“He’s got a fever, a severe headache, and abdominal pain and distention. We really need to get him checked out. His shunt could be infected, which is an emergency situation,” I explained to the team after assessing 10-year-old Manan.
You may know Srey Neang, one of our baptized members whom we have shared about before. She has been a dedicated mother while caring for her son Manan, who has battled leukemia and other compounding health issues for the past five years. The two of them had just arrived at our property (which we bought from them several years ago) to rest in our guest room and recuperate after months of exhausting medical visits and living in an open shelter with just a roof. We planned to take the burden off Srey Neang by letting her get uninterrupted naps, cooking nutritious food for them, and helping with homeopathic remedies to relieve Manan’s discomfort.
Now we were faced with another emergency. Eric and I decided to pack up and head into Phnom Penh that day. We added cushions to the back of our SUV and let Manan and his mom sit where he could lie down. We pulled our belongings behind in a trailer. We left that afternoon for what is typically a four-hour drive. That evening, Phnom Penh had record-breaking rainfall, and driving in the dark with torrential tropical rain and flooded roads was a challenge. In our rush, we had neglected to cover the trailer with a tarp. When we finally arrived, later than anticipated, our suitcase was entirely soaked. We bedded the children down in whatever we could, and I stayed up late hanging all our soggy, muddy laundry.
Before the sun rose, I awoke and drove Srey Neang and Manan past all the breakfast street vendors and through the sea of motos commuting to work at the Christian-run Mercy Medical Center. A kind American doctor took an interest in Manan’s case and explained his assessment thoroughly. They couldn’t completely rule out an infection of the VP (ventriculoperitoneal) shunt, used to drain cerebrospinal (CSF) fluid from the brain, or a relapse in his leukemia. However, they determined he had an enlarged liver and spleen, causing the increased pressure in his abdomen.
At long last, I could see his test results for myself and be informed of his situation. The government hospital releases zero paperwork to the family, and the doctors are not accustomed to answering questions in a kind, informative and thorough manner. Mercy, however, did not have the resources that the government hospital did and had to refer him back for further workup. Before discharge, the doctors who cared for Manan laid hands on him and prayed earnestly for his healing. When do you get that kind of care at a hospital?
We drove to the government hospital, and I dropped them off at the doors of their second home for the past five years—a source of much trauma for both of them. The hospital has a strict one-visitor policy, so I said goodbye at the curb.
Over the next couple of weeks, we grasped at vague and confusing updates that the doctors gave Srey Neang and tried to put the puzzle pieces together. At one point, we questioned if he would live through the next month. Finally and abruptly, the doctors told them there was nothing else they could do and said they were releasing Manan to go home. A Buddhist chaplain visited them before they left and robotically recited instructions to prepare their hearts for death, hoping Manan would be reincarnated without this suffering in the next life.
They came home in a taxi, exhausted and defeated. “I haven’t slept in days. The little child next to us cried all night long,” Srey Neang said. She spends all night rubbing Manan’s aching head or sore legs. He cannot walk and is as heavy as a man, and Srey Neang shoulders the burden of getting him in and out of his wheelchair. How she has survived these past five years despite never having a minute to care for her own needs is a true testament to the love of a mother and the sustenance of God. Now Srey Neang is facing the grief of Manan being discharged from the best medical care her country can offer her son, with no follow-up date.
We doted on them for a few weeks, providing meals, breaks for Srey Neang, daily worship, and natural remedies for Manan, such as fever baths and charcoal poultices over his liver. The Lewis family set aside their own routines to fully adopt them and provide as much support as they could. We are not sure of his prognosis or what his future may hold, and it is painful to think that his opportunities for treatment are slimmer than if he were in the U.S. But we put our trust in the Great Healer, who knows the end from the beginning. Manan dreams of someday becoming an instructor and teaching the neighborhood children about Jesus. He saves all his money for school supplies so his mom will not have to pay for them. He asks hard questions like, “Why is my life so hard and so different from other children?”
Later, our local pastor came and anointed Manan. His family then decided they needed to go home to make some money to support themselves and their other children. Manan is stable, and they feel ready to all be home together. They promise to continue the treatments that we have been doing since they provided Manan with some relief.
“Call us if you need anything,” we pressed repeatedly.
“Of course, I will call you. I have no one else to call on. Nowhere else to go. You guys are my family,” Srey Neang replied. “I used to do so much for my neighbors. I dragged a sick patient into a boat and paddled it upstream by myself to bring them to the hospital. So many people borrowed money from me. But when Manan got sick, no one came to pay back their debts. You guys have done so much for us. You are my family in Christ.”
Please remember Manan’s family in your prayers as they go through a very difficult time.