Recently, we had the opportunity to hold a clinic INSIDE a bar for boys. This was a new venture for the partner organization and we were all excited that the owner agreed to allow this. Thirteen young men were seen, all of whom were over 18 years old. Of course they were over 18.
One has to be very sensitive in situations like these – it takes a lot of cultural nuance and dance to be able to ask necessary questions, but not pry too much. Several cultural layers exist, even for a Thai. For a foreigner, additional layers add to the complexity. But with my experience and the guidance of my staff, it is a beautiful thing.
We arrive early (8pm) to set up so we can get going before customers start arriving. We’ve brought rice boxes and snacks for the guys. It’s not exactly private in the one-room bar area. Some of the outreach staff have started games up front. Another table does the triage questions and vital signs. Prae and I are in the back, sort of shielded by a high-backed sofa where the guys sit facing me, away from the activity behind them. And you can almost get the sense that we are alone.
I perform a rudimentary health check – it’s not much, but they do feel cared for. And special. When was the last time someone – a doctor! – sat before them and asked them how they are? How can I help them? I also offer a free HIV check.
Here are a few of the issues I encountered…
L.J. was born prematurely and he has the stunted growth to show for it. He wants to know how to grow bigger (more muscle).
E.C. sits hunched over, chin & cheek cradled in his hand. He is aching to share, to ask, to bare… but he is still too far away and he goes away, hopefully a bit closer. He refuses an HIV test because he says he is afraid of the alcohol and the needle.
M.O. shows confidence. He wants an HIV check because his girlfriend is pregnant and wants to be OK for her and his child. I want to meet again to talk about newborn care…
N.T. is much like E.C. He doesn’t “go” with clients but has back pain from lifting heavy crates of bottled drinks. He to seems withdrawn yet yearning for more…
D.M. had just started working there that very night. He also works part time in a massage parlour during the day. Three younger siblings at home he tells me.
Most are tired and want to sleep better. What can I say? They work from 8 or 9pm until 6am. Every. Night.
I get to sit down with them face to face. I get to look into their eyes.
What do I see?
I also see pain and embarrassment, but I also get to see beyond that.
A boy robbed of freedom and childhood and yearning for truth and love and acceptance.
Physicians are also allowed the privilege of touch.
I get to listen to their heart.
Have you ever listened to someone’s heartbeat?
Then I get to declare, “your heart is good!”
“YOUR HEART IS GOOD!”
I pray that in some supernatural way that those words resonate at a deeper level than merely, “your ‘ticker’ is normal”. I pray that those words resonate a message of love that lasts a long time.