Spunky and all of eight when Miss Chompoo collapses, her dorm mates help save her life
By Father Joe Maier
The bloom was off our Rose -- but for only a few minutes. She didn't die. It happened this past June 19, a Sunday. A sudden-death horror story. Almost. It began and ended in five minutes. Literally. Five minutes. But she lived.
That part wasn't guaranteed for another two hours. She regained consciousness in the emergency room of a nearby hospital.
Today, she's back to playing Thai jump rope, her favourite sport. Total recovery. For now. And, really, that's all that matters, isn't it? There are no tomorrows when you are eight.
Our Miss Chompoo is delightfully spunky and spicy -- like Thai chilli peppers. Even with HIV/Aids, she's filled to the brim with life. Yet, most of time, she's demure and as sweet as tamarind candy. She's a six-pill-per-day orphan, and so popular in school she's a star third-grader. I can hear my own grandmum naming her, like in that old song, My Sweet Honeysuckle Rose.
HIV/Aids doesn't beat her up too much -- meds keep her on an even keel. Pills, the large hard-to-swallow kind that lodge in your throat, are as much a part of her daily diet as sticky rice. She makes no secret of her illness. In fact, she tells everyone, especially when it suits her purposes. Miss Chompoo is clever that way. And fearless, someone you'd want with you in life's trenches.
She'd suffered a convulsion once before, four years ago at the age of four. It was about the same time her mother was dying of Aids, but it was so minor we'd long forgotten. Sunday the 19th was a rude reminder.
She appears to be a normal healthy third grade girl. No surprise, she doesn't like worms and creepy crawlies. She plays with dolls, prefers the colour pink and she refuses to name her favourite doll. It's the older of her two dolls (yes, I'm told, there are such dolls) and she pretends the older doll is holding her -- not that she's holding the doll. To her the doll is her mummy holding her -- a memory created because she can't recall her mum ever holding her and kissing her on the forehead. She was too young, and her mum died too soon. Whether she refuses to name the doll or just refuses to tell us its name, that's another matter entirely. Although we know her RIP mum's name, we never learned her nickname. Nowadays, there is no one left who remembers, but Miss Chompoo has given her mum a secret nickname -- a sacred something she keeps to herself, like a prized locket or jewel.
Before the Sunday evening of the 19th, Miss Chompoo appeared happy and healthy. No warning signs, no signals, no indications of what was to come. Suddenly, she screamed, her dorm mates told us. It was really more of a shriek, the kind of loud noise that rakes your spine. Before you could turn your head, near-fatal convulsions began washing through her. Her body went rigid, and then it jumped and jerked. It was enough to toss her from bed. Just as suddenly, it stopped. She went limp like a rag doll. Seconds later, another wave roiled through her. Two dorm mates rushed to her side. They tried to hold her down. This next scream travelled across the dormitory, and then she puked. Violently. The vomit travelled nearly as far as the decibels of her voice.
Then limp. Again. Her dorm mates waited for the next wave. Nothing. She'd stopped breathing.
LITTLE MATES TO THE RESCUE
They saved her life, those dorm mates. Two orphans, 11-year-old Miss Bai Mon and seven-year-old Ms Bai Baw, are the story's bona fide heroes.
That last convulsion had knocked Miss Chompoo totally catawampus -- a complete wipeout. She was catatonic. For reasons only instinct might explain, her orphan mates/best friends knew exactly what to do. Miss Chompoo's dorm mates and, really, all 37 girls in the house, rallied to save her life. They placed her on a blanket and dragged her limp and unconscious to the infirmary, a full 20 metres away. There, they laid her out on the floor, tucked a pillow under her head, and Miss Bai Mon, the eldest, took charge. She said, "Go get the nurse!" But a seven-year-old, Miss Bai Baw could see that Miss Chompoo was already turning the colour of death.
So Miss Bai Baw, who understands gadgets and likes computer games, sprinted ahead to plug in the oxygen machine. She fiddled with the nobs and dials and, soon enough, she had it cranked to full strength. Meanwhile, Miss Bai Mon wiped the vomit out of Miss Chompoo's mouth and pulled her tongue into its proper place. We asked her later what had made her do that, and she just shrugged. "Chompoo's tongue looked funny," she said, "so I pulled it back." Seeing that Miss Chompoo was becoming increasingly pale, the girls stuck the oxygen tubes into her mouth and nose. Then they shook her. Gently, pleadingly. "Wake up, wake up."
It worked. She stirred and coughed and began breathing. Still unconscious, but breathing. And alive. They saved her life, those kids. Oxygen flowed freely again to Miss Chompoo's brain.
By this time -- literally in less than five minutes -- all 37 girls were there. Seven-year-old Miss Liew was the one who ran to get the nurse, knocked on his door, and got all the other girls to scream at the top of their lungs. He couldn't help but hear them.
He came immediately, adjusted the oxygen, and phoned the driver. It took the driver about five minutes to get there from his house in the slums, and another four minutes to deliver Miss Chompoo to the nearest hospital. On duty in the emergency room was a stellar young doctor. He looked Miss Chompoo over and said, "Oh boy, this is not just a fainting spell." He phoned his old professor at Siriraj Hospital, and the professor who was still on duty agreed. Said I'll wait for you. "Bring her in immediately."
A CAT scan of Miss Chompoo's brain and a spinal tap didn't immediately show any abnormalities. The doctor-professor was puzzled. Why then had she convulsed so violently? However, a second look revealed a small calcium deposit on her right brain. No need to operate, thankfully. Hopefully pills would dissolve the calcium.
A couple of days later, when she returned from the hospital, we had an ice-cream party for everyone. She chose the flavours and the heroic girls gave speeches. It was a festive homecoming.
IT'S TOO SOON, MUM
When her mum had died, Miss Chompoo was only four. It was an especially wrenching and sorrowful death. Mum passed while saying to her daughter, again and again, "I'm sorry, so sorry. I must find a way to come back from the dead to take care of you." She'd badly wanted to make up for having passed on HIV/Aids.
We told mum, "Don't worry about her. Please go, die peacefully." We promised to love and to care for Miss Chompoo. We gave mum our sacred word, gave it even up in chapel, kneeling before the statue of Blessed Mary, Mother of Jesus. But when Miss Chompoo had her brush with death, we couldn't help but wonder if her mum was calling her to come be with her in the next world.
All 37 girls in the house said, "No, absolutely not! Miss Chompoo has a wonderful life ahead of her here -- in this world and with us. No, she will not leave. Not like this." So, together, we prayed for her mum. The next morning, the girls made merit when the monks came around.
Today, Miss Chompoo is back in school. The doctor confirms what the girls here assured us: She's not leaving us anytime soon. A new CAT scan reports that the pills are -- the calcium deposit is dissolving.
So we carry on here in Klong Toey. Someone recently donated a huge box of fabulous Swiss chocolate, and we asked that they give it directly to Miss Chompoo. Following dinner the next night, Miss Chompoo was "sponsor" for a party where she gave chocolates to each of her 37 housemates.