Where islanders are treated like lepers

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Where islanders are treated like lepers

How clearly can you imagine someone else’s pain? Picturing another’s discomfort, other than our own, is often out of the question, especially if the person is suffering on an island far away from everyday civilization.

Sorok Island is home to people suffering from Hansen’s disease, otherwise known as leprosy.

Even if a finger falls off or a nose decomposes, some patients feel no pain as a consequence of the disease, a rare bacterial illness that affects the skin and nerves of hands, feet, and the nose.

In “Heaven’s Harmonica,” author Kim Beom-seok recorded the lives of these patients while spending a year on the island as a public health doctor. He confessed in front of these patients that, “upon hearing stories about the brutality one human had to suffer,” he simply felt helpless.

“There are children who have parents that suffer from Hansen’s disease. Because children tend to be more susceptible to the disease than adults, they must stay far way from the parents.

“For these poor children, a meeting is organized once every month. The parents must stand three to four meters away and only look at their children’s faces to prevent the bacteria from spreading,” Kim writes.

The people who do community service on this island don’t think of their work as a burden. Although they cannot feel the same pain as the patients, the health workers must depend on each other simply because they are also human.

A blind grandpa once again visits the hospital in order to see his sick wife and plays the harmonica for her.

“Did you eat today? How was the food? It is raining and windy today. Make sure you sleep with your blankets today. O.K.?”

By Lim Joo-ri
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