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How It All Began Part 8


Life and death

Our home might last for a long time, but I almost didn’t last another 24 hours. There are some things you never forget. One of them is what a heart attack feels like. When I awoke in the middle night with chest pains, unable to breathe, I knew all too well what was going on.

Luckily, (or so I thought), a government hospital was only a few minutes away. I explained to the doctor in the ER that I was having a heart attack. He didn’t seem overly concerned. He certainly was in no rush to do an EKG, or in fact much of anything. He attributed my symptoms to some possible indigestion, and had me brought up to a dirty, crowded ward, and basically left me there! But I’m having a heart attack I cried! My wife was in near hysteria. She immediately called our closed friends in Lampang, Pee Koong and her family.

Now from my ranting so far, you may have the impression that our few months in Lampang had been unhappy ones, and that we felt surrounded with greedy people who were shamelessly taking advantage of us. Aside from The Monkey and his Flea, we had made many good friends in the short time we had lived in Lampang (and have had made dozens of more since then). I met Pee Koong when I volunteered to do some teaching at a local Elementary school. Not only was I having fun, but gained the respect of some highly regarded members of the community. Hey, here was a farang who was trying to be part of Thai society! Who knew there was such a thing? Maybe he and his wife are good folks. Pee Koong was a teacher at this school, and introduced us to many fine people. She and her family are truly jai dee. They have done so much to help us since we arrived, that I will never be able to repay them…especially for what they did in the middle of that night.

They quickly rushed to that sad excuse of a hospital, called an ambulance, and had me transferred to Khelangnakorn Ram, the private hospital in Lampang. There, a real doctor quickly had me up in ICU, where a team of professionals worked to stabilize me. I was in bad shape, and in severe pain. I really and truly thought I was going to die that night. From the ICU I was brought to another ambulance where I was rushed up to Chiang Mai Ram Hospital. (I think we must have driven the distance in record time, which was good, because later Dr. Pattaraporn, my cardiac surgeon, told me that I had just barely arrived in time.)

It was only minutes before I was prepped and in surgery, where I had two angioplasty procedures done. If you’ve never had one done, and I sincerely hope you haven’t need one, it’s hard to describe the sensation of having a tiny tube being inserted at an artery in your groin, and snaked into your heart while you are conscious and watching the whole thing on a monitor! I actually have a DVD of the whole thing in living color! The balloons were inflated, the stents were inserted, and my heart could once again function!

There may be some incompetent doctors in Thailand, just as there are anywhere in the world, but Dr. Pattraporn isn’t one of them! I owe my life to him, literally! He’s also a nice guy, and I see him every three months for a check up. (Everything is a-okay!)

I do shudder to think what would have happened if I had remained in that government “hospital”. I would be dead, no doubt about it! Needless to say, neither I nor anyone in my family will ever set foot in a Thai government hospital again! I urge YOU to follow my example! I can almost hear the angry emails pouring in, but I stand by what I’ve said. Yes, I’m sure that there are some competent doctors in government hospitals, and some incompetent ones in private hospitals but when it’s your life on the line, where do you want to go?

Premium healthcare in Thailand does come with a premium price. Although perhaps less expensive than similar surgery in the U.S. my little stay in the hospital cost us a major chunk of change. Unlike U.S. hospitals, I didn’t go home with a bill; I went home with a receipt stamped paid in full. Thank God we had enough money in the bank!

It was good to be home in my own bed, but I had a lot to think about. I had thought my heart problems were under control. I exercised several hours a day. I could always stand to lose five pounds, but my blood chemistry (cholesterol etc. was good) Unfortunately during the last two years I had developed type II diabetes, which wasn’t a complete shock since I had it on both sides of my family. Apparently that had played havoc with my arteries. I needed to add some new medications to my regimen and play closer attention to my diet (lay off the sticky rice etc!)

I wasn’t the only one worried about my mortality. My wife, after thinking about it summed up her feeling thusly: “You could drop dead any day and leave me all alone….so you need to produce a baby! That way I’ll have somebody in my life”! And you know, I didn’t really see how I could refuse her.

I had two sons back in America. My oldest had just graduated from The University of Vermont the year before. My youngest was getting ready to finish high school. I once had another son, but I lost him just short of his second birthday. I knew what a responsibility having children was. Did I have the physical, mental and emotional stamina needed to do it all over again at my age? I guess I would find out. So after I was deemed healthy enough for that kind of activity, I gave in to the inevitable and gave Som what she wanted. I only hoped that raising a child was like riding a bicycle; one of those things that you never forget!

House Construction

The crew has happy to see me back on my feet (barely) at the construction site, and I certainly was happy to be back. My wife and I spent a good part of every day there, making certain that everything went according to plan.

Since we were paying for materials, we were there to accept, count and pay for every brick, bag of cement, truckload of sand or concrete that was delivered. We still have a large binder with every receipt in it, and tell you to the baht what everything cost. We went all over Lampang, and sometimes far beyond to pick out exactly what we wanted. We went as far away as Uttaradit to get all our doors and windows (They were the nicest I’ve seen in Thailand), and had stone delivered from Saraburi (We had driven by the quarry on our way to Buriram). Whenever possible we did try to shop locally. Most of our appliances however came from Home Pro in Chiang Mai, because they had a much larger selection. I definitely needed an oven, and you couldn’t find many of those in Lampang! We had fun picking out floor tiles, selecting colors of paint, etc.

We got a real education when it came to buying teak. What do you think the difference between “legal and “illegal” teak is? If you think it has to do with the way it’s logged, forget it. What makes teak “legal” is a piece of paper saying that you’ve paid the government tax. In other words, you can plunder to your heart’s content as long as some government flunky gets some money! We spent quite a lot of time at the mill where the wood came from. The place is run by a very nice family, who like many of our suppliers, became good friends. They were at our housewarming party, and saw what good use we put the wood to.

Our construction crew, which consisted of a dozen guys (and gals) worked seven days a week, rain or shine, building our home. In addition we had a separate crew who fabricated the steel roof structure, one who sanded and finished the woodwork, plus painted, and Chang Fi our electrician. These folks are the true “salt of the earth”. If Thailand has managed to accomplish anything, it’s because of the sweat and skill of these people.

Even though I have a middle class background, where everyone in my family went to college, our family business was definitely blue collar! We had a successful auto parts business. Many of my friends were mechanics, did construction, were plumbers, electricians etc. I think that’s where I first got my respect for people who work with their hands. I still have that respect today. My wife of course, coming from a farm family, has always had that. As the months went by, our crew grew to respect me as well. I wasn’t completely ignorant when it came to construction, and wasn’t too proud to work and sweat along side of them, although I did need to take it easy. I got to know about their lives, their dreams and aspirations, and those of their wives and their children.

Unfortunately people in Thailand who get their hands dirty for a living are looked down upon. For my money, I would rather hoist a cold one with them, than with some spoiled high-so “professionals”!

Even after our home was competed, we’ve stayed in close touch. They are always inviting us to join them at their homes. Last New Year’s Eve I had everyone over for homemade pizza (something they had never tasted before). I consider myself lucky to have made such good friends!

Having a large crew working 7 days a week, construction continued to fly along. Eventually they were ready to start on the finish work. I finally got to see how they constructed their elaborate ceilings. It’s something to see real craftsmen at work. I’ve tried taking pictures of the finished ceilings, but the details and three dimensional qualities don’t really show very well.

The sanding, staining, and sealing of all the woodwork, inside and outside was a huge job! We bought safety goggles for the guys doing it, but they refused to wear them. They preferred getting their eyes filled with dust. Go figure!

The kitchen was the most complicated bit of work I our home. Talented as our guys were, they weren’t cabinet makers. We wound up getting a company in Chiang Mai to make them. They did such a good job, that we had them make wall length wardrobe units for the bedrooms.

We were hoping that everything would be done before Songkran, but was going to take until the middle of May to wrap it all up. Songkran meant a well deserved break for our crew. My wife and I wanted to show our appreciation for all that they had done for us. And so we reserved a kind of floating houseboat / “sala” at Kia Lom Dam, a large reservoir in the countryside.

This had a nice kitchen facility and karaoke system. Our whole crew and their families showed up to have some serious fun! We of course brought many cases of beer and other potables, along with a few culinary specialties I made for the occasion. Everyone else brought a ton of food, and of course more drinks. Needless to say we all had sanook mak! We ate, drank, sang, and danced the day away, while the “captain” of the boat sailed us all through the many kilometers of the reservoir. Since it was Songkran after all, we stopped at a beach for everyone to get soaked. It felt good, since it was a hot day.

Elsewhere in Lampang, an incredible celebration was going on. I only caught a bit of it that year, but this year I spent a day riding my bicycle through the town, getting both soaked and sloshed! Being virtually the only farang out in the street, I was treated like a real Lampanger! I was handed more drinks than I could ever hope to consume, and received a number of kisses from pretty girls (some of them quite passionate!), including this sweetie!

Up here in the North, folks like to party hard on Songkran, but in Lampang even though things are pretty wild, it’s less crowded than in Chiang Mai. If you’re ever wondering where to go for Songkran, I highly recommend Lampang!

Although Songkran is the wildest holiday in Lampang. Loi Krathong is the most beautiful…and romantic. I’ve heard that parents like to keep close watch on their young daughters during the celebration because more Thai woman get pregnant on that night than any night of the year. I believe it! In Lampang, in addition to going down to the river and floating karatongs downstream, there is music, fireworks, and the launching of thousands of yi-peng (paper balloons illuminated and powered by candles) into the sky under the full moon. I don’t have words to describe the spectacle. Lampang also has an incredible parade, with floats traveling through the streets and on the river.

Stickman's thoughts:

I love your house. Wow, all that wood, exactly the style I like.

And Lampang sure sounds like a great spot. It is on my list of places to check out in early 2008.