Sidecars and Pyjamas

The only sidecar I ever encountered until I came here was on our television screen in the 1970s.  George & Mildred was an English comedy series which I loved as a child.  The opening sequence featured Mildred in her old fashioned helmet looking decidedly unimpressed from the low-set sidecar attached to her husband George’s old motorbike.  The scene kicked off half an hour of cheap laughs each week.  Many of the sidecars here, serving as taxis, mobile shops or freighting all manner of produce, often so heavily laden that they can only travel at very slow speed, look like they travelled directly out of George and Mildred’s 1975 garage.

On more than one occasion in life I’ve been the subject of amused derision when my not-so-well-hidden pyjamas were identified as I tried to sneak down to the shop under a winter coat, or opened the door to unexpected visitors wearing a red polka dot ensemble.  So to finally find a place where pyjamas are accepted daytime attire, is a very lucky break.

Because I hope to maintain contact with him, I will give the 12yo boy who is effectively the first patient I met in Cambodia, mentioned previously, the alias of “Tom”.  As I will also no doubt be talking frequently about my translator, I will also give him an alias – Win.

Over the weekend Tom was moved out of the Tuberculosis Department and into the General Paediatric Department.  When our morning duties were complete this morning, Win and I went to Paediatrics to visit Tom and his mother.  We navigated our way over the dozens of shoes left at the doorway, through the room furnished solely with bed bases and the occasional metal stand holding a bag of fluids.  As we stepped around shoes and people towards his bed, other parents stopped in their tracks and watched us curiously.  He is still attached to oxygen with some mild improvement to his breathing, but still struggling for air and spiking fevers.  With his mother sitting beside him in her yellow floral pyjamas and smiling affably, Tom was sitting upright on the wooden slats of a bed base looking exhausted.  He appears no better and it seems the cause of his chest infection remains unknown and probably untreated (he is on a broad spectrum intravenous antibiotic).

With Win’s assistance I learned from his mother that Tom would be much more comfortable with a proper pillow to sit up against.  His family have no disposable income and are reliant on another NGO to provide money for food whilst they are hospitalised, so I offered to purchase a pillow, to which his mother agreed.  Many “chum reap suors” were expressed as we made our way out of the congested room.

At lunchtime my Australian colleague/housemate Sarah and I cycled through town looking for a shop that sells pillows.  We headed in the general direction of the Chinese Shop because that street is a jumbled mix of wares and services.  At the other end of the street we’d had no luck so I suggested we turn the corner, into which we entered “the wild west”.  A long narrow, crooked lane crammed with food vendors along crowded footpaths, motorbikes and bicycles weaving around one another in the busy single lane running through the centre of the marketplace.  Vendors at makeshift wooden stalls laden with woks and dishes were selling birds cooked with their beaks and claws intact, baked fish crushed between long thin wooden tongs, boiled eggs and plastic bags filled with boiled rice.  In amongst these busy makeshift stalls were permanent shopfronts, one of which I spotted had a mattress sitting on top of a wardrobe at the doorway.  We stopped to look and the merchant came out and greeted us with “Hello”.  His five year old daughter sitting on the footpath in her blue and white school uniform called out “Hello!  How are you?!”, eliciting a surprised reply.

Back out on the street a few moments later I wedged my new thick pillow into the basket of my bike, commenting on how local I felt with an oversized item bulging from my designated set of wheels.  We cycled back onto the main boulevards, and towards the hospital where I veered off into the Paediatric Department to deliver Tom’s new pillow.  At the time of delivery, Tom was sitting across the corner of his bed and the window it is adjacent to, his thin protruding shoulder blades resting directly against the window’s iron bars, and his mother was curled up asleep on the wooden slats of the bed.  I hope the addition of a pillow means that he and his mother both get to sleep a bit more comfortably tonight.

This week Médecins Sans Frontières have representatives at the International Union Against TB and Lung Disease (IUATLD) World Conference on Lung Health in Paris, where they have advocated for the desperate need to improve approaches to treatment for Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (DRTB).  An insidious infectious disease when it is susceptible to treatment, Tuberculosis that has learned mechanisms to resist the few effective drugs we have to fight it, is a genuine threat to the human race.  It is something that we should all care about if we care about the future of generations to come and none of us should assume immunity just because we live where TB is currently not prevalent.  Drug resistant TB has and will continue to gain a foothold on populations everywhere.

For this reason, today I signed MSF’s TB Manifesto, alerting the global community to the urgent need for improved diagnostic methods, treatments and preventive measures against DRTB.  Currently the treatments available for DRTB are a complicated mix of ineffective and expensive, with side effects so severe that many people prefer to die than endure two years of treatment.

Please learn more about DRTB and join the 1,002 people who signed the manifesto today.

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