Work Weeks 1 to 3 - Work, Pain & Partys

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April 20th 2011
Published: April 20th 2011
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So, I'm now into Week 3 of my actual job – man, those 2 months of In-Country Training flew by! I am very sorry such a delay since my last post, but in-between moving to my house, having no electricity, finding my way around work and being laid-up in Phnom Penh with suspected acute appendicitis for a week over Ka'mai New Year, I've been really busy!

So, I left Phnom Penh with Louise on Saturday 2nd April, our minivan loaded to the gills with motorbikes, bicycles, pillows, bedsheets, clothes, laptops, hammocks, a wardrobe (Louise's), a punchbag (mine) and a whole host of other crap to make our new houses homely! Funny thing happened as we approached Lou's house, which is about an hour down a 'red road' – basically a non-paved, dusty track. It has been baking hot all the while I've been here, so the dust was just phenomenal, and what started off a few bits of dust in the car soon became a full-on sandstorm! Everything, and I mean everything, was caked in this red dust – so funny, it was coming through the vents like a sc-fi flim! Our driver was non-too pleased, but every-time he ran his fingers through his hair, muttered something in Ka'mai and growled, I just burst out laughing. It got to the stage where I had to bite into my krama to stop myself laughing out loud!

So after Louise got dropped off, we made it to mine where the landlady and my VA were waiting for me, which was a very nice welcoming committee. I bedded down for the night, half-unpacked, made a coffee on my gas stove and lit up a cigar!

The first day on work was pretty much like any other first day at work – all expect the awesome 2.5hr lunch break! I am in work for 7:30, lunch 11:30-14:00, afternoon till 17:00. I did the usual of meeting staff, getting to know the layout and a feel for what is where. Day 1 was great, Day 2, well, was even better! As Ka'mai New Year was fast approaching, the Preah Net Preah Operational District staff paid for a party for OD, Hospital and Health Centre staff. The Operational District (OD) are the Preah Net Preah District regional health managers, kinda like a PCT....yet unlike PCT's, OD's have not been slaughtered by an ill-thought through Tory Secretary of Health plan pencilled out on a napkin!

“A party,” you said? “Great” I said, “What time does it start?” Expecting the standard 7pm-8pm start time, I had to double check my translation – yep, my 2nd day was to start with a party beginning at 11am! Well, as they say, when in I drunk, ate and danced with my colleagues whilst the patients and their families looked on in amusement!

The rest of the week was spent around the Hospital and Srah Chrik Health Centre, which is about 40mins away down a red road. Plan was to chill at the weekend, and was at Jon's on Friday night, relaxing on his balcony, having a few beers, 'gars, chillaxing to tunes and having banter - perfect way to end the week. Over Sat I found my way around the village, market/shops/bank etc., and also headed into Sisophon – our biggest town about 25k away – for some Skyping and shopping.....when on Sat afternoon the pain started....

Well, Week 2 was kinda where the wheels came off a bit!!! I was in quite a lot of abdominal pain on Sat night into Sunday, took some painkillers and hoped it was just a bug. Monday morning at work, I was no better, but I was in quite a bind as it was 5 days of Ka'mai New Year bank holidays starting on Weds, where the whole country pretty much grinds to a halt – people go back to the birth places, visit families, go to Wat's and generally stop work and live it up for a week or so. So I either grin and bear it, or wait until the following week....given the advice of Jon (my nursing advisor colleague), and Esther, a fellow volunteer based in Battambang who is an A&E consultant back home in the UK, I booked myself onto a bus to head to Phnom Penh on Tuesday. But, not before heading to the local Army Barracks & Regional Tank Headquarters for another New Year party on Monday night!

Jon and I finished up at work, and headed over to the barracks for about 5:15pm. We were held at the gate whilst they radioed ahead, and once we got through security and drove for about 5mins down a long and windy path, we reached the party in full swing – about 1,000 people eating, drinking and dancing in-between tanks, APC's and towed artillery! Was great to just sit in the marquee, have some food and chat to some local people. We only stayed for a couple of hours, and headed home. I had to swing back into the office at the hospital, as I thought I'd left something there that I needed for my departure for Phnom Penh the following day.

As I pull out of the office on my moto, a nurse runs over, hands covered in blood asking for help..what the hell?!? I pull around the front, and amidst the darkness I can see our ambulance in front of our ER, piled up with bodies – some moaning, some not moving. Turns out four blokes were on a tractor, pulling a trailer that was carrying doors and sheet glass – which was then hit side-on by a speeding HGV. Not a good scene. One man was obviously dying, one lad had a very bad compound fracture (where the bone comes through the skin) on an ankle, one had had head injuries/massive cut by his groin/ear falling off/bicep muscle hanging out of a cut in his arm, and an old boy, prob into his 60's, looked very dead sat in the back of the ambulance, massive head injuries with his eyes closed over from the swelling – well, I though he was dead until his phone rang and he retrieved it from his pocket and started chatting!

I called Jon, and he headed over from his gaff, whilst I got some gloves and got stuck into helping where I could. They were all in a very bad way, and Jon and I helped one of the doc's and the A&E nurse (who is an absolute superstar) stabilise and patch them up as best we could before we could transfer them to a bigger hospital with surgical facilities about 40mins away. So, what started out as a day of me in excruciating abdominal pain, ended up with me back at the hospital after a party at a tank HQ administering first aid to 4 blokes involved in a very serious RTA. Kinda got the feeling Week 2 was one of those 'test' weeks! To quote Jon, “we VSO'd the $h�t outta it” that night!!!

I got to Phnom Penh fine the next day, and that evening headed straight for the clinic for various tests, examinations, an ultrasound and prescriptions – thankfully the bloods and ultrasound ruled out appendicitis. So, I took myself to bed for the next few days at a hotel room in Phnom Penh, feeling sorry for myself whilst my VSO buddies were up in Siem Reap (major party town) for the New Year. Whilst I was in Phnom Penh everyone who knew I was ill were all very kind, with particular note to my family, Esther, Jon and Lou – fanks guys! Esther's expert opinion and care was utterly wonderful – she's a true and actual loss to the NHS for these 2 years whilst she's away.

I was feeling better by Fri/Sat, which coincided nicely with Neil coming to Phnom Penh from Siem Reap – as he works in the jungle in the East of Cambodia, it takes him 2 days to get anywhere!!! We headed out on Sat night, had a steak, had some beer (for medicinal purposes, obviously) and had some banter. I eventually made it to Siem Reap on Sunday to meet up with the girls, and then was back in Preah Net Preah for work on Tuesday – Monday was the final bank holiday for New Year.

And so, I now find myself here writing this update!

It's been a mad few weeks for sure, but am loving every second (well, aside from being curled up in the foetal position in agony for a few days) of this amazing adventure. So much has happened in the first 3 weeks of work, so what else is gonna happen in the next 2 years is anyone's guess!

That's me, and sorry for the crazy long update. There is a final piece of the story of the past few weeks that I've yet to mention - I've met a new lady and we've started seeing each other. But, more info on that can wait for another time...

Adiós from Cambodia, please let me know how you are getting on - either via phone, Skype, email, a comment (everyone can see) or a private message (only I can see) through the blog.

Peace and love,



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