Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lost in Translation

I was thinking of a way to make this story as short as possible, but I don't think there's a way. The best way is to just tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Side note: There will be run-on sentences, typos, and probably one big paragraph in this entry. So my students who are reading this, give me a break :) I just want to type fast and get the story finished! ^ ^

Pictured above is my friend, Vuong (aka Jimmy), protesting having his picture taken. He's one of the funniest and most selfless people I know. We're a lot alike - always in a good mood, easy-going, love to laugh, free-spirited - which is why we get along so well. We eat lunch together every day, and on last Friday by 11am I hadn't heard from him all morning, which is highly unusual. So I called him, and a girl answered the phone. I asked her in Vietnamese where Vuong was, and I got the response, "bệnh viện," which is 'hospital.' Three weeks earlier, his mom took a nasty spill on her bike, wasn't wearing a helmet, and had been in the hospital since the accident, so I assumed he was visiting with her. I couldn't understand why he left his phone behind. But I just hung out at home, prepared a lesson for a class, and figured he'd pop in or call whenever. At 1pm I got a message on my phone from a number I didn't recognize. The message read, "Im so sick. And im at the Thong nhat hospital now. Maybe tonight i have operation inside my body." So I replied, "Who are you?" And I found out it was Jimmy messaging me from his sister's phone. He told me he had a painful stomachache and was taken to the hospital. So my roomie, Lizz and I hopped on my bike and drove to the hospital to see him. He was in the ICU of sorts lying on his side looking dreadful! I was trying to get information on what was happening, and I couldn't get anywhere. He couldn't talk, and his sisters don't speak a word or English.. and I don't know medical terminology in Vietnamese... so all I could understand was that he had a stomachache. So I just sat down next to the bed and couldn't do much of anything to comfort him.. or do anything really.. so I was FRUSTRATED to say the least. I kept asking him to please just try to tell me exactly what about his stomach that was the problem. Apparently, he got so tired of me asking for a response that he just blurted out an answer to shut me up: "I don't know exactly. Same same cancer but not." I was like... WTF, mate!?! So I just drew my own conclusion that it must be a tumor. I mean.. what else can be cancerous but not? So, I was helpless to help him. If you know anything about me, you know that I'm a bit of a control freak. Okay.. a big one. Therefore, not being able to help him in any capacity - the language barrier, the culture, his sisters watching us- everything was working against the good of the situation. So, the doctor came in, and Lizz and I were asked to wait in the hall. After about five minutes, we went back in, and Jimmy said they were going to operate, and that I had to leave because I couldn't be in there. He said he had his family there, and they'd look after him, which greatly saddened me and made me feel as small as a grain of sand. Through tears I replied, "But I'm your family, too!" Well.. not so much on paper.. so I had to get out. Frustrated, helpless, and the biggest of all - just the unknown - took its toll on the short journey back home, and I cried all the way home just not knowing what to do. I called Mr. Thom and asked if someone could cover my classes because I needed to be with Jimmy at the hospital (which I assumed I'd be right back up there when he was out of surgery). Well... hour after hour after hour.. no word. At 8:30pm, (the operation started at 2pm), I messaged a student, Thai aka Tyler, and asked him to please call Jimmy's sisters to find out what was going on. Tyler called me back at 9pm and told me that the operation still wasn't finished - 7 hours and not finished!?!?! I couldn't be there with him, I didn't know what was going on... so Tyler called for more information. I got the word that his appendix had ruptured, and the doctors found a hole or some holes in his stomach that they had to fix.. but that he would be okay and not to worry. So at least I had some information, thanks to Tyler, and could go to bed somewhat settled. Needless to say, I didn't sleep much, so I woke up the next morning trying to figure out a plan of action. Jimmy didn't have his phone so I couldn't call him. BAHHHHH!!! So I called Tyler again and asked him to please call Jimmy's sisters, find out what was going on, where Jimmy was, and if I could visit. Tyler called me back with the green light, and off I went to visit Jimmy in the hospital.

So, I got to the hospital, and Jimmy's grandmother met me in the hall and took me to where Jimmy's bed was. Let me say that Vietnamese hospitals are the complete opposite of American hospitals. There was Jimmy... in a big open room.. with lots and lots of other patients .. and to my surprise sharing a big bed - two queen beds put together - with three other patients.. no air conditioning... no tv... nothing.. sharing a bed.. no privacy. Wow. But I got to see him and make sure he was okay, at least, and that was honestly enough for me. He didn't talk much due to the pain and being doped up on meds so I didn't stay long - maybe thirty minutes or so. I just wanted to see him and make sure he was okay. He did tell me that the surgery was 8 hours and that many people in that hospital have died during the type of surgery he had so that's why the doctors took so long. I went back home frazzled by that tidbit of information that I could have easily been just fine without knowing. I told him I'd see him the next morning and to call or message me if he wanted me to bring him anything.

I woke up early Sunday morning after Mr. "Wake up before Dawn" Jimmy messaged me to pick him up some sort or Chinese herbal tea that we had bought for his mother the weekend before. I had also made plans with some of Jimmy's classmates to visit him at the hospital at 9:30am. I had plans for coffee with a student at 8am, went to the supermarket after that, and picked up Jimmy's herbal bird saliva tea,' and got to the hospital 30 minutes later than expected. Two of his classmates were already there, and a third - who coincidentally is a doctor at the hospital Jimmy was in - showed up minutes later after I sent him a message that I had arrived. Jimmy looked better, in less pain than the previous day, wasn't high on meds any longer, had an appetite, and could hold a conversation.

**It was AT THIS MOMENT when everything came to light!!

Dr. Duc - my friend, Jimmy's classmate, and a doctor at the hospital (all the same person) - enlightened Jimmy that the hole he was telling everyone that the doctors found were actually three holes.. incisions if you will, that the doctors themselves had to make, of course, to remove his appendix.

And the eight hour surgery??? was REALLY a 30 minute procedure with the remaining time waiting for the anesthesia to take effect and the subsequent wearing off of aforementioned narcotic and recovery time afterwards.

Keep in mind that up until this point - two long days - the only information I had was:

1: Same same cancer but not
2. Holes in stomach found during operation
3. An 8-hour operation
4. A lot of people die from this type of surgical procedure

Is it any wonder why I was a wreck for three days!?!?

So after having a lengthy, informative, and enjoyable visit with Jimmy, Jimmy's classmates - along with Dr. Duc - and I headed for BEER!!! And you can bet that "Same same cancer but not" was cheered to many, many times.

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