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Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Man At Death's Door



Earlier that morning I had seen this old man with broken windows for teeth and a withered leg for a foundation go through the acupressure treatment that my new found Thai friend, Nina, douses one with to get back the strength of his leg and get back the smile in those gaping teeth. If you read before, you saw that this was done with considerable wincing on the old man's part.

But that afternoon, we had somewhere else to go. But of course, I didn't know anything that was going on. Everyone said we were going somewhere on the island. Basically it was summed up in,“Get in the truck”. So I didn't argue one bit. But hopped in the back of the pickup trick where Jeorgen sat, his 66 year old limbs reclining in the back, and he himself, ignorant of where we were being taken but with a sort of patient understanding that was this Dane's nature, which made him content on such unknown sallies into mysterious enterprises. I was learning the same with the help of my zest for the unpredictable.

So we sat together in the back of the pickup truck as it zipped us around the main road of the island. We didn't question a thing. But went past all the other tourists in their flip flops and swim shorts trying to pin point where each tourist was from and then we departed from the touristy stops. We picked up more random Thai people that I had no idea who they were and why we were picking them up, and we made it to an office way on the other side of the island far away from everything but municipal concerns. This was for Nina to fill out paper work for the island, but soon we were out of there and headed back towards the main drag of the island.
But we made a sudden turn and backed down a dirt road into what looked like some kind of rubber tree plantation. There was a large house that had few walls to it. Mostly a roof was its sheltering feature. The open jungle air swept in free from the few constraints of the place. It was like a barn. But the TV and huge entertainment system and couches and pictures on the wall, made one realize that this was the living room. There was a mattress in the only corner of this joint and there laying on the mattress in wrecked desolation lay another old man swaddled in his bedsheets like it was to be his funeral shroud. . Where the first old man from the morning had only a lame leg and a few missing teeth, this old man lay on the verge of never-waking sleep.
They had brought Nina here to work her healing and she was more than willing to help. Though, one quick look told me that there wasn't much she could do. Whereas they couldn't bring him in through the empty roof with ropes like that tale from long ago, we were brought in through the side of empty walls and Nina was stooping to help as he only clutched his bedsheets that he used as his own robe.

The members of the household were trying to rouse the decrepit man from his stupor, which even this proved difficult. He gurgled out sounds that made him, at least, appear that he was living. This poor old man could not even sit up straight. He lay a chaotic mess wrapped in nothing but his bedsheets and the choked confusion of declining life . His skin was this dull gray color, a pallor that foreshadowed decay. He had one foot in death and this made him unable to even think about walking. His mind was like mush and I'm not even sure he really knew what was going on around him. It was depressing to be around and was a major contrast from the life-inspiring views just up the road that you could have of the beach and the mountains and the precious sun descending upon both of them, along with all the lotion-lathered tourists mingling on the beaches and bars looking out for fruit shakes, beer, and bikinis. And here we were in the heart of paradise, and where people come to escape their hectic lives, and this man was departing it with all the ugliness and horror that we imagine it being, while so much of us fill our time with these bars and beaches trying to forget about it.

They managed to put shorts on the fellow and sat him up as though he was some withered puppet and Nina began her acupressure treatment. The man gargled out his pain. But this was not an acute pain, but a dull one that sounded as though he was half cognizant. I don't know how long this lasted, I even went for a walk during the process across the rubber tree plantation.

When I came back, they needed me to help carry the guy. They were going to see if they could stimulate his legs into walking. And they just needed someone strong enough to hold the man up. Now, I'm not a guy who really likes to touch other people. I would make a poor nurse. But even more so, when it is requires that strange and awkward touching when assisting older people. The man only had shorts on and these were about to fall off his skeletal body. He had no shirt and of course, the only way to tote a person who had no use of their legs is to grasp under the arm deep into the armpits. This disgusted me. But I tried not to think about it. I focused on the fact that we were helping someone. The ancient man had all these tattoos scrawled across his chest and arms, but they were from an age long past that the ink was fading. One was a rooster on his chest. I saw a similar tattoo on the first old man of the morning. I don't know what it was about Thais and their roosters. But perhaps it was a sign of their potency and vitality. Here, it was a contradiction to the feeble bearer of the proud rooster. I was tempted to think that this guy in his prime was one tough and rumble, harder than nails type guy who was mean and deadly as a snake who opened beer bottles with other people's teeth, who fought and drank and fought some more, and now here he was unable to even comprehend the lack of vitality that he was undergoing. A sort of mass of ineptitude and senility, back to infancy without the cuteness but with the same shrill terror of the lonesome night.

We then, moved him out of the house which required us to go down the steps. And this proved a difficult and even more awkward situation for his upper weight shifted towards me as I was a few steps down from him and his head and torso came pressed up against my arms. I could feel the moisture of his sweat with my hands clasped under his armpits. While I was carrying him, I had the ungraceful thought that this was like lugging around a zombie. He kept moaning and ugghing, his eyes had this lackluster gaze in them. His gray, skin pressed up against mine and I couldn't wait to get to a sink with soap. We were down in the yard and I was propping him up while Nina was still giving him some treatment. Eventually, they brought a chair for him. And she breaks out this type of comb and begins to rub it around his hair and neck. It was as though she was trying to cause static about him. She gave him this speech in Thai. I couldn't understand why Nina was going through with all this, for I was thinking that death was very certain for this man in a very short time and that it was just causing him a lot pain and discomfort for nothing. It was almost as though she was making an attempt at resurrecting a man, not healing him. That's how close to death he looked.

While this was all going down, I went over to talk with the Danish retiree, Jeorgen, and we were talking like we often did when we couldn't understand the Thai around us. They had constructed a bamboo pole across trees where the old man could now practice his walking if he so desired. And it turns out that was what her speech was about. His desire. She basically told him that if he desired to live longer he could. But if he wanted to go, he would most certainly do that. She had unblocked the blockages and it was up to him to keep the flow going for a few more years, perhaps. To this day, I don't know which one he chose. Although, I do know that when we left his skin had a healthier, ruddier complexion to it and within his eyes you could see a mind, a human, a soul. He was awake now and he registered Nina's speech. We left the rubber tree plantation as the sun departed over the ocean.

More to follow....

2 Comments:

Blogger Jean-Simon Webster said...

Saying this reminds me of being a small child on my papa's knee before bed, but seriously: when are you going to get to the part where we find out what's up with the big family that kicked you out?!

When, Papa Brian!?

9:40 AM  
Blogger Brian Harrison said...

Ah, but that's just it...they didn't kick us out. Wait, Junior. You shall soon see of what foreshadowing I speak of.

3:22 PM  

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