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I Am a Strong Woman, Because a Strong Woman Raised Me

by Apr 10, 2020

Home » Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine Student Blog » I Am a Strong Woman, Because a Strong Woman Raised Me

March 20, 2020 was the date quarantine started. I remember not many people were aware of how serious this situation was; and I am one of the guilty. I have been exposed to so many things working in the health care field for more than a decade, all the handwashing was normal hygiene that we had to do. What caught my attention was how it affected the elderly; namely, my mom.

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Of course, I am in the percentage of people who can be a bit panicky. I am not worried about myself, because I may be in the age group where I won’t be affected as much, but I can be a carrier and pass it to my mom. My mom is in the age group most at risk from contracting COVID-19. During my time in National’s clinic and remembering previous medical settings in which I’ve worked, I treated my patients in that age group as if they were my family. Especially those who are vets or cute elderly patients. They are the sweetest and yet toughest! Yes, health wise we are there to help them with their physical ailments but most times, they are coming to us for emotional and mental support. This COVID epidemic…another reason why I am so worried for my mom, it’s not just her catching the virus, but how past memories affect her now. I call her the silent soldier.

I am a first-generation American; both of my parents immigrated to the States from Cambodia. My father was sponsored by my uncle from France, and in 1980,  my mother was very blessed to have been sponsored by Wheaton Bible Church. My mother came to America in her late 20s, and has never shared her stories with me until recently. Since COVID slowly started, she said she felt it in her body that something was about to happen. Her arthritic pain became worse than usual. Her emotions became a bit more guarded and stern. She will only laugh and joke with me when in the house. But once she steps outside the house, or I need to run to the store, she watches every location where I stop through her phone–I saw it on her phone, because she doesn’t know how to close the app, LOL! If I am taking longer than the time we agreed on, she calls to check up on me. Would you call this over-protection? No, I would not. I call it a warrior’s love.

The guardedness my mom is experiencing today during the COVID outbreak is causing her to have a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience similar to what she lived through in Cambodia. If you have ever watched the “Killing Fields,” or “First, They Killed My Father”, those are documentaries of real life experiences of people in Cambodia at that time. She had to hold weapons to defend her family. She had to keep discipline as bullets were whizzing by her ears, as she strategically walked through minefields. She prayed over dead bodies, asking them silent permission to hide among them so she would not be shot or stabbed. She sacrificed her food repeatedly to give to the elderly or children, because there was not enough to go around. She motivated and coached a woman through her labor, because she had to secretly give birth in camp. She knew how to keep open wounds from stabs or bullets clean before people could receive medical care. Once I had to laugh at that last one, as my mom almost faints at the site of blood. But now I understand. With her discipline, she was in command of over 2,000 people, leading them through daily exercise as peace started to come around to the country. Before she was blessed to come to America.

Every story remembered is different, as I sit here watching my cute mama. Don’t worry, we are both very content staying in the same house and even the same room for many days since quarantine first began. For the past two years since starting at National, I have not really seen my mom except in passing before bedtime. I was busy working in the morning, and was at school at night. So we had very few meals together, except sometimes on weekends. And, only then if I didn’t have a lot of studying to do.

Working in National’s Clinic, it has been rewarding to hear and share stories with the veterans and some of the elderly patients, but even more rewarding to be with them through the healing processes they have gone through in this lifetime. We did take for granted each day. We have been too busy to have quality time with our loved ones, focusing solely on work or school.

What are our priorities? Before we went into “lockdown,” mama felt it. As we went shopping, and prepared to shelter in place, she pulled out her secrets from another time to keep us protected. Not drastically but strategically, the silent soldier with a loving warrior who stood guard and remained ready.

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About the Author

Rina Sem

Rina Sem

Rina Sem is a student at the Lombard, Illinois campus studying in the Master of Science-Oriental Medicine program. Though working in the medical field for 10 years, she is keeping the promise she made to her father to complete her master’s degree. Rina is a first-generation American of Cambodian heritage, and passionate about her studies in the field of complementary and alternative medicine.


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