I had previously written a post talking about a child we met with a broken rib. Father Hieu recently sent us the following letter giving more detail.
We met Thục in the family’s front yard. He was about four years old, small for his age, and had dark skin. All the children playing looked similar, but Thục was different. An open swollen wound on his side caught our eye. The wound was festering, and we could recognize an abscess forming in the child’s small body. Thục ran and ran, gently holding his hand under the wound, sometimes having to stop and then rush back with the other children. The wound seemed to have been there for a while, certainly not less than a month, and was in a bad condition. I called Thục again, asking where his house was. He pointed to the house behind the hard he was playing in. The house was an old brick house like most of the other houses in the village. Looking at his house, I knew Thục is the descendant of a leper.
Vicious History of Deadlock
In the last century, Dakkia village was an isolated village for leprosy patients, located in a valley between high hills and mountains on the West side of Kon Tum Province. At that time, the village was a shelter for leprosy patients, separate from the outside world; separate from both the possibility of infection and the stigma most people have with the disease. Leprosy is contagious, but not inherited. Many Dakkia villagers were cured, got married, and gave birth to children. Eighty years later, most people in the village don’t have leprosy. Although most people with leprosy in the village are no longer contagious, the history of disease still lurks in the village and casts a stigma of natural inferiority on those who were born in the “quarantine”. This did not matter much in the early years, when Dakkia was self-reliant. In those days, the village relied on cultivating the forest to provide food and goods to trade. Eventually, the people in the surrounding towns expanded their farming areas, gradually occupying the forest that had been cultivated by the Dakkia villagers. Without land to cultivate, the source of life in Dakkia was exhausted. Pushed by poverty, the breadwinners of the families had to break through their inferiority complexes to travel to neighboring villages and find jobs as day-laborers.
Thục’s family situation is typical for families in Dakkia. Inside the house was Thục’s mother, who is in her mid-thirties and six months pregnant. Having guests in her house asking about her son caused her to become slightly embarrassed and to smile shyly between giving hesitant answers. The more I asked about Thục’s wounds, the more the mother hesitated. After asking Thục and his mother for more information, we stitched together the story: Thục was running and playing with the neighborhood children and fell. His left side hit a tree branch and bled profusely. I asked Thục when this happened. His mother said it had been over a month.
For more than a month, the child had grown accustomed to the pain, but the wound was eating deep. It was spreading over his thin body, exposed all day to the dust and sun. Unless something changed, the wound would not heal. For a young pregnant mother, it is difficult to justify bringing your child to the hospital when the child is still able to run around. She believed that her son’s body would cure itself. When we asked to bring Thục to the hospital, she hesitated, saying something nonsensical that didn’t indicate whether she agreed or not. I analyzed the bad manifestations on Thục’s wounds and asked if she would agree to take Thục to the hospital. The mother looked down at her growing belly, then looked at the pain in the air. She is pregnant with her 7th child. Thục is the fourth in the family and has two younger siblings. The burden of living with six children and an unborn child has overloaded the family. Having someone leave the village to go to the hospital is too challenging.
Following their conscience, someone in our group asked, “Where is Thục’s father?”. The silent woman pointed back behind the home. In the back, her husband was sitting doing laundry. Seeing the guests, he stood up and walked towards the front of the house, his legs low and high, walking and speaking a few words that we could not understand clearly. He was drunk. During the conversation, he only said a few pointless things, sometimes even making his wife angry when he insisted: “I don’t take care of him, if you want to take him to the hospital, take him there!” The scene at the time, with a child in pain, a pregnant mother, and a drunken husband – seemed to show the deadlock of an extremely poor matriarchal family.
Help me through the pain
When we heard Thục was in pain, we quickly decided to take him to the provincial hospital for treatment. It was near Lunar New Year, and I was about to return to Saigon. But, because a visual examination suggested the wound was urgent, I immediately sent Dr. Tiến – a friend working in Kon Tum – to Thục to visit.
At Kon Tum Hospital, the results of screening and clinical examination showed that Thục had broken ribs and osteoarthritis. The broken bone was making an abscess and was likely to stab into the lungs if left for too long. The doctor said that Thục needed surgery, as soon as possible. But it was several days before Lunar New Year and the hospital didn’t have staff able to schedule a new procedure until after the holiday. We talked to the hospital and were able to persuade them to make Thục’s procedure a priority. The child has been in pain for too long, and with each passing day the risk of serious and irreparable complications increases.
After considering Thục’s critical status, the doctors in the hospital agreed to conduct surgery a few days after Lunar New Year. Thục went to the hospital with his mother. The goals of the operation were to remove the abscess, remove the broken bone, dredge the lesion, and clean the osteoarthritis. After the surgery, Thục was hospitalized for 10 days for antibiotic treatment. Sponsors were able to pay for the entire treatment because Thục’s family did not have the money to pay.
After the surgery, Thục’s face was completely different. The shyness that once lingered on the face of the 4-year-old child I first met was no longer there. I am rejuvenated to see the change in Thục. Only one thing remains: a scar deep in his chest where the wound had healed.
Thục was feeling well, free from the deadly risk of an infected wound. His wound has healed, but the scar on his chest will remain as a reminder of the disadvantages of a child who grew up in Dakkia – a land that reminds me of the importance of charity.
Father Paul Nguyễn Như Hiếu
(translated to English from his original letter in Vietnamese)