Sunday, May 11, 2008

Two shots a day

Last time I was in Hue, my colleague Van and I had a task to complete that ranks up there as among the most difficult things we've had to do.

We wanted to interview Chau, the 17 year old boy who is dying of cancer in his family home by the beach. Chau had been taken to Ho Chi Minh City to work in a garment factory in appalling conditions at the age of 14. He started to get ill a year later, and without any medical attention he was eventually far too sick to work any more. The boss sent him home, which is when we met him and found that he had advanced cancer. I've written about Chau here and here if you want more of the story.

Time is dwindling away now; pain management is all that's left for this boy and his family. After talking to his parents, Van and I decided to interview Chau on video to create a permanent record of what he has been through. He has something to say, so we gave him the chance to be heard.

As we spoke to Chau about his childhood, life in the village, and his time in the factory, we had to keep taking breaks as pain swept through his bones, then subsided long enough to let him talk. I couldn't help but feel like some kind of monster as I pressed Chau for information, asked for more detail, and then waited for him to be able to speak. I don't know how journos can do their job in situations like that.

The purpose of documenting Chau's pain is not just about keeping a record of events. Chau needs an advocate - someone to stand up for him when he cannot stand up for himself. He's been mistreated, and at the very least someone should listen to him.

There was also a very practical outcome of our interview. In this day of modern medicine, nobody needs to be in such pain. For some reason, though, the doctor overseeing his case had prescribed just two shots of morpheine per week. The afternoon that we interviewed Chau, he'd had one of his twice-weekly shots, and was already in agony again just hours later.

It doesn't take a medical degree to see that Chau needed serious relief - but convincing the doctor of that wasn't easy. It took some weeks. But now Chau has been prescribed two shots a day, which has helped enormously to reduce the pain.

Hand in hand with pain relief, of course, comes the morpheine haze and various uncomfortable side effects. Chau's mother and father wait on their son around the clock, massaging him when the pain comes and sitting by his side when they don't know what else to do. We bought the family a TV and DVD player just so that they'd all have something to take their minds off the relentless misery that they are living in.

Such a waste of a valuable life. I know our world is imperfect, but sometimes it's very hard to accept.


Anonymous said...

Words fail me in cases like this. I don't know how I'd cope in his shoes, his parents', or in yours.

All I can think of is to pass on a mental *HUG* to all those involved and hope that was time he has left is as comfortable as can possibly be.

Anonymous said...

gosh i don't know what to say... it breaks the heart to hear about Chau. And the story with those heartless people at the factory is so bloody outrageous. Are they human?
This world is so unfair...
My thoughts are with Chau & his family, and you & your staff, Michael. May you all stay strong through this.