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Head Injury!!! – Cambo Life in the Time of Covid (12-30 April 2020)

Khmer New Year in lockdown, extreme heat… and a head injury. All in the time of COVID in Phnom Penh.

COVID Isolation Week 5

# Cambo Confirmed: 123
# Cambo Recovered: 76

Easter Sunday

Week Five in Coronaland has been a dramatic one.

Easter Sunday kicked things off with a cloistered bang. Because of the lunar phases, Easter tends to coincide with Buddhist (Khmer/Thai/Lao/Burmese) New Year. This year, that meant that we were in the depths of COVID-related closures and restrictions.

Nowhere to go and not much to do but shelter in place. And that’s exactly what we did.


Noe’s been collecting our “recyclables” and finding uses for them. He likes to organize his toys, then dump them out and re-organize. Thankfully, the kid will do this happily for quite a while. Undoubtedly, a good skill/trait to have in the time of COVID.

This weekend, we’ve been working on building a Khmer shophouse out of Legos.

Because of the closures and restrictions, we couldn’t get food coloring this year for Easter eggs. We also weren’t sure how that all works with brown eggs, which is what’s available here.

Instead, Lori had the idea of doing a magnetic letter/number hunt around the house.

Yep. That’s a GoPro on Noe’s head. I haven’t had many opportunities (or reasons) to break it out lately, but thought it might be fun to try out for the special occasion.

You’ll also want to take note of the black steel i-beam between the two boys in the picture above because it’s going to factor prominently in the rest of this post.

Easter Head Injury in the Time of COVID

A few hours later on Easter Sunday, Noe was happily hanging out with mommy in one of the bedrooms chatting with one of his pal’s who lives in France (the kid of friends of ours). Riley, on the other hand, wasn’t so happy.

So, after exhausting all other options, I thought we’d kick around a little plush ball in the hallway. After all, Noe and I used to play this game every afternoon when he was Riley’s age. Only difference was, we did it in a spacious sitting room with wood paneled walls.

Riley seemed to be enjoying himself and most importantly, getting some wiggles out. At one point, Riley bolted towards me from the far end of the hall. Then, all of a sudden, Noe opened the door to the room next to us as Riley was passing, which distracted Riley, who turned his head to see what was going on.

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I didn’t see it happen because I was too distracted by Noe playing with the door [again]. But I heard it, which was more than enough. I couldn’t get the sound out of my mind for several days. The sound of my baby boy’s head smacking into the edge of a steel i-beam.

Oddly, Riley never cried. He just plopped on his backside and sat there stunned. I ran over to inspect and as soon as I saw blood, my hand went into apply pressure. This meant I really had no idea how serious the injury was.

Despite the pressure, my hand didn’t seem to be helping much. The kid was bleeding pretty bad. Lori scrambled to get a clean cloth and call Riley’s pediatrician. Fortunately, she picked up the phone and we got some good advice regarding next steps in Phnom Penh. Lori and I have both had first-aid training, but in a country with no 9-1-1 service in the midst of a pandemic, these sorts of things get a bit more complicated.

The good news was that Riley was alert through the whole thing, never lost consciousness, and answered my questions as he normally would. If he was scared, it was probably from my reaction and the look on my face.

I knew we had to inspect the wound, but I was dreading what I might find. If it was serious (i.e. a skull fracture), the logistics of getting him to where he needed to be quickly under the current circumstances were going to be tricky, not to mention our little boys life would be hanging in the balance.

A few minutes later, the pressure applied to the wound seemed to do its job. Lori moved in as I slowly moved my hand away and we surveyed the damage. A pretty nasty one-inch gash in the side of his head. But fortunately, it appeared to be superficial, and the bleeding seemed to have stopped.

Under normal circumstances in the U.S., we’d head to the ER or Urgent Care at this point for further evaluation. Again, here, it’s a bit more complicated, as there were risks in taking him to the polyclinic in this particular time and place.

Given the low severity of the wound, the advice was to keep an eye on it and that it was ultimately up to us to determine whether it warranted a trip to the polyclinic down the street.

As it was pretty late in the day, we were concerned the wound might reopen in the night if not stitched up. So we opted for an eval and stitches. Lori and Riley hopped on a tuk tuk and I fed Noe dinner and put him down.

As you might imagine, Noe had quite a few questions before bedtime, which I tried my best to answer. Noe’s a tough little guy, but seeing his baby brother in that state I’m sure had an impact on him.

An hour later, Riley and mommy returned from the polyclinic. Fortunately, the doc agreed that it wasn’t serious, but advised three stitches.

So, on top of everything else at the moment, for the next ten days, we get to find new and creative ways to convince an 18-month-old not to yank off his head dressing and pull out his stitches.

He’d also be required to go in every few days to have the dressing changed.

In the end, we ended up skipping the final dressing after learning of new COVID cases being confirmed in an apartment building behind the polyclinic (a hundred cases in the entire country, what are the chances???).

When the time came to get the stitches out, Riley and mommy geared up and made the trek into the cluster zone.

Fun times.

It’s a tough world out there, campers.

Hmm… let’s see, I’ve got my SPF 50+ sunscreen on… and bug repellant? Check! Sun hat? Check! Face mask? Check! Hand sanitizer? Check! Bandage and wound dressing? Check! …and diaper? Uh oh.

Now, we’re all set to head out into…

…post-apocalyptic Phnom Penh.

We venture out as a family for the first time since the restrictions came into effect and streets are looking pretty deserted.

Back at home, Riley has a new obsession.

After three months living in this house, he’s suddenly discovered the jumbotron mounted on the building behind our house. It’s a digitally animated loop featuring the same one-minute video of a new housing development in the city from 6am to 11pm. He can’t get enough of it.

With no TV and iPads in the house, we thought it would be pretty easy to limit our 18-month-old’s screen time. Welcome to Phnom Penh!

Noe prefers the view out the front door.

Khmer New Year Un-Holiday

Khmer New Year has arrived and one could easily be fooled into believing it’s any ordinary day. This year, that’s kind of the point.

Still, little reminders have popped up around town, like this KNY spirit offering at the polyclinic.

I give Lori a hard time about her insistence on repairing things that should have been gotten rid of a long time ago (like hiking sandals that are old enough to drive). After seeing this chair on one of our walks, however, I’m inclined to give Lori a bit more slack.

Speaking of jumbotrons, there’s a new kid in town.

This bad boy suddenly appeared just days ago. It’s not functional yet, but when it goes live, it will be interesting to see how it affects our sleep, given that our bedroom window is a half block away.

In other news, for some darn reason, we’ve been craving this particular beer for months. It just seems to always be on the tip of our tongues. Can’t quite put my finger on it.

Is that you, rainy season?

Another day begins in Coronaland…


Noe, doing his best impression of his dear ol’ dad doing his best impression of someone who doesn’t want their picture taken. He’s pretty spot on, if I do say so myself.

Long before COVID, Noe showed an interest in folding clothes. But since the start of the pandemic, the kid’s really come into his own.

He ended up happily folding the entire basket of laundry on his own.

(He does dishes too, if you’re looking to hire a youthful and energetic worker with a plucky attitude).

On the other hand, if you’re looking to party…

Another day at the “office”…

“Lock Down” Ends

Friday April 17th, and the movement restrictions have been lifted. Khmer New Year has come and gone and life ambles on.

In nearly all of his pictures these days, Riley just looks like…well…like he was hit over the head and forced to stay in his home against his will.

He’s been obsessed with 5 Little Monkeys lately. Particularly this page. No joke.

I’ll come into his room and see him with that book [again]. He’ll turn to this page [again] and go “Dada!”, grunt, point to the picture, grunt again, point to his head, and so on. Poor guy.

It’s the weekend after the orders were lifted, and we’ve decided to brave the outside world. We’ve left the confines of our neighborhood and are headed downtown for a walk along the river for a change of scenery.

Pretty sleepy for a Saturday morning. A couple months ago, the waterfront promenade would be bustling with activity. Today, just a few crazy people like us with masks looking to stretch their legs and get some “fresh” air.

Dozens of cruise ships sit idle along the Tonle Sap these days. Not much for them to do when restaurants are take-out only and most foreign tourists have been banned from the country.

Yes, we wear our masks when we’re out and about, even walking around in the open air. From what I gather, this is frowned upon in the U.S., with many citing research that the chances of catching the virus in the open air are very low, particularly while social distancing.

In Phnom Penh these days, we do it anyway. In the U.S., they call this “virtue signaling.” We call it showing that you give a damn about local customs and other people.

Heaven forbid that we give up some of our personal freedoms and liberties for the greater good.

“Happy Hour”

Every Saturday, Lori and I do a date-night-in after the boys go to sleep. Since nearly all restaurants in town do delivery now, we’ll order from some place nice that we’d typically reserve for a date night out.

Il Forno is one of those places and one of our favorites. On this particular night we ordered their amazing Ricca pizza with parma ham, mozzarella, fresh parmesan, and arugula.

The pizza arrived a short time later and we were very excited. We opened the hot box and…

Uh oh.

Obviously there had been a mix up. But Il Forno was great about it. Within ten minutes of notifying them of the mix up, we had the actual pizza we had ordered and a second pizza at no charge. Il Forno’s not cheap, but for the next two Saturdays we had Il Forno delivery because of the way the handled this. And made sure to tip accordingly.

It goes without saying that restaurants everywhere are struggling. It’s the least we can do to make sure the good ones survive.

On a side note, I’m not as concerned about local/Khmer food eateries. Every time I walk by one these days they still seem to be getting good business. It’s the foreign-owned restaurants that are actually adhering to regulations and advisories and putting in place good prevention practices that seem to be at greatest risk.

COVID Isolation Week 6

# Cambo Confirmed: 122
# Cambo Recovered: 107
# Days Since New Case: 8

Out on an afternoon walk on Street 308, the nightlife hub of our neighborhood. The bar closure is still in effect, so most businesses are still shuttered.


Taking a peek inside the boys’ shuttered nursery school.

“Autumn” in Cambodia. The waning days of the dry season when rain-starved leaves turn yellow and fall, waiting for the arrival of the monsoon.


This is one of the boys’ favorite activities these days. Lori throws a bunch of odds and ends together in a container, fills with water and freezes. Then, the boys spend 30 minutes pouring water on the frozen chunk slowly loosening each piece, I guess a bit like archeology. They love it.

In French class.



Lori put together a little doctors kit for the boys to play with. This was the result.

Late April and things seem to be returning to normal quickly, despite many closures still (i.e. schools).

We headed to nearby Koh Pich (Diamond Island) to take a walk along the water, thinking that we’d encounter a similar situation to our previous day’s walk. This was not the case.


Many of the Chinese construction projects in town like these have paused their operations. Cambodian projects, on the other hand, never missed a beat.

Packed ferries crossing the Mekong.

It was extremely uncomfortable for Lori and me to see so many people throwing caution and social distancing to the wind, particularly given that the global death toll continues to mount.

But in Phnom Penh, it’s hard to blame people. Two weeks without a single confirmed case, no deaths, no critically ill patients. And most people’s houses are stifling hot.

Still, the coronavirus and COVID-19 looms large over everything, and nobody knows if Cambodia dodged a bullet or if a devastating second wave is just around the corner.

COVID Isolation: Week 7

# Cambo Confirmed: 122
# Cambo Recovered: 119
# Days Since New Case: 15


Seems they’ve got the neighborhood jumbotron up and running, and it’s a doozy — measuring nearly two stories in height.

Lori and I can now host our own raves — when the bars open back up, that is….

Beer Bar Tuk Tuk Time!

The guys threw in an extra this time. Just because.

It’s been about eight weeks straight of highs in the 100s. Just like Laos, in a typical year here, March through May are the hottest months, with temperatures cooling in June with the arrival of the rains. However, this year is predicted to be dryer than normal with a shortened rainy season.

It’s getting more challenging to balance indoor and outdoor activities with the heat, but the boys are taking it in stride.

Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, they are always eager to get out whenever they can. In these times, I have a hunch they’re not alone in that respect.

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Can Riley be any cuter with a bandage on his head?! He is so adorable; as is Noe, of course!! So glad his injury was not any worse than it was..Hope the temperature cools off soon for you…Take care and stay safe.


Fabulous posting. Thanks for such a thorough report. We enjoyed it very much.