum Mai. The other members of the family that live in Bangkok are Ann, married to Lee, Mon, who is the mia noi to Mr Ning Nong, and Jo who is 23 and single. Lee is a great brother in-law to have. He is very generous and gave us a wedding gift of 100,000 baht, he didn’t make a big deal about it and just put it into our bank account. Lee also got us a good deal on our new Toyota 4×4 dcab at fleet buyers rates (oh sh*t, I’m starting to sound Thai trying to gain face with what possessions I have)…555 … Kay is truly a wonderful person. She gives her love completely we are both blissfully happy. She is going to be a great mum and she loves our baby already. The first 3 months of pregnancy were very difficult. She was throwing up after each meal, and often just her looking at my face made her puke…no joke! She also did not put on any weight. Now at the end of the fifth month everything is going well. We had to delay our honeymoon because Kay was so sick. We went to Pattaya for a few days and then onto Koh Chang for a week… As a mixed couple you get used to the stares from Thais, but let me tell you this while we were in Pattaya the farangs would give us the longest stares because Kay was pregnant. She was showing a lot even at 5 months, I’d like to know what they were thinking.

Well it’s been an interesting first six months here, village life can be fun and interesting. I am the only farang living here permanently. I have joined in with most things going on here and even tried the bugs that they eat, jipom are my favourite (large cricket) and also kiead (sun dried frog). But there is no way that I will eat pladag which is fish mixed with salt and left to rot for up to a year. It is sold in the market and you will smell it before you see it. Looks like something a dog would puke up.

At a recent gathering here the mayor of the village introduced me to the guests as “this is James the beloved son in-law of Mrs Mai. He is not a stranger. He is one of us”. So I think I have been accepted by many. They will respect you most if you give them your time, you can’t buy it.

Kay and I are thinking of starting a “home stay”. It is very beautiful where we live, if you're into scenery, mountains, bush walks, caves and fishing and meeting wonderful friendly Isaan people. Send us an email. We would love to hear from you.

Stickman's thoughts:

Long may your happiness continue!