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Lives of Doctor Wives: Survivor Stories: A Different Kind of Survival

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Survivor Stories: A Different Kind of Survival

Learning about someone's background often helps us know more about who that person is today.  Questions about my husband's background usually begin when someone is intrigued, befuddled, or overwhelmed by his last name:  Phommachanh.  It's really quite simple once you get the hang of it.  "Po" (like the panda); "ma" (like pa's wife); "ch" (as in chair); "ahhn" (just like it looks).  Anyhow, those 11 letters only begin to tell V's somewhat unique story, and how he came to have that name embroidered on a long white coat with the letters "MD" after them.

Once people ask about his last name, I'll add that V is originally from Laos.  Sometimes, people say, "wow, really?", and sometimes they look a little lost, as if they're hoping I'll remind them exactly where Laos is.  Just to make sure we're all on the same page, Laos is in Southeast Asia, and it's the landlocked country nestled among Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Even if most people know where Laos is, many don't know its role in the Vietnam war.  Without getting deep into international politics,  I'll just supply this fact:  from 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped the equivalent of "a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years--making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history."  If you type in "Laos most heavily bombed..." in your search engine, you can learn more.  Following this catastrophic season, Laos was in chaos and was under Communist rule.

Let's get to where my husband fits in to this story.  Born in 1977 to a humble Lao farmer and his wife, whose family was more urban and more highly educated, V was born in his family's home in the capital city of Vientiane.  His birth certificate is a piece of paper that records the date, but not the time, or length/weight of the baby.  His grandfather signed it to make it official.

By the time V was about 2, his parents and some other family members from his mom's side had made the decision to leave Laos, with the ultimate goal being America.  Because of the politics at the time, leaving had to be secretive.  They purchased passage on a small boat that would cross the Mekong River at night, into Thailand.  Little V stayed quiet, and they crossed safely.  I get goosebumps every time my mother-in-law tells this story, and I've known V for 15 years!

Once in Thailand, V and his family lived in a refugee camp for 18 months.  At one point, a fire ravaged the camp, leaving the meager accomodations in shambles.  V's uncle sent us a picture of the camp after the fire, and it stops me in my tracks.  I look around at our new, large, beautiful home, and think of our own little ones...and then remember just where my husband started his life.  It's some serious perspective.

Christian missionaries helped V's family leave Thailand and settle in Massachusetts.  Southeast Asians in Massachusetts doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but it was a step in the right direction, to be sure.  The family learned English as my father-in-law studied to become a machinist and my mother-in-law worked in various factories.  They shared a home with V's aunts and uncles and cousins.  There wasn't a lot of personal space, I'm sure.

This story is getting perhaps too long already, so I'll fast forward.  V's family moved to St. Petersburg, FL, in 1985, after V's sister was born.  They are still there today.  V's dad owns and operates a small machine shop.  V's mom helps take care of our niece while her parents (V's sister and her husband) work.  They are all doing well.

My husband obviously excelled in school, and knew medicine was calling him, by his teen years.  I think I'll have to write "chapter two" about his path into being a doctor, if there is interest in more of his story. I am still amazed at how our paths came together.  V's family truly could--and still can--"do hard things"!

I am a stay-at-home mom in the Bradenton-Sarasota area of Florida, though with our son in 5th grade and our daughter in pre-K, I do more driving around than staying at home.  My husband is in his 5th year of private practice as an ENT physician.  We like to play outside and host family and friends in our free time.  V and I got married 13 years ago, right before he started medical school.  We like to think we've not just survived, but we have thrived!

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