Readers' Submissions

Thai Thoughts And Anecdotes Part 90

  • Written by Dana
  • July 2nd, 2005
  • 14 min read


A HEALTHY ALTERNATIVE

Year: 2001
Place: Boston
Time: 2 a.m.

Dana: Honey, are you awake?
Susan: Yes.
Dana: I think we need to talk.
Susan: What about?
Dana: Well, I am sick and I am about to go into a long dark tunnel in my life. I don't know how long the tunnel is going to be and I do not know if I will come to a light at the end of the tunnel. So I think it is time we said goodbye. When people get sick everything changes. We can't go on together. It is time for us to part.
Susan: OK, when do you want me to leave?
Dana: Today.
Susan: What are you going to do?
Dana: I'm going to go to Thailand.
Susan: Why are you going to Thailand?
Dana: To die.

Year: 2002
Place: Right Spot Hotel, South Pattaya, Thailand
Time: 1:00 p.m.

Dear Susan: You do not know who I am. My name is Tum. Dana and I were lovers before he met you. When Dana entered the end stage of his disease he asked me to come and help him. The reason he asked me is because he did not love me and he did love you. I hope someday you will understand that. In the end when he was skeletal and delirious he never lost his dignity and he never lost his love for you. The last thing he said before dying was "Tell Susan I will wait for her in heaven." Dana died in my arms two days ago. I will cry a million tears. But first I must work with the monks. He will be cremated here in Thailand. I am currently going through his journals and talking to his friends to identify the parts of Thailand that would be appropriate to receive some of his ashes. I will scatter half of his ashes here in Thailand and then I will bring the other half of his ashes back to the Vineyard and scatter them there. If you would like to help me scatter his ashes on the Vineyard in places that were important to the two of you I would be honored. I would like to meet the woman who captured his heart.–Tum

In the story above the main character contracts a terminal illness and decides to go back to Thailand to die. Going back to Thailand to recover from illness or to deal with terminal life conditions is not new. Thailand offers something to the ill that sometimes western environments can not offer. The ability to relax. There are two ways to deal with illness and to deal with fate. One way is to fight and the other way is to not fight. There is some medical evidence that the less aggressive more accepting approach can sometimes be more helpful to the body as it struggles to regain the homeostasis of health. Too much stress is never good. But in many western environments it can sometimes be well nigh impossible to relax. It is not enough to take thrice a week yoga classes if you have been told you have inoperable brain cancer–you're whole external environment must also be more relaxing. Thailand can offer this.

When I was sick in Thailand I adopted a schedule. In the mornings I would sit outside under the big tree at The Right Spot hotel in the sun. I was too sick to read. I would just sit quietly in the sun while the birds chirped and the maids smiled. Then around noon I would walk up soi 16 and get the baht bus to Jomtien beach. There I would swim in the ocean and get more sun. I had a theory that the combination of the salt water and the sun was good for me. Healthy radiation and healthy primal ancestral waters working in synergy on my sick system. Then I would get the baht bus back to Soi 13 and walk down to the AA Hotel. There I would pay a fee and go up to the fourth floor terrace and use their pool. Swim some laps and then lay in the sun until my bathing suit dried. Now it was afternoon. I would walk down the boulevard and stop at Swenson's Ice Cream. Any western trained doctor who tells me I should not have been having a daily ice cream treat at Swenson's just does not know what he is talking about. Fabulous. After Swenson's I would be starting to drag so I would catch the baht bus down to Walking Street and then the mototaxi back to The Right Spot Hotel. Nip across the street to the Chinese owned convenience store for some corn-on-the- cob (twice as expensive as corn-on-the-cob sold halfway up Walking Street–"this is Chinese corn–special corn") and juice drinks and yogurt and then back to my room. Reading and a bath and call it a day. If you look at this itinerary I was actually working a health loop from hotel to hotel. My caloric intake was cut in half, I ate no bad foods, I drank only bottled water and juices, I told my sad story to no one, and I suffered no bargirl entanglements. I got better.

Why did I get better? Well, probably because I was fated to get better. But I have to believe that changing my lifestyle to one that emphasized relaxing had to be a factor. You can do that in Thailand. Can you do that in your own country? In your own country if you are suddenly faced with the spectre of your own mortality or frightening illness can you leave wristwatch and work and worry behind? No you can't. Your body never has a chance! You can do that in Thailand.

Consider this: You have been separately and competently diagnosed by multiple western doctors and labs and surgeons in your own country with inoperable brain cancer and your thoracic cavity is so full of tumors and masses and spaghetti filaments of cancer wrapped around every one of your organs that the surgeons doing the exploratory surgery just closed you back up again and sent you home. To die.

So you decided to die in Thailand. You said goodbye to friends and family, put your legal affairs in order, sold or converted or gave away all of your assets and flew to the Kingdom. When you got off the plane at Don Muang airport in BKK your stomach was distended from disease, your legs were shaky and you had trouble focusing. Your bag was full of pills. But it is ok. You have decided that Thailand would be a good place to die.

So you negotiate a long term discount for the sixth floor ocean facing suite at the AA Hotel and settle in. You have a computer installed. You establish a routine. You forget about the past. You stop carrying a watch. You don't have a cell phone. You don't have to be anywhere. You can't be late. You don't have a job so you can't fail. No quotas to meet or bosses to please. No mortgage payments or bills to pay. You smile at the locals. You get sun and exercise every day. You stop worrying. What is there to worry about? You have come to die. You stop eating junk foods and you stop compulsively overeating. No alcohol. No bargirls. Too stressful. You regress within yourself. You mentally and physically retrench. You forget about your friends. Not with calculation–it is just that the past starts to slip away. The present is clattering down the marble steps of the hotel in the morning sun and getting blinded by the smile of the vendor lady across the street as you go out for a walk and a paper. Another day of sun and absolutely nothing that has to be done.

Six months later it occurs to you with the flash of an incoming mental comet that you have not died. Not only have you not died but the tumor and mass distended stomach that you arrived with when you landed in Bangkok on a hot and humid night has gone away. Your legs are no longer shaky. And your mind is clear. What is going on here in Thailand? You are supposed to be dying. What is Thailand telling you? Well, maybe what Thailand is telling you is that if you can forget the watch and the work and the worry you might get a second chance. You lived like a fool and you deserved to die like a fool but Thailand will give you a second chance. I can not think of a bigger smile than that.

Four months later there is a knock on your hotel room door at midnight. Through the peephole you see an acquaintance who is the regional manager for a trekking tour company. He has a problem. He has a tour of nine people due to go out tomorrow at eight a.m. and the tour guide has just been hit by a car and is in the hospital. Could you possibly just this once step in and take his tour out? You demur. You came here to die. You can't do it.

The next morning at 8 a.m. you meet the group of tourists. You take them on an eight day tour. The hardest thing is making sure to catch all of the buses and trains on time. The rest is fun. The people are friendly and it is fun to ride elephants and bamboo rafts and tourist around the country. When you return the manager still has not found a substitute for the injured tour guide. So you take out another tour. More fun.

A year and a half later you are still guiding. It has become your lifestyle. You are fit and lean and brown and happy. On a return trip to the States you decide to get a full body MRI scan. No sign of tumors or growths or masses or spaghetti. All vital signs and markers fall within the normal range. You stopped taking the pills in your bag eons ago. You are not going to die. You are going to live forever. Thailand. Sometimes to get better you have to be a good listener. If you are in Ohio and you are sick or you are in Auckland and you are sick or you are in Jeddah and you are sick or you are in Capetown and you are sick maybe your body is telling you that it does not want to be in Ohio or Auckland or Jeddah or Capetown anymore. Time to buy some airline tickets. All those sad sack relatives and friends that fed into your victim stories–leave them behind. It's time to push all the health chips into the middle of the table. Time to go to Thailand. And don't waste time and energy with explanations and goodbyes and validation seeking–just pack your meds and go. Time to go to Thailand (TTGTT).

I had a Thai friend who had a period of mental and physical illness in his life so he went to a temple and checked in for five months. Today he is a beast of good mental and physical health and intends to live forever. So what really happened in that five month period in that Buddhist environment? Was it a special herb soup or Buddhist chant or bone marrow centered belief system? Well, maybe. We all like to come up with attractive stories and theories for the results of our lives. But my take on this is that what happened on that island on the side of that Thai mountain with the stunning views of the ocean was that his body got to relax. Thailand.

If you are so sick that you despair of western medicine being able to help you I think that going to Thailand might be a good idea. But I think you should dispense with the romantic notion of checking into a remote monastery somewhere and pretending that you know what is going on. The cultural gap is too wide. Remember you need to relax. My recommendation would be to find a hotel or a guesthouse or a beach house in a place that you love and then get in touch with the local expat clubs. Build a nursing or hospice or hospital or doctor network that you think you need. In the very beginning, stick with the western values that you are used to. Don't worry. Thailand will soon work it's magic and start to wean you off of some of this western influence. You won't know that it is happening. Good health can be insidious too. Creeping into you and up to you without your knowledge. Like the exploratory insect with waving antenna. Trying to make a decision about whether this body is worth the effort. And I think it is particularly important not to form bargirl alliances. Opinions differ on this. Some would argue that a woman's touch and woman's smile and a woman's laugh is the best medicine. An attractive idea. The only problem is that all of the women in Thailand come equipped with families. If your system is fighting for life that is not the best time to be getting into an argument with Noi's brother because he thinks you should buy him a pool table. If you are getting off the plane in Bangkok with the sure and certain notion that western medicine could not help you then you need to write on your hotel mirror–LAST CHANCE. Stay away from bargirls. You need to retrench and join the local library and make nondemanding friends with expats and find a charitable organization to volunteer your time to. Helping others will help yourself. Arguing with Wan or Nip or Fa about daily payout rates is the same crap that made you sick in Australia or Germany or England. No more arguing. No more defending yourself. No more conflicting emotions. No more trying to please. It's all about you now and you do not have to defend yourself to anyone. You are fighting for your life. Thailand is your last arena.

If you are getting off the plane in Bangkok with the sure and certain knowledge that you are going to die than all of the above applies. But additionally you need to locate the hospice groups and people that will hold your hand and treat you with dignity in your last days. These in most cases are not going to be Thai people. The Thai culture is not quite up to speed on treating the sick and terminal and the unattractive with dignity. Find expat informers that can help you. And as long as you have the strength to hobble to the Skytrain or to the taxi you might give some thought to volunteering to help others. One of the medical mysteries is that helping others improves our health. Nobody knows why. But it is the results that count. Stop obsessing over yourself so much. Everybody has a story. But yours is getting boring–even to yourself. Thailand is no different than anywhere else. They have the indigent and the lost and the injured and the lonely. The blind and the cripples and the people with wasting diseases. Orphans. Going from bed to bed blowing up balloons and then tying them to the patients toes will make them smile. And everyone of your smiles is money in the health bank. If I was in this situation in Thailand I would try and find a hospital that allowed volunteers to come in and hold babies. I think holding and talking to babies would help me get better. I have never held a baby. I have never had anyone say they loved me. I have no one who will visit my grave. I would like to hold a baby.

In conclusion: for most people Thailand is a place to visit and have fun. But for others it might be helpful to think of Thailand as medicine. A place of medical mystery that can turn your sick and dying health picture around. No more watches. No more work. No more worries. No more striving. No more making excuses. No more guilt. No more being so anxious to be accepted. No more defending yourself. Just sun and smiles. Later when you have the strength–laughing. Then perhaps helping others to laugh. It is called relaxing. The human body was not built for all of the incoming data that the average westerner is constantly required to deal with. We were designed to be walking around on the Serengeti Plain looking on the ground for something to eat. The first casualty of our modern competitive data rich highly stressed lifestyles is increased blood pressure. That is the lip of the hill. The push that starts the toboggan down the slope of ill health. Is Thailand a guaranteed antidote for the miasma of medical problems that you have gotten yourself into? Maybe not. But it might be your best second or last chance.

Thailand. A Healthy Alternative.