A lesson in thankfulness

Rom and Somit traveled 50 kilometers in a bouncy pickup truck this week to get treatment at the Referral Hospital in downtown Siem Reap. For a long time, so long that Rom can’t even remember when it started, her deaf 80-year-old husband, Somit, has been coughing up blood.

He was being treated by an NGO near his rural house in the Kralanh district, but his coughing got bad enough that they referred him to this facility. For two days, Somit has been waiting for treatment, sitting on a multicolored palm mat on the floor in the hospital hallway. At night, his family sleeps in the hallway with him. During the day, they wait outside, sitting in the dust while they wait for news. They cook on hospital grounds using the firewood and cooking pot they brought from home, packaged in a pastel rice bag — their only luggage.

Rom looks at me with the most stunning dark blue eyes as I ask her questions about her husband. She fidgets in her purple shirt and striped skirt, looking to her daughter-in-law for confirmation and answers. His cough is better since he’s been here at the hospital, she confirms. Still, the 200,000 riel (~$50) they will have to pay for each night he has a bed — which is not the same number of nights they wait at the hospital — will be a huge financial drain on the elderly couple and their family.

As I get angry and hurt and embarrassed by the way their healthcare compares to mine in the States — how did I deserve to be born into that privilege but they weren’t? — I’m struck by the realization that these people are grateful and hopeful. This just drives home the idea that has been bombarding me since I arrived in this beautiful, yet developing, country — if they can be thankful for what they have, I need to be infinitely more grateful for my dumb luck of being born in America.

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