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A despairing cry for help in a Vietnam field hospital

Our sharing is as small as a grain of sand compared to the considerable needs of poor Covid patients

Father Joseph Nguyen Dinh Nhu

Father Joseph Nguyen Dinh Nhu

Published: October 26, 2021 10:17 AM GMT

Updated: October 26, 2021 10:40 AM GMT

A despairing cry for help in a Vietnam field hospital

Volunteers help Covid-19 patients to exercise in a field hospital in Bien Hoa. (Photo courtesy of giaophanxuanloc.net)

I am often asked what I remember from weeks of serving Covid-19 brothers and sisters at a field hospital.

I bear in mind the image of a thin austere woman with a microphone in hand saying, "Father, I am so miserable." I cannot forget her figure and her plea for help. It was the cry of the poor.

In the hospital, the patient ward is separated from the ward for staff and volunteers by a yard 15 meters in length where patients daily receive food, drink, medicine, gifts from benefactors and basic things from their own families.

A cordoned-off block separates the yard into two sides. Patients are not allowed to go to our side to avoid spreading the coronavirus, and we can only go to their side when we are fully equipped with medical protective equipment. That is the principle we must strictly adhere to.

The two sides communicate with one another by microphones. We use one microphone to make announcements and remind patients about short notices, while patients use the other to give their requests and personal information.

We were all surprised by the female patient's plea. That sound was completely different from the sounds that came from the speakers every day. This was not an announcement, a reminder or a patient's question, but clearly a plea.

All of us did not say a word but just silently looked at her. Silence seemed to express a deep understanding and empathy

With a sincere and rustic accent, the woman continued to speak into the microphone with words that broke the heart: “Father, can you help me? I am so miserable. I am so poor in my native land, so I borrowed money to move here for work. Now the company is closed, I have no money to pay the rent, I am infected with Covid-19 and kept here. I have not a clue about how I will live in the future. I am left completely destitute. I am so miserable, Father."

All of us did not say a word but just silently looked at her. Silence seemed to express a deep understanding and empathy.

She did not need to say more. We understood the difficulties she faced in this situation because, in this hospital, the poor are also one of our great concerns. We always think about them.

All people have encountered serious difficulties during the pandemic, but poor workers living far from home might run into graver ones. It is an acute problem for them to survive the health crisis.

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Normally, many live on their meager daily incomes or monthly salaries that are all spent on their rent, food and other basic expenses. Those who have babies have to pay more money for milk, diapers and medicine.

When companies and factories had to close for the pandemic, many workers lost their jobs or could not make money from their daily jobs. They were forced into situations with great anxieties that seem palpable.

Fortunately, in difficult times, it is clear that we Vietnamese people love one another very much. I receive food, vegetables and other relief supplies from others in places that have not been blocked and deliver to people in need regardless of background.

Generous givers only wish to share something they have with their brothers and sisters in need. As a saying goes, "Good leaves cover torn leaves."

I cannot help being deeply touched by the images of priests, religious and laypeople, followers of other faiths, benefactors and volunteers transporting and distributing humanitarian aid to people stricken with the disease. It is wonderful to see such great humanity.

In the hospital that we serve, all patients are equally treated with care regardless of whether they are rich or poor. They are provided with adequate meals and necessary supplies.

Healthcare givers and service staff take good care of all patients. Religious and secular groups and well-wishers as well regularly provide food as additional nutritional support for patients.

Many patients never have gifts from their families. They are migrant workers whose families live far away

Those contributions are very precious and offer benefits to patients, especially the poor. However, not all their needs are met. We are moved to tears when receiving texts from many patients asking for instant noodles for themselves and milk for their children as they do not know anyone to beg for help.

"Father, my room has a pregnant woman who is very poor. Can you give her something to eat? She is from Ninh Thuan province," a patient texted. Others ask for rosaries.

On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings, we receive supplies from patients’ families at the hospital gate.

Many patients never have gifts from their families. They are migrant workers whose families live far away. They feel uncomfortable while other patients receive gifts from loved ones. So when they ask us for something, we try to share what we have.

In such situations, they are even more vulnerable to their poverty. In many cases, they come to us when they are at the end of the road. One patient texted me: “I really do not want to bother you anymore, but now I do not have the foggiest idea about what to do. I am terribly depressed."

Once I asked a priest to give a poor worker some money to pay his power and water bills. I asked him to look into his situation properly before coming to his aid, but to avoid hurting him.

They are so hungry that they come to us. We help them immediately if needed. Doubting what they say may make them sad. Our sharing with brothers and sisters in need is always done delicately as how we give is more important than what we give.

In our hospital, in the morning after blessing patients, we tell them to phone us when they need urgent things that they could not afford. Medical workers and volunteers love, respect and wish them to recover soon and return home. Consequently, many call us while others meet us face to face to ask for help.

Through friendly conversations, we better understand their situations and needs and support them within our abilities.

We get generous support from local Catholics who are ready to make donations to the poor. We offer children sandals, notebooks and pens to attend online lessons. Some migrant families are given milk for their babies and money to pay their rent when they return from the hospital.

We provide them with those gifts privately and secretly so that they are not embarrassed. That is why we just kept silent when we heard the above woman's cry. We understand and empathize with such situations.

My heart aches when I see people rush to leave cities and return to their hometowns to find a way to live. I love them but do not know what to do for them

We never expected that the austere woman would take the microphone and publicly plead for help so that the whole hospital heard. That appeal was impressive and came as a complete surprise to me. I remember that appeal ad infinitum as it evokes the common cry of the poor amid the epidemic.

Perhaps she had just been admitted to the hospital so we did not see her, or maybe she did not know how to call us. Or someone in her room advised her to just hold the microphone and call priests and religious. She asked for help but the whole hospital heard her voice.

I took the microphone and said to her, "Could you please tell us your room number?"

"I am in room 1.3 on the second floor," she replied.

"Please go back to your room and rest. We will visit you and talk more when it is convenient," I said.

She said, "Yes, thank you, Father. I am so miserable. Please help me."

With heavy hearts, we watched her return to her room. The woman is just one of the countless people who are dreadfully worried in the pandemic. Our compatriots are still living in straitened circumstances.

Our sharing is as small as a grain of sand compared to their considerable needs. At times we stand absolutely helpless in the face of migrant workers' difficulties.

My heart aches when I see groups of people rush to leave cities and return to their hometowns to find a way to live. I love them but do not know what to do for them.

Lord, please take action and have mercy on us. Amen.

Father Joseph Nguyen Dinh Nhu is from Xuan Loc Diocese. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News. This article was summarized and translated by a UCA News reporter from a Vietnamese article published here.

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