Viet Nam News
HÀ NỘI — With just three days left until the new lunar new year begins, people are either busy with preparations for Tết or already packing up and ready to return home.
Seemingly untouched by the hectic festive mood outside, a community of kidney patients in a small alley on Lê Thanh Nghị Street in Hà Nội will remain in the capital city for critical dialysis sessions and spend Tết away from home.
Mai Anh Tuấn, a 43-year-old patient, from the rural district of Ba Vì, has lived close to Bạch Mai Hospital for the last 23 years, longer than anyone else, which earns him the position of the bona fide chief of the ‘dialysis hamlet.’
Speaking to Thanh niên (Young People) newspaper on the origin of the now well-known name, Tuấn said that previously, this row of shabby houses were rented by everyone from seasonal workers to college students and patients.
“However, since the youngsters and workers failed to keep the rooms clean, the owners chose to restrict tenancies to dialysis patients,” he said.
The unofficial ‘hamlet’ has a population of 129, with patients hailing from different provinces in the north and central regions seeking shelter here at a cheap price as they know their sojourns won’t be short.
Most are currently undergoing treatment at Bạch Mai Hospital. Some have their health insurance valid at other hospitals in the city but they decided to stay here with the group of people who share their plight. Many have health insurance so they only need to worry about the rent, electricity, water, food and supplements, but since most are unable to work, they are still hard-pressed to make ends meet.
The standard schedule for a kidney patient here is three sessions a week, otherwise the toxicity and waste would quickly build up in their bodies given their kidneys are no longer able to effectively filter these substances.
Therefore, returning home is a luxury that most can not afford, especially the elderly or those whose hometowns are too far.
Many have not experienced Tết family gatherings for ten years.
“For me, it would only take an hour to drive home, but there were times when I decided to remain in Hà Nội to welcome the new year with the hamlet residents. Dialysis aside, we have lived together for so long we are practically each other’s second family,” Tuấn said, adding that this year, 48 patients have said they would stay since their dialysis session falls on the first day of the lunar new year.
Dương Thị Lan, a kidney patient in her mid-20s, said that in 2015, when she was pregnant with her first child, she was diagnosed with kidney failure.
The heartbreak was unrelenting as the child was stillborn when she was undergoing treatment at the hospital.
In 2017, hopes rose again as she had her second pregnancy.
“My child and I were put under special monitoring, but the child, too weak to survive, succumbed four months after his birth,” Lan said.
Her husband eventually left her for another woman.
“I was a wreck during that time. I lost a dozen kilos in just a few months. My mother has decided to spend Tết here for a few years now, with me and everyone in the hamlet since she was worried about my frail condition,” Lan said, adding her mother had come to live with her in Hà Nội and currently washed dishes at restaurants to cover their expenses.
But living within this close community certainly helped as Lan received ample support and encouragement from the hamlet’s residents, especially when she was at her lowest, she said.
Close to the year’s end, the hamlet was frequented by volunteers and humanitarian groups who would bring small and practical gifts to the kidney patients, like the traditional chưng rice cake, sweets, cooking oil or fruits in addition to monetary gifts in the hope that these would ease their suffering.
In the evening on the final day of the lunar year, those who remained would gather in the alley to enjoy music, performed by the patients themselves, to relieve their homesickness, Tuấn said.
“Most couldn’t really eat much, so our new year’s eve party is really simple, we’d come together and chat, waiting for the clock that strikes at midnight,” Tuấn said.
With the sole indication of the upcoming festival being a branch of peach blossom littered with red packages and small currency notes for good luck, the dialysis hamlet’s preparations for Tết might be sparse but the emotional support they provide for each other would make up for it in their unending struggle. — VNS
Doctors and staff of Bạch Mai Hospital yesterday gave presents to patients during the holiday.
“The gift might not be expensive, but I hope the sentimental value will help the patients in the fight against their ailments,” said Nguyễn Quốc Anh, Director of Bạch Mai hospital, adding that 3,000 gifts had been prepared.
Nguyễn Hà Linh, a 40-year-old female patient from the rural district of Hoài Đức, said her family this year wouldn’t celebrate Tết as much as last year as time and efforts would be dedicated to a family member in intensive care at the hospital.
“Still, just a small gift is enough to give us a whiff of the familiar holiday spirit,” Linh said.
About 2,000 patients are expected to remain in hospital during Tết. The hospital said doctors and nurses would make sure the treatment quality would be maintained during the holiday.
It would also arrange free meals for the patients during the most important holiday of the year. — VNS