Doctors at a health clinic in Lowell, Massachusetts, had a problem: Their exam rooms reminded refugee patients of torture chambers. The stethoscopes, the blood pressure cuff squeezing your arm—they looked like the torture devices used on their families, during Cambodia’s genocide.
Sonith Peou was just 24 when the Khmer Rouge pounded on the door of his family’s home, and took his father away for execution. Now 63, he’s a program director at the Lowell Community Health Center and he understands why a visit to the doctor’s office can feel traumatic for Cambodian refugees. For some, he says, simply being left alone in a room and waiting for a doctor can cause anxiety.
“When we have patients here, we usually don’t close the door all the way. Because especially for people who have experienced torture, it’s to make them feel like they’re not sitting in the cell,” he shares.