Hurt/ Helpless/ Hopeful

With the door ajar, I heard a voice. “Love you, see you in the morning.

She walked out the room and headed towards the elevator. “If there’s anything, call me,” she waved at me.

“Your mom is so sweet,” I handed over a cup of pills. As a new nurse, I tried to juggle both- caring for my patients, while getting to know my patients. “How are you feeling?”

“Hi Soapie, it’s good to see you again,” she tried to smile. “But my chest feels tight.”

I checked her oxygen level, listened to her lungs, then ran a marathon: rushed to the medication cart, back to my patient to put her on a nebulizer, and reassessed her breathing. I repositioned her, raised the head of the bed, called respiratory and her attending, and gave all the PRN and STAT meds.

But her breaths became more shallow. The pink in her lips disappeared.

Please don’t die… you are too young to die… Before I knew it, my legs pushed her bed out the room and sprinted down a long hall.

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We Don’t Say “I Love You”

IMG_7560Some nights waves of nostalgia hit me.  I’ve been thinking about food and the meaning of food quite a bit lately, and it reminded me of an old blog post I wrote, 4 years ago…
March 15, 2012

Scooping out the rice from the rice cooker, the fresh jasmine aroma overwhelmed me with memories of my family…

~ ~ ~

“What did you eat today, koun (daughter)?” Mak asked over the phone.   Continue reading

Seven Day Fight

the few resources we had. cambodia, 2010.

all we had. cambodia, 2010.

At first, I didn’t see her.  She was her husband’s shadow, following him closely from behind.

His chest heaved, and his neck muscles retracted, as he fought for air.

Please help my husband, her eyes pleaded. She fidgeted beside his bed.

His skin pale, his lips faded to a blue grey. “ហត់ចង់ងប់ (I’m so tired, I could die),” he panted.

We were losing time.  Continue reading

Keep on Dancin’

Toes tapped and heads bobbed to the groove of electric guitar, keyboard, and drums. The lead vocalist serenaded the audience. As he sang, I searched the tables for familiar faces.

Wrapped in her black coat, she sat quietly, hands folded in her lap.

Jum reap sua (hello),” I pressed my palms together, raised them to my nose, and bowed my head in a formal Khmer greeting.

She hesitated.

Maybe she didn’t recognize me without the scrubs. Or maybe she couldn’t hear me, with the Khmer rock band blasting on the stage. The band was the highlight of the fundraising dinner for the Khmer community.

“Oh, it’s you!” her stoic expression transformed into a toothy grin. She patted my hand.

How far we have come… 

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When You Mourn, I Mourn Too

Everything was pink.

Pink roses highlighted a heart shaped bouquet. Pink suit, the last outfit she’d wear. Pink ribbons pinned to suit pockets, to remember her battle with cancer.

We sat in silence, our hearts heavy.

Her husband cleared his throat, then spoke in Khmer. “When I first met my wife, I saw her disabled leg. I knew she felt embarrassed by it, but I looked at her, thinking, ‘her…that’s her, that’s my soon to be wife.’ Although her leg was disabled, her heart was not. Her heart was beautiful…”

During the war, all I remember was running away from the guns,” my friend sobbed. “I was told the story by my family member that I was only 2 yrs old and my sister was 12 yrs old.

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It’s a Good Calling, then…

One panel featured during the "More Than a Number" Exhibit featuring the stories of Cambodian Genocide Survivors. 2012.

The “More Than a Number” Exhibit featuring the testimonies of Cambodian Genocide Survivors. 2012.

“We live in a world where bad stories are told,
stories that teach us life doesn’t mean anything
and that humanity has no great purpose.

It’s a good calling, then, to speak a better story.
How brightly a better story shines.
How easily the world looks to it in wonder.
How grateful we are to hear these stories,
and how happy it makes us to repeat them.”

― Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life

Don’t Abandon the Winding Road

Northeast Cambodia. (Photo courtesy of

A few weeks ago.

“Hello?” I had missed Ba’s first call. Maybe it was urgent.

Koun (daughter). My ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) just shocked me.”

I gasped. “WHAT?!”

With a new diagnosis of heart failure, Ba recently received a ICD/pacemaker device. It was programmed to shock if he had a life threatening rhythm, or if it was too fast.

“I was jogging, felt a headache, and suddenly, I was on the ground… there was only a small amount of bleeding on my face and leg…”

“AGH! You fell and you hit your head?! Ba, you are on blood thinners, YOU NEED TO CALL 911!!”

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Invisible Wounds

the horror that haunts us. (Tuol Sleng, Cambodia, 2006).

history that haunts us. (Tuol Sleng, Cambodia)

Why do we always end up here?

We drove along, cramped in the car, but together. Family finally in the same city. The Christmas lights twinkled. The carols played. The holiday spirit in the air.

But those invisible wounds, the painful memories buried deep beneath the chest, began to resurface. We were discussing tensions between neighboring countries in Asia, and the consequences that result when those countries go to war.

“My aunt hid inside a closet, in fear of invading soldiers,” my husband shared. It was a small glimpse of his family’s history during World War II.

I paused, a bit startled. Previously, I knew very little about Hong Kong’s history.  My knowledge consisted of half a day’s visit to the Hong Kong Museum of History, and reading Lee’s The Piano Teacher, a fiction novel based during the Battle of Hong Kong and the Japanese Occupation. I never truly grasped war’s  impact on our family.

Did Ee Ma tremble in that closet? Continue reading