Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Recovery of Sim Sao

Sim Sao has been a tuk tuk driver in Siem Reap for 7 years. Before that he was a monk. He’s married with children now and supports them on the little income he gets from the tourists in Siem Reap. When he works, he sleeps on the floor of a restaurant a friend owns.

Those of us who work with Aki Ra and the kids have been using Sao as our driver for the last several years. We hire him on a weekly basis. He can find anything, knows tons of people, and can get us anywhere we want to go on time, and most importantly, in a country where it is bad luck to look over your shoulder (no kidding), he gets us where want to go safely.

About 6 weeks ago Sao was driving home to his village, about 45 minutes from town, when he had a collision with a food cart vendor. Sao was driving down the road on his motor scooter when the food cart turned in front of him. (Remember it’s bad luck to look over your shoulder.) The two collided, and the boiling oil from the food cart spilled all over Sao’s right leg. He sustained severe 2nd degree burns to his inside calf and thigh.

Unlike at home, there is free medical coverage in Cambodia. But like the poor in the US, you have to sit in the emergency room for hours to get treated. To get good, fast care you have to pay, and it starts at about $50 for a visit to a private hospital, plus meds. That may not sound like a lot to us, but the average income over here is less than $1 per day, so private care is pretty much impossible for the average Khmer.

Sao’s options were pretty limited…..
• Sit in the emergency room at the provincial hospital and hope to get treated
• Go to Calmet hospital in Phnom Penh, a 6 hour drive each way and get treated there
• Have the local village ‘doctor’ treat him with potions and herbs

I knew he’d had an accident, but had no idea of its severity until he came back to town on the 30th of January to try and get back to work. He’d sent some pictures of his leg to our compatriot, Asad in the US and Lisa McCoy, a Canadian working here in SE Asia.

I saw Sao about the same time Asad and Lisa saw the photos. We called a Western doctor working here in Siem Reap and he offered another ‘option’. The Royal Angkor International Hospital was opened a year or so ago. It was built by Thais and staffed by Thai doctors. We were told we could take Sao there but it would be VERY expensive. It’s of western standards and better than many I’ve seen in the US.

Let’s see …… we could send Sao to the local hospital where he might get some help, let him keep going to the local ‘doctor’ or spend a little of our own money and get him some good treatment…hmmmm

Pretty much a ‘no-brainer’.

Lisa and I took him to Angkor Int’l on the 30th. He was with the doctor a good 90 minutes. They cleaned and dressed the wound and gave him some meds to take. Then we got the bill! $80.81

We took him back to the hospital every day to have his dressing changed. He’s started calling it ‘The Happy Place.” Poor guy can hardly walk after they clean and dress his burn. On the 15th a nurse from Canada arrived to do some volunteer work and she’s cleaning the wound now and we’ve taught Sao how to change the dressing so he can go home and spend some time with his family.

All the treatments and all the meds have run just over $500. Pretty cheap by western standards, but way beyond the grasp of the average Cambodian citizen. Sao’s friends from around the world are chipping in to cover the costs. If we collect more than we’ve spent, we’ll donate the balance to his local school. If you want to help cover the costs go to: and click on the PayPal button. Drop me a note to let me know the donation is for the Sim Sao Recovery Fund.

I got a text message from Sao right after we started taking him to the hospital: ‘Bill, I am so happy. I’ve never had anyone help me before. Thank you all so much.’

How could we have done less?


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