Due to financial difficulties, Sall Sreymao and her husband left their children in Cambodia to go and work in construction in Thailand in 2006, but after a decade of construction work they were still unable to save enough to significantly improve their lives.
Sreymao then went to work as a caregiver for an elderly patient along with her friend. As of today, she has been caring for stroke victims, the elderly and disabled patients for more than six years.
Sreymao, born in Thma Koul district of Battambang province, started her own Facebook page in order to share her experiences in caring for the elderly with the public so that they could apply the lessons she has learned to caring for their parents or loved ones who have fallen seriously ill, and to provide some knowledge to those who wish to work as patient caregivers.
She said that because there is no widespread sharing of these experiences, she often shares her knowledge in videos on her page.
“I would like to share some experiences so that our people can use these methods for caring for older patients, and on my page our brothers and sisters began to thank me for making the videos,” Sreymao said.
In one of the videos posted on her page, Sreymao – who speaks Thai fluently – described how to put a diaper with a small hole in it on an immobilized patient.
“This method for male patients reduces the flow of urine into the diaper, which causes them inflammation and itching. But this method only works for male patients,” she said.
The caregiver for the elderly admitted that she initially found the job very challenging due to her first patient’s inability to sleep, which required her to get up several times a night, but as a caregiver, she has to get up whenever the patients get up in order to help them and make sure that they don’t try to get out of bed on their own and fall down.
Sreymao, whose children are studying in Siem Reap, claimed that she remembered one of her friends telling her that she wouldn’t be able to handle the job and because of her own stubbornness and drive to prove her friend wrong she was able to endure with her first patient for almost six years until he finally passed away.
Sreymao – who provides both nursing care and housework services – said that the care of patients in Thailand is carried out according to Thai law, which she found a bit intimidating when she first started out.
“There are many types of patients. After the elderly patient I first cared for passed away, I continued to look for similar work. Most of the patients I cared for were unable to help themselves, some of them always slept in bed and many were terminally ill,” Sreymao, 36, told The Post.
As the primary caregiver for her sick mother for nearly 10 years, Thul Chenda, the eldest of her four siblings, spends a great deal of time with her mother on matters like cleaning her body, cleaning her bedding, feeding her, giving her medicine, and unpleasant but necessary tasks like cleaning her up after she urinates or defecates.
Day by day, Chenda’s mother’s condition worsened until she was no longer able to walk, bathe herself or even bend her arms and legs to change position on her mattress, so that she needed help from her children at all times.
“It is said that older people are more like children. Now she goes back to her infancy, unable to do anything, not even eat or bend her arms and legs. Sometimes it’s really stressful, but mother raised and took care of five children and that’s why we can’t just abandon her,” she said.
Chenda said that no matter how difficult it becomes, she will struggle forward and care for her mother to the best of her abilities.
Whether it is a professional caregiver or a caring family member, taking care of a critically ill person can be extremely difficult and taxing, both mentally and physically.
“For patients with urinary incontinence, cleaning the mattress is very difficult and very stressful to deal with, especially for inexperienced people such as family members caring for parents or elderly grandparents. But for me now it is normal,” Sreymao said.
Sreymao’s videos about how to care for patients and her many experiences doing so have made local Cambodian women, particularly migrant workers, interested in the profession in order to earn better money for their families.
Sreymao said that many Khmer people have chatted to her via Facebook asking her for help with finding jobs for them. She said that she can’t really help most of them as the job requires some training or experience and the ability to speak Thai well in addition to the necessary work permit.
She introduces them to the company she works for if they have the necessary skills and background and after that whether they get hired or succeed will be up to them.
“These three points are indispensable,” she said. “It’s not the same as before, when we needed only to have a passport and be able to speak Thai. Before, Thai people were not interested in doing the work of caring for the elderly because they thought there wasn’t enough freedom.”
Currently, Sreymao is working as both a domestic worker and caregiver for an elderly patient in Thailand, earning roughly 20,000 baht per month (approximately $ 550). She said that pay varied based on the patient’s situation and it pays less if the patients are able to help themselves to some extent.
Some clients do not allow the caregivers to dine with them, so they add 150 baht ($ 4) per day or more to purchase meals, depending on their generosity.
Sreymao described her morning routine: She gets up and washes the dishes, cleans the house, prepares a small breakfast for the patient, cleans herself up before taking the patient to the bathroom for washing their face and brushing their teeth. Then she feeds the patient breakfast and gives them their medicines according to their prescriptions prior to resting.
Sreymao added that after the morning work, she then cooks lunch for patient and continues with the housework while also attending to any needs the patient raises.
“Each house is different and has different protocols. Patients are also different, including their preferences for eating,” she said.
She cared for her first patient for nearly six years before the patient passed away. After living together for a long time, she admitted that she was emotionally attached to him by then like a grandfather or older uncle and his passing took a toll on her personally, but not all patients were as kind as him.
“I didn’t stay that long with my next patient as it was too difficult. Some patients have insomnia and do not rest at all. Every night the patient doesn’t sleep and always asks to go to the restroom. They get frustrated themselves with getting up so often, so they felt annoyed and blamed me. I couldn’t get any sleep and it became too much, so I resigned,” she said.
Sreymao said that while her job is a necessary one in today’s society given the realities of most families needing everyone going to work, it’s best if family members can fill the caregiver role.
“If you have elderly parents, please take good care of them. Even if you have hired people to care for them, make sure they are really taking care of them and feeding them well. Don’t wait until you lose them and then regret not spending that time with them while they were here and needed your help,” she said.