Akha Chronicles
Book 1: Maesai
Chapter 6: Medical Stories


Medical Stories

Medical service is one of the most clearly missing factors of care that the Akha don't have enough of.

Here I discuss my medical experiences with the Akha, first aid, and working with doctors and hospitals in the low lands which unfortunately often treated the Akha in the most shabby fashion.


Akha Traditional Medicine

Though this chapter is not about missions, the discussion of Akha traditional medicine can not be started without commenting that the mission practice first targets and destroys their traditional medicine system leaving the converted village in a horrible way.

The first line of destruction in the missionary process is to eliminate the traditional healers, which includes the women who take care to the village. I have talked to many who told me that the missionaries would not LET them practice their traditional medicine. While there are few people who will openly fight the missionaries, it is noteworthy that western women will not step into the frey about how Akha women healers are treated by the missionaries.


Akha Doctors

Ah Gaw, the blacksmith in the village, he said they didn't go to the doctor because the doctor would cut off a limb if it was injured. I checked it out and it was true. I got photos of people involved.


Ah Gaw's wife made good jeeh bah dah bpeh, the sweet rice mash used to make whiskey.  They had one son.  He liked the little brown skinned Booh Dzmm for a while.


Father Pensa

He said that there were some Akha women who could not bear children, but he did not speak why.


Gneeh Pah Meeh Cheh

She was a Gneeh Pah who was known by many of the elder men in different villages to be able to help women to have children. She could ask them what it was that they wanted to have, a boy or a girl, and she would do the ceremony for that.


Meeh Meeh was her daughter whom the doctors at Mae Chan hospital sterilized without her permission. She did not want to be sterilized.  But the hospital said that her husband gave permission, this is doubtful and I confronted the hospital staff about it.


Anna to Chiangrai

Dec. 3, 1991

I took Anna to Chiangrai hospital.  She is severely bloated of the abdomen and possibly septic.  I have to stay with her at the hospital because her mother couldn’t come down.


My visa run postponed due to not enough money and this.


In her condition she had already been to Maesai hospital and they sent her back to Burma.  I guess she would die if we didn't come here.


They took blood sample and xray but action seems slow.  Lots of waiting.  I sleep on the floor on a mat as the style here, next to the bed. Mosquitos all night long. Turns out that she had tuberculosis of the abdomen. They removed some cysts and drained her abdomen of fluid. Then I gave her shots each morning for a month till she was cured, that way she got to go back home. She came over each morning to the Guest house with her father t get the shot.

Anna lived, married and now still lives on the Burma side though she works in Maesai some.


Her step father is an heroin addict but quite strict.  Drives motorcycle taxi himself, and works very hard.  In the end the girls told me that he earned nearly his entire supply of money for heroin from the taxi motorbike. The kids did their best.

In the end he died. His leg was bad.  His wife brought another man home while he was still kickin, and would have at him in the other room.  Now that would be the death of a man.  Like your face shoved down in the dust on the floor. Her sisters are Tah Leeh Chah, Ah Meeh Yoh, Meeh Chooh and another who is the oldest one is gone to Japan, and doesn't contact home.  A couple of younger sisters too.


Winter Takes The Babies

The winter had take two children in this family already.  Adjews son and Dolo’s mother’s son of a year.  Besides Dolo she had had ten children more which never lived past one year yet she didn’t stop for all this.  Now there is a divine woman.  She knew she had to bear the lineage. So after each child died, she would have another one. So the first lived, ten died. It was sad when you saw it first hand and up close. The kids would tell you after it happened, they didn't always ask for help, maybe cause they never got it.

Different times of year have different effects.  The cold takes the babies but also the heart of the rainy seanson in August, when lungs are under the most strain of moisture and pneumonia.


Baby Dies At Maesai Hospital

Which reminds me of the time that I stood by at the hospital while my wife’s brother and sister in law waited for the verdict on the health of their seriously ill infant son of less than a year, in Maesai, Thailand.

Money changed hands in good amount that day for the Thais to try by some feeble effort to keep this infant alive.  Yet I knew the baby really needed to go to Chiangrai. The baby had a sore throat, was a healthy baby boy of nearly a year old.  He lay there, with a small oxygen cover over his head, but there was no real action going on to keep him alive. I didn't realize how corrupt it was, but if they were taking money for 'good' treatment on top of the bill, this was another economic level at the hospital an outsider would not know of but explained what did and did not happen. The hospital would get paid once, then the nurses would pile on and ask for more on top of that.

This grieved me greatly as I had no money and thus would have to stand by while the inevitable happened which it did and the baby died.  Meeh Poh, always so sweet, so beautiful a heart shone from her strong, beautiful face.  A year later she had another child.


In years since then I came to find this a common trait in the hospitals, disregard for patients who end up dying.


I wasn’t sure but I think now her husband has ended up dying also.

Without good food and nutrition, nor people to help them, the Akha die young from hard work and fever.  Seldom have they been left alone, often moved by war between bigger players.

     Years later I found Meeh Yoh in an Akha village up the Wiang Pah Pao way.


Hernia tale

Aug 97

I was leaving this village and this couple called me right as I was about to go, this is a characteristic in the villages, can be there for hours and then as you leave they stop you with a serious problem that it would have helped a lot had they told you earlier.  Not sure why, maybe embarassment.


Anyway, this occurred and they showed me their one year old boy and he had a huge swollen scrotum turning black.  I asked them why they had waited so long and they said they didn’t.  They had taken him to the doctor twice but were sent home with fever medication.


They showed me the paper.


I drove to Maesai and got a van taxi and came back and moved them to Overbrook in Chiangrai where they operated immediately.


The boys hernia was repaired.


When I asked the admission doctor in emergency what kind of doctor would send a child home like that he noted that it was ‘probably because the boy wasn’t vomiting yet’.  Incredibly stupid excuse. And it cost me plenty in cash.


Stolen Baby?

The baby got left at the hosptial, disappeared. This was a story that Phillip Prendeville researched.

But then I heard it from a family in Som Pah Sak Akha as well, told the mother to leave the baby there, Chiangrai Hospital, then when she came back they said the baby was dead, yet couldn’t provide any records of when they had cremated it or not, the mother only gone three days at their instruction.


There was the baby

There was this baby. Well the mother was put in detox, then she was going to have the baby. It was a volunteer program they said. But when the baby was born, the doctors took it, and later they brought it back and the mother said the baby was very upset, and then that night the baby died. She knew of nothing wrong with it. But then the hospital said that the baby was sent to Chiangmai for an Autopsy, Very strange. When it came back after many stories and lies by hospital staff later on, the brain was gone as were all the organs, the baby was wrapped solid in a towel, frozen. Dogs I say, dogs. 



What are the possible causes of epilepsy among the Akha?  Heriditary? Toxins?  some nurses say a brain cyst from eating raw vegetables that have it on the leaves. I know of cases, some of them died. Like the one at San Chai Mai.


Infant death Problem

There is a problem that too many Akha infants  die of fever, a few days of cough and then they are gone.  They are robust and healthy but get this minor cough that goes all night, then fever and then death.  I wonder if in reality it is not strept.  That would go along with not eating.


More than one baby at bridge died from this. That is where many babies were, cause the parents stayed there while sister and brother begged. People complained about this. But they got a LOT more money than their parents earned, so it helped the families a lot. They were not stupid, it was hard for any of them to survive, and if they could get the food money they did it. One woman brought me her baby. It was dehydrated, died too, it was too late. She couldn't come over every day, but that was what was needed. The babies didn't die due to complicated reasons, they died cause no one was there and no one cared. Why should babies die? People act like, well poor people don't need babies anyway, so big deal. I didn't buy this but sensed the attitude often. Yet is is so sad when babies die. When anyone dies. But especially when children suffer, cause they are so helpless, and when babies get sick it is even their parents that get feeling helpless.


In all my work, I saw that a doctor to help the babies was very needed, that there wasn't much expertise at this. But this was where to bring an end to the suffering, by saving the babies.


The case of the hospital and the baby and what they did.


There You Were

There you were there in your tny little body, so small, so clear to every  vein.  A tube sticking in your throat to pump the bile out, and IV in your tiny leg, and your guts all sewed up in an infection now, caught in the Mae Chan hospital they say.  I can't say, but I don't know if it matters, everything here is mostly sad, and I was most sad for you, born a month early to a battle for your life, loooking up at me, to live or die, to wait there while it all tried to kill you.


My son, I went to the ICU every day to make sure he was alive, had to move him again to a third hospital, and finally he healed. Two months. He had been born with all his intestines out, via a big hernia in his abdomen.


Hard, things like that, was the worst case I ever saw, I was there when he was born. It was my son. My first son.  The Thai nurses kept saying "abnormal". Fuck them. Then the ambulance took him to Chiangrai where I met him again, only when they brought him out of the ambulance, he was in a black plastic garbage bag. Fuck those people. They are dogs. Worse than dogs.



Lack of informed consent

An attitude of disregard, that the Akha are not capable of sorting out their own health needs.

Something was going on with the Tetanus Toxoid vaccine. Babies were spontaneously dying and aborting right after the vaccine, within 24 hours.


The vaccine damaged village

Investigate this case.


Aug 97

About the Akha and Hospitals

My experience with the Akha and the hospital is that sometimes they get treated poorly, especially if they are from Burma. 

Furthermore they are often given superficial diagnosis and have to return a number of times, all which costs them much more than had they gotten a proper diagnosis the first time.


Among the Akha there are a great number of difficulties, and getting the most basic medical care for them is one of them.

     Doctors and NGO's are more concerned with their money, or getting off work on time, than whether the kids lives or dies.


The Death of Meeh Sah:

After Meeh Sah died I was having a harder and harder time starting my brain.  I felt increasingly frustrated over not having a vehicle, that more than anything else.  I tried endlessly to find ways to get one going, get other people motivated to help.


The husband recovered.  He was more quiet now.  Before she died I had often heard him say that she was a no good wife.  I wonder what he thought now?

     I have a story about this,  a long one. I will have to put it here. Meeh Sah, that really hit me when she died, cause I took her to the hospital and did not expect it, but in the morning she was in a bad way and the Maesai nurses only laughed about her lying there, I went and asked them because she looked at me and was frightened. I was really concerned when I saw that. So the nurses blew it off laughing. So I moved her to Chiangrai and a day later she died. That hit me in such a powerful way, I always gave the Akha the best care I could get them, but that was to etch my brain for a long time. I took her back to the village. I buried her. Was really sad.


Boy with pneumonia

He went to overbrook, but he was braindamaged after that. A girl had this happen too, she died. I got the impression, and someone mentioned it to me, that they were injecting too much antibiotic, or something like that.


Plant burn on face

Mae Com village girl goes to bangkok.

Took her to doctor.  Then she went off to bangkok and her mom  said she didn’t have a clue why.

But she came to me because she touched some plant to her face, the leaf brushed her face in the jungle, and her face all blistered there, clear fluid coming out all over her cheak. Doctor had no idea, but it sure looked toxic.


Ajinamoto in everthing

Food and health are important. In Thailand MSG is really pushed, the govt. doesn't take any action about this, too much money, its a big time item in households.


Cheaper drugs ch rai

Cheapest are in Huai Krai Pharmacy. But you got to check the dates. Maesai is expensive cause the Burmese can't go further south, so they have to pay the prices.


Thai Govt pharmaceutical

I went there a couple of times in Bangkok to buy many different things I needed that were hard to get or expensive in Maesai. Fungus cream especially.


American family planning international

was said to sponsor Lewis’s sterilization program. I have the whole book on line.


Medical Care

Now is a perfect example because it is a recurring example.

There is this girl of seven who I took to the hospital.  She needed to have her eye removed and it bothered me that she sat out there in the village, the eye protruding so far she could not close it, so I up and went to the village and picked her and her older brother up and took her into Chiangrai to the hospital there.  I knew going in that it would be complicated but what could I do.  I still owed a bill from last year.  But I took her in anyway, having some kind of unmeritted feeling that good things should just be done and that they more often than not do not pencil, least not initially, and certainly not on the surface. Well, all went well, the eye came out and so forth, but the money still wasn’t there.  I had to pay it in the morning and I was still looking for my way out.  There was no money, some was on its way, but would not come in time for the people at the hospital, or the older brother who was extremely impatient.  This was the reality of my life here, opposite and opposing situations that I just could not win against.  Not when they happened at the same time. But when the brother went in alone, the price was much lower and I gave him the money to pay it off. She came from the flat sand village. I checked on her repeatedly, she needed a new artificial eye, but I had no way to arrange or pay for that.


My medicine list

What I used most of, needs to go here.


Akha and appendicitis

they don’t seem to suffer from it, I never saw one case. I wonder if it is related more to western diets, cause I knew Thais that got it.


Baby is no good, blotches on skin

This was the Burma orphanage. But then there was also this baby in Huai Krai that had skin that scaled all the time, and I heard this was a neuralogical problem.


Need for Akha hospice


How many Akha die alone? I asked the Akha about this, cause when Ah Soh was in the Mae Chan hospital, I could see how many others were there, some old, no one knew they were there, they walked in or someone dropped them off and it looked they would die, and no one was even there to talk to them kindly or hold their hand. Humans, such great need.


My Medical Experiences

I had serious problems here (moist tropics) with tiny wounds infecting from one village.


My diet is sometimes not so good, low funds,  more diesel than food, so I figured it was that but I only got these infections of pimples in one village and they would not heal and went to the size of coins in a few days, leaving nasty scars.


I had to take amoxicylin to stop them, had to do that about three times, then one day i just took one capsule apart and poured it on top and it stopped the wound right away.  I know that this is only topical compared to a surgery, but the bugs are nasty these days and the drugs do not seem to deliver well in the body.


Woman with hole in back, died

 Bah Gah Akha? Yes, this was the place, what a nasty wound that was. Not sure what caused it. I treated it and it healed completely, I saw, about a month it took, her whole back had been open, then later it came back and she died. I had been gone on some other problems in other villages and knew I needed to check again, but it was like that sometimes. A lot of villages, a lot of problems, long roads.


Snake Bite


There was a guy who was bitten on the arm by a snake.  Back in the days when I took Anna into the hospital.  He lost all the flesh down to the tendons and lower muscles, they nurse kept the huge section of his arm where all this flesh was missing covered with a wet cloth pack when she wasn't busy cleaning it.  Was nearly the length of his left forearm.


Nov 4, 1999

The Sick Baby - Isaac

I have two people coming from the US soon and then a group from Singapore.  The moneys needs for preparation are not here so I must compensate and improove the system for next time.


There is my infant son  in Chiangrai hospital, born with opening in the abdomen wall and the intestines and other organs outside the body.   A mess to see.  Never saw so horrible as that and the hospital nurses kept saying "abnormal" and put him in a plastic garbage bag in the ambulance to Chiangrai and his body temperature dropped and he almost died.


Surgery on monday to place intestines back in his body, they then build a tower over to move them back in slowly.  He was born Oct 27, 1999.


Anticipate 3 weeks to breast feeding, food tube now.

Rice harvest was stopped by the rain.  Much rice destroyed in villages north of and next to the Chiangrai River, like the catholic villages.  Much rice destroyed in the mountains too.  Cut and sprouting in the fields before it dried or was stacked up.


This happens sometimes.


Makig trip to Chiangrai Prov Hospital to see infant son plus numerous village stops, plus taking the mother in to see the baby.


Visit child at chiangrai hospital many times late at night.   Then he started looking yellow and I looked and he had a big staff infection and would have died so I moved him then to Overbrook.  He was there a month then two and they would not let him out till I paid the bill but the Embassy in Bangkok said that they should not do this way.


Meanwhile I had to replace the rear brakes on the truck.


The mother was from Som Pah Sak and they told me that now there were some 200 Thai soldiers staying near her village to guard the border area.  This is very close to Maesai.



Tetanus Toxoid

Tetanus toxoid vaccine given during pregnancy in THIRD world countries had a history of suspicion as to what the true intentions of this vaccine were and/or were combined with.


The vaccine had been suspected to  have a link to causing miscarriages and I in fact could identify cases where it had done that immediately upon its administration.


It looked like they tried to give the vacine in each pregnancy.



Giving Birth  

The Akha women say that the Thai nurses are very bad to them when they have babies. Having seen it first hand I know it is true, despite the fact that the Akha woman are faster and much less trouble than the Thai women who may be fat and lay around for hours on the bed in labor.


Meeh Meeh had her daughter and then the doctors at Mae Chan hospital sterilized her. This was common. It happened to Ah Baw Tsah's daughter in Loi Chang too.




Taking a capsule apart and sprinkling the powder on a wound was more effective than taking the pills for 7 days.



Medical Education

Medical education for the villages about modern health concerns, health advocacy, health care rights and procedures.


Sanitation, scabees etc.


Keeping faces clean.

Some villages they need more help than others depending on what kind of stress they are under.



Medical Big Books

For villages in color






Have a comment or question? Like to know more? Send me an email at akhalife@gmail.com 
Copyright 2004, by Matthew McDaniel