Saturday, January 27, 2007

Get Well, Mr. Williams

"Mr. Williams" album

The medical system in Thailand is excellent. Services are professional, tests take place both in higher numbers and with a quicker turn-around time than in Canada, and nursing care is… well, both of my parents have nothing but glowing reports about the care given by the nurses in Chiang Mai. The people have been courteous, warm, and encouraging. Pretty much the biggest drawback, in fact, lies not with the Thai medical establishment or the people at all. Rather, the “problem” is my dad. You can see from the pictures that he is Caucasian, white… a “farang” is how they put it in Thailand. Well, this particular farang with the blood disorder happens to have a blood type of A-, which just happens to be a blood type no Asian on the planet has. This means the donor base in this Asian country is, well, NOT! (A serious problem, without a doubt)

And so it was that, early in the week, the Canadian Consulate in Chiang Mai put out an official urgent ‘all call’ to internationals of European descent of the need for blood donors with A- blood to help out an ill Canadian traveler. This communiqué, while effective, nonetheless created a bit of confusion over my dad’s name. Though I did not see it, his name was likely given in the format of Last name first, then First and middle names. I believe this because he received a special delivery of hand-made ‘Get Well’ cards from a second grade class of a Christian school in the area (Grace Christian School??), and every last one of them was addressed to “Mr. Williams.” (William is his middle name) I have since looked through these cards, and nearly all of them say, “Get Well Mr. Williams.” Hence, the title of this entry.

The call for blood donors reached the United States Embassy as well as other European embassies. It reached the headquarters’ of several NGO’s (Non-government Organizations who provide international aid), and it reached numerous Christian Missionary organizations that work with the various hill tribes in the region. In response, from all walks of life and despite it being time consuming and inconvenient, they came! In very large numbers, in fact. Most volunteers turned out not to have a matching blood type, and some were turned away for various other reasons (one was told she was too old to donate blood). More often than not, however, they made it a point to come up to the unit to meet and encourage the stranger they had come to help. In this, they’ve done an excellent job. My parents have both shared with me how profoundly moved they were by strangers who showered them with such overwhelming love and encouragement. My dad’s condition was serious, his pain was excruciating, and my parents’ fear of the many unknowns was considerable. But their courage was buoyed through the support they received from these people. In the end, only two blood type matches were found and accepted, and this was fortunate. But I think that far more good was brought from this than simply the blood that was collected.

So, even though I can do nothing for my dad from this side of the ocean but pray for his safe return and healing, I’m encouraged that, where he is, there are countless people who have him in their thoughts and prayers. "Get Well, Mr. Williams!"

Thursday, January 25, 2007

One song that’s never made much sense to me is the “12 Days of Christmas.” Christmas Eve for sure always had meaning, as did Christmas Morning. But… TWELVE days?? I used to wonder this as a little tyke, “Why, in the presence of such a compelling song, am I not raking in the yuletide loot daily for a period of time longer than a week?” Indeed, this was perplexing. My parents had no ready answers to my probing questions on the matter.

Another confusing element to this particular song existed in the actual items given. I could understand “five golden rings” even though we didn’t exactly do jewelry in our house. But what in blazes were, for example, a piper piping, a gessa laying, or a swansa swimming? Why would lords leap, and just what were the criteria to determine that the Hens were in fact French (There was a fleurs de lis tattoo on her comb, perhaps)? And finally, for the love of all that is sensible, WHY would “MY TURTLE” give to me so many birds and all of these other off beat items?! (Seriously, has a turtle ever given YOU a bird? It makes no sense.)

That last mystery was solved a few years later with the discovery that the gifts were actually from my ‘true love,’ not some amphibious pet with a shell that I never actually owned. (Never mind that I’d never to that point had a true love, either. But let’s not split hairs) However, the balance of the song has conspired to keep me baffled nigh these many years. Until now! Yes, at long last, life experience has afforded me further insight into this situation.

Here is how it happened. My Mother-in-law determined that she would like to compile stocking stuffers for the entirety of our considerable horde of children (no small feat). We were not to worry about such trifles as we had other fish to fry. However, a problem with old Father Time arose, and she became fiercely engaged in a losing battle with the ancient codger. A few scant days before Christmas Day, she realized that it was not possible to send the goods the several thousand miles to our home through traditional channels. There was the small matter of pounds of materiel crossing international boundaries, and duties/customs etc. So it was that the cargo was subjected to a series of unconventional methods of purveyance in an attempt to reach us in time for the yuletide celebration. My wife subsequently scrambled to put together alternative collections of items as the great northern stockings stood a snowball’s chance in Death Valley (CA) of reaching us in time.

At this point, the details become a bit hazy. The first leg of the trip saw travel by car or bus, possibly with a detour. Then, considerable time was spent with an acquaintance, who for some inexplicable reason did not see fit to forward the items as previously agreed. Days passed. The New Year came and went. Life returned to something resembling the previous “normal.” Yea, the aforementioned belated items, while not forgotten, were nonetheless essentially written off.

A surprise delivery arrived late in January, obscured in the midst of a barrage of Birthdays and other distractions. In fact, it took a few days before a time was set and the troops assembled in the living room at the same time. But when the appointed time finally arrived, Christmas continued! It was a whole 31 days after the fact, but it was a lot of fun nonetheless. So it was that this year we had the pleasure of experiencing 31 days of Christmas!

This incident FINALLY allowed me to wrap my mind around the concept of 12 days of Christmas. In other words, extenuating circumstances happen. So now, while nature of the gifts in the song continue to mystify me to no end, the extended timeline does not in the least. Think about it. If you were to assemble a collection of rings, hyperactive lords, gyrating ladies, swansas, and geesas, along with a troika of fowl of specific dubious ethnicity and a whole host of other birds, d’ya think you’d be able to make it all come together on ONE DAY!?! I didn’t think so. But it can still be fun.

May your next Christmas season be a long one (but one free of birds & turtles!).

Monday, January 22, 2007


Dear Mom and Dad,
Got your email this morning. Or rather, I got pre-dawn call from Larissa letting me know I had email from you this morning. You know how that goes: Wrong numbers come from drunk people between the hours of 12AM and 3:00AM; calls with News give the chickens competition before they have a chance to hit their morning stride!

Tried to call you, but even though my calling card isn't of the Cracker Jack variety, multiple attempts brought multiple results, with none of them being a real person. Just weird tones and then dead air or automated messages in Thai-nglish. (Kup Kuun Kaa, this number is currently unavailable. blablabla. Kun Kaaa... . ). The click and the buzz are pretty universal.

I just wanted to let you know that I'm keeping you in my prayers today, and that I hope you guys have a speedy and safe trip home. Please keep me in the loop as much as possible, though I suspect that things will be pretty hectic on your end for a while. I love you guys… (Email to my parents)

Leukemia. The word has always conjured in my mind images of sick cats and kids or adults who died long before it was their natural time. Only now, it’s being associated with my dad. My sister, who lives in a time zone 3 hours ahead of me, received the news first and passed it on to me before I could hit the ground running for another workweek.

My dad had gotten ill in late December and had been experiencing a great deal of pain in his back. When I talked to him on the phone in early January, I could tell immediately that the constant pain had already had a profound impact on him. His voice was strained, and it just wasn’t… him! However, once some more powerful drugs were able to manage this somewhat, he had proceeded to fly to Thailand for a 2-month trip he had been planning for over a year. Initial indicators were that he’d pinched a nerve and that it appeared to be resolving.

One week into the vacation, in which he’d managed to put in half-days of sight seeing in Bangkok, my parents took the all day train from Bangkok up to Chiang Mai. It was hard on him, and in his words, he was ganged up on by my mom and the Fords and made to go to the hospital. The medical staff were able to zero in on the diagnosis of Leukemia pretty rapidly, and word arrived this morning.

The plan is to stabilize him and arrange transportation home for treatment as soon as possible. I’m numb, but being thousands of miles away, there’s nothing to do but try to go about my business as usual.