It was 2 am Wednesday morning (February 6th). Still groggy from the general anesthesia, Kayeng arrived at his hospital room. The next few hours were taxing for Kayeng, Papa Vakoung and Thongchanh. They had already been up since 4 am Tuesday morning. While not family, Thongchanh stayed in the room to translate for Vakoung. He translated from Thai to Lao. Vakoung, in turn, translated from Lao to Hmong to Kayeng.
I wasn’t family or a translator, so had to leave and returned to my hotel room at the BH Residence. As I was preparing to leave, I noticed that Kayeng became more conscious and his grip on his Papa’s finger strengthened. It gave him comfort and peace.
But, it wasn’t for long. As the anesthesia wore off, new unfamiliar pains in his groin and familiar pains in his eyes scared him. It’s been only a year since Kayeng had to bear the intolerable, excruciating pains of the bomb explosion. He suffered at home without the frequent periodic medical visits and the constant administration of painkillers. It’s hard for me to forget how shocked I was when his grandmother told me that Kayeng cried non-stop for three months after the explosion. Perhaps, Kayeng thought, I know this pain?! Deja vu? Three more months of this?
Kayeng howled through the early morning hours. He was uncomfortable with the nausea and vomiting, caused by the anesthesia. He couldn’t hold his food down. His eyes hurt. His groin hurt (from extracting muscles to repair his damaged nostril).
Later this morning, Dr. Nattawut came to change Kayeng’s his right eye dressing. His right eye was very swollen, but looked very different from previously. It looked healthier, much healthier. His eye was higher on his face, where it should be. Dr. Nattawut assured us that Kayeng was recovering nicely.
Kayeng fought the doctor all the way, refusing to let anyone touch him. Weakened from surgery, Kayeng was much easier to hold down. Yet, Kayeng was very agitated and rebellious. Dr. Nattawut used many Q-tips to clean his right eye. The cleaning and dressing change was swift. Before he knew it, the doctor was done.
As his recovery progressed, Kayeng was fearful of new environment and unfamiliar people. He became insecure and, as before, he would only let his Papa hold him, touch him, console him. He showed his insecurity by grabbing his toys and placing them close to him, crumbling up the blanket Debbie gave him into a ball and placing it in his lap.
Even though his left eye was not bandaged, during the operation, Dr. Nattawut made some adjustments to Kayeng’s left eye, including getting rid of source of the incessant pain. A stent was installed where Kayeng’s right nostril was by the ENT surgeon Dr. Vitchapan. (The stent was a silicone tube covered with muscular tissue from Kayeng’s groin. Eventually, the silicone tube would be removed and the tissue would be the inner lining of Kayeng’s right nostril.)
Kayeng slept most of the day with frequent visits from doctors and nurses to check on him, which he found violating and inconvenient. Exhausted Papa who struggled to keep his eyes open stayed close to Kayeng throughout. Slowly, Kayeng was becoming himself. He started to press the buttons on his toy to play “Old McDonald Had a Farm” and “Skip to My Lou”.
“That’s a Medicine (little) Cup, I Drink Out of the Water (big) Cup”
It is February 7. Thongchanh and I arrived at 9:30 am. Dr. Nattawut had already changed his bandages and left.
Kayeng was in a better mood. He sat up and played with his toy piano we got for him at Big C. His Papa Vakoung was exhausted and on autopilot. Kayeng definitely rules his Papa. He told Vakoung what to do and Papa complied. I admire Vakoung’s patience and willingness to be everything to his son. Most important, Vakoung speaks, almost whispers in low comforting tones to reassure his son that everything is going to be alright while doctors and nurses do all kinds of strange foreign things to him.
Kayeng told his Papa he was thirsty. Papa reached for the small drinking cup, filled it up with water. He pressed the cup to Kayeng’s lips. Kayeng turned his head away and told his Papa, “That’s a medicine (little) cup. I drink out of the water (big) cup.” Kayeng was absolutely recovering. He was returning to his spunky self.
Thongchanh makes Kayeng laugh by tickling him, strange for a boy who does not like anyone to touch him. He calls Thongchanh “Father Thongchanh”. We play the different roles in his life that he is comfortable with as long as we do not overstep the boundaries he’s established for us. As long as I am only playing with him and all his toys, he is fine. He shares his toys with me. Yet, I cannot hold or feed him. So, I stay at a comfortable distance supporting his Papa.
A young 24, at times I think Vakoung too wants his mommy. He is so docile compared to his son. Although his demands are not out of the ordinary considering the circumstances, Kayeng’s needs and wants are his command. He is consumed by his child’s welfare, but at times he gets very weepy as if he needs someone familiar, older to take charge. I am but a poor replacement for his parents, but I do give him lots of hugs and reassuring looks to keep his spirit up.
Dr. Nattawut visited throughout the day. He had a special bonding session with Vakoung alone. He explained and demonstrated what happened to Kayeng during the surgery. He showed him the shrapnel for the first time. Vakoung was surprised. More surprising was when Vakoung put the shrapnel in Kayeng’s hand. It covered half of his palm. He explained where the shrapnel came from. Kayeng froze for what seemed many minutes. He gently closed his hand feeling the shrapnel with the tips of his fingers. He was strangely quiet for an unusually long time. He was solemn. It was as if he was parting with part of him. Which it was, for one year.
Dr. Nattawut gave us the shrapnel that so destructively severed Kayeng’s right eye optic nerve and muscles. It would lay fallow infected and destined to shorten Kayeng’s time on earth had we not intervened and found Dr. Phetsamone and Dr. Nattawut (and in the background Dr. Luc). The shrapnel is out. The doctors cleaned out the infectious pus. The boy eye’s is clean and he is on his way to a new transformation.
Kayeng had many visitors to check up on him, plastic surgeon Dr. Somboon who indicated that Kayeng will need more operations to repair his nose, pediatrician Dr. Somyod who gave Kayeng a clean bill of health and indicated his lungs were clea, Dr. Nattawut returned to clean Kayeng’s eyes and nostril. This time, the hospital’s Managing Director Dr. Num and his Deputy Dr. Yee accompanied him with other physicians and Head of Nursing. Dr. Nattawut explained to them the surgery’s success. Steve Job would be proud to see Dr. Nattawut use his iPhone light to highlight different procedures on Kayeng’s eyes and nose. He brought with him a three-dimensional crystal mold of Kayeng’s skull including the shrapnel, emulated from his iPhone/iPad 3D images of the CT scan. Their many oohs and ahhs from the medical team and me.
Kayeng’s appetite continued to improved. His spunkiness continued to resume to normal. When the nurse brought out the long-curve necked portable pee bottle for Kayeng, Kayeng pushed away the bottle, squirmed his way down to the floor, and went to the toilet to go to the bathroom. No pee bottle for Kayeng. No way!