May 27 2012
It’s true that there are many wonderful things to do in Siem Reap, none of which involve a stranger sticking a needle in your arm and draining the life-force out of you but I’m still going to tell you it’s a good idea. The Angkor Hospital for Children is facing a critical shortfall in vital blood supplies that they need for the operations and transfusions they carry out on sick children every day, and they need your help.
“Ha, ha!” I can hear you say. “We’re not going into a hospital in a dusty, developing country and letting them poke us with needles. She must be mad!” So I figured I can’t ask you to go there unless I go myself, so I did.
But first a little bit about the hospital. Thirteen years ago, the Angkor Hospital for Children opened its doors to provide free medical services for Cambodian children. At that time, a horrifying one out of every five Cambodian children was likely to die before they reached the age of five. Today, the number is only barely better, and one in 20 children is not expected to make it to their fifth birthday (compared to 1/212 in Australia, or 1/167 in the USA).
Over the years, the hospital has expanded the range and quality of its services, which now include outpatient, emergency, intensive care, surgery, physiotherapy, dentistry, an eye-clinic, HIV/AIDS home-care and a low acuity unit. The facilities are modern and spotless and the staff-training is considered exemplary. Moreover, patients and their families are treated with dignity and respect, a basic right that patients in other hospitals are so often denied. This year they saw their millionth patient.
The supply crisis has impacts for all of their young patients, especially the many with blood cancers. The hospital is also fearful for the coming monsoon season following an alert from the Ministry of Health which raises concerns about an epidemic of dengue fever this year.
To be honest, I was a little apprehensive going in. I am the most monumental coward in most circumstances and have a tendency to imagine untold horrors when people start sticking needles in me – no doubt stemming from my first blood test in Ireland, which was performed so poorly that I instantly passed out cold – pity the good doctor hadn’t told me to sit down first either.
But, no doubt trying to impress a boy, I started donating regularly in London (I know, shallow), and through that I’ve worked on the understandings that no-one is going to wander off to take a call from their Granny and let me quietly expire, or blast huge bubbles of air into my veins like they do in spy movies. I still think it’s going to happen, I just have learned to pretend I can’t hear myself thinking about it, and I’m still here.
You’ll find the hospital on Samdech Tep Vong Street, behind the Central Market, and donors can drop in at any time between 08:00 and 16:00 every day; no appointment is necessary. The security guards at the gates beside the moto-park brought me to the right place, where I was greeted by Sin Reaksmey, the English-speaking nurse who took my medical history details and then performed the procedure gently and with the utmost professionalism in a spotless treatment room. I didn’t even notice that she had stuck in the needle when she took a first sample to measure the haemosomethings.
For the main procedure, she plugged me in and after three minutes it was done. Brand new needles were used, and the whole experience was really as pleasant and worry-free as it’s possible to be. Children’s cries from the ward outside made sure there would be no going back at any stage in any event.
At the end, Reaksmey allowed me to rest for five minutes, before coming back with snacks and a soft drink, and my very own T-shirt. For anyone who feels compelled to help Cambodia and Cambodia’s children, this is genuinely one of the most valuable ways that you can do it. You know you can do it.
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