Papa Thongbai

LOVE & TEAMWORK SAVE ELEPHANT AT FAE’S ELEPHANT HOSPITAL

Soraida Salwala supervises as the staff at FAE try to help Thongbai stand up. (Photo credit: Michael Wysocki).

By Michael Wysocki

The laws of nature rarely show mercy, but today here at FAE hospital we escaped death. This morning I woke up the moment the first sunray showered my face. Instead of laying and just being for a bit like most mornings, I instinctively got up, threw on my favorite orange uniform, and grabbed my camera. Between the foliage and the topography of this place, I learned in order to find my friends I must listen not look, and as I picked up their voices I knew, they were with Thongbai. He is our 45-year old male patient, blind in his right eye, skinny, weak, came to us about a week ago for the treatment of an abscess on his back from the equipment he carries as a life long logging Elephant.

Thongbai either decided this morning he did not want to get up, ever; or he physically couldn’t. As his family here, we were not about to give him up with out a fight, and I tell you now it’s a tough battle with Soraida leading it. Together, every strand of energy amongst us was dedicated to Thongbai. We used every tool and trick available on grounds to help him stand up, but what I admired the most is the effort to make him feel loved and comfortable. Back and forth up the hill with wheelbarrows full of dry sand and hay, hoping he would use it to find his grip. A huge tarp lifted and tied into the canopy above him to protect him from the scorching sun, which inevitably is followed by downpours of rain this time of year, as it did. A smoky fire to keep away the forever-annoying mosquito, and to warm his body temperature. Accompanied by the constant, comforting, and encouraging voice of Soraida.

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Though an amazing effort so far, Thongbai was still not able to gather the strength to stand up. Maybe some people at this point would have pulled the trigger on him, and even I started to wonder. Is it his time to die? Which moment will tell us to back off and let nature take over? What my real question is, did that ever cross Soraida’s mind? I can imagine it does with what all she has been through with her Elephants, but it is during these moments that separates her mission from others. It was her heart that said, YES Thongbai, you may have been hurt in the past but right now you are in MY hands and I love you.

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She called for a fire truck, but the road was to steep and wet, it was too risky. So she called for a tractor. As the tractor arrived my emotions ran even wilder. I felt relief, but then so scared when it lifted him.

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The Elephant Hospital uses a crane to lift Thongbai to his feet. (Photo credit: Michael Wysocki)

At first he stayed limp as the chains lifted his massive body awkwardly, but then a burst of life set off inside him and he stood strong. My heart broke and healed in two moments; that was a first for me. With a few mouth full’s of bananas and some help up the hill he was back again, livelier than I’ve ever seen him.

Once on his feet, Thongbai’s energy returned and he was able to walk on his own. (Photo credit: Michael Wysocki).

We all have our mornings when we just don’t feel like getting up. With me, it can come from my extreme feelings. But with Thongbai, his body may have just had enough. Whether human or elephant, sometimes we just need a loving face to help us. An Elephant life is so precious here at FAE hospital, and obviously precious to God as I witnessed today.

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