I lay on the hospital cart with a cool rag draped over my forehead. All around me people bustled about taking care of the last minute walk-ins at the clinic but I barely took any notice of them. The ceiling lights were bright and every sound seemed muted. I was lost in my own little world, one clouded by high fever and a bit of delirium. The minute hand on the clock, which I could make out if I pushed myself to sit up, slowly swept its arm down and around the face. ‘I wonder what the results of the test are…’ I muttered to no one in particular. ‘Dengue…maybe Malaria…I wonder…’ Alone and sick in a hospital in Trat, Thailand I was not in good shape.
There are just some things you don’t want to have happen when you’re traveling; stuff being stolen, natural disasters, and sickness. Arriving in Trat, Thailand my plans had been to rent a motor bike and head off to nearby Koh Kong island for a bit of exploring but at 7am when I first woke up in my art deco room something didn’t feel quite right.
Weighing me down was some unknown force and my eyes refused to open all the way. I figured I just needed a bit more sleep so I rolled over, curled into a ball, and let myself doze off.
An hour later I woke up and felt even more tired. ‘This is weird,’ I thought to myself writing off the tiredness to sleeping in a new environment. ‘Just a few more minutes’ I muttered shielding my eyes from the sun glaring through the windows.
Nine thirty am, I woke up again feeling even weaker than before. ‘Crap…’ was my response to the now dawning knowledge that I was sick. Six months of traveling carefree and healthy through Asia had come to a sudden and abrupt end. ‘Guess it had to happen sometime…’ I chuckled to myself. ‘Now how am I going to get through this,’ I began to plan.
‘Food, I need food…’ and so that first step was decided. I dragged my thousand pound limbs from the bed and pulled on my clothes from the previous day which had been discarded conveniently within arms reach. ‘Food, yes, food…but what kind?’
I plotted…fruit, yes fruit would be good. Simple to digest and easy to get down… A nearby market made things somewhat easy. Cheap and tasty fruit piled up in the plastic bag which hung loosely from my hand. How it got from stands to there and money from my wallet to the vendors hand I’m not quite sure but at no point was I pursued by police.
Slumping back into the hard double bed in my room I ate slowly letting myself be distracted by a movie playing on my computer.
I awoke a few hours later even more tired than before. The fruit hadn’t been enough, I was still hungry.
The guesthouse served food. I stumbled into the restaurant, an open air establishment with stiff wooden seats, and ordered something. It came, I ate, the world seemed blurry.
‘Doctor? Where can I see a doctor?’ the world came into focus as I talked to the manager. She sat in front of me behind a desk cluttered with stuff. ‘Doctor, you are sick?’ she asked with a slightly concerned face. ‘Yes, doctor.’ ‘Well, there is a clinic…’ the words seemed to get lost in the air between us but she pulled out a map and circled a building that wasn’t too far away.’ ‘Good, doctor, thank you’ I mumbled heading to my room to collect some stuff to bring with me.
The door was open as I walked up to the hospital. Inside a friendly lady showed me to a counter took my passport and led me to a seat. The world seemed to sway around me and awareness seemed to sharpen to crystal clarity and unfocus to muddy glass at random.
‘This way please’ she said reseating me in a wheelchair and giving me to the care of a male orderly who wheeled me down the hallway to a nurses station.
For some reason I was grinning. Through the haze a single thought blazed, ‘now this is interesting…a hospital visit in Thailand…won’t it be fun to write about this later if I live…’ My cheerful fevered demur charmed the staff and put smiles on the faces of all the cute nurses.
‘What countries have been to recently?’ the doctor asked from behind his computer. I sat in a normal chair contained in a small examining room. I thought hard, ‘Recently…Laos, Cambodia and,’ chuckling, ‘Thailand.’
His brow furrowed. Fever and sickness after those countries, the list of possible ailments was short and not pretty; influenza, Dengue, or Malaria. ‘We will test,’ he said matter of factly gesturing for the nurse to take me on a ‘tour’ of the hospital.
‘Weeee,’ I snickered as the orderly wheeled my chair down another hall and to an elevator. My thoughts turned to the upcoming testing. Blood tests? I was going to need some soda. (I’ve got a weak stomach and so to counteract the sudden drop in blood pressure and sugar levels I take a soda or juice with me)
The nurse looked up from her station as I appeared before her. ‘I need soda,’ I said holding out a drawing of a can in front of me. A strange look shadowed her face, ‘no soda,’ she said matter of factly. Not to be put off I began to explain with wonderful gestures and miming that should have won me an award as to why I needed soda.
She refused to relent. ‘Just blood test, no need soda.’ I also refused to relent. ‘I need soda or I faint,’ repeating my award winning performance. She grunted, put on an unhappy face and led me down a stairwell and to the hospital store. Note: never piss off nurses or doctors in Thailand.
Back in the chair at her station I took a few sips bringing my senses around to some sort of equilibrium. ‘Okay,’ I said with a smile, ‘let’s do it.’
She jabbed my arm with the needle and sucked the blood out. How forceful she had done it didn’t become clear until later when my whole inner elbow turned a wonderful shade of black and blue. Repeat: never piss off nurses and doctors in Thailand.
‘Now pee in cup,’ she said putting down a graduated piece of lidded plastic in front of me. ‘How much?’ I asked picking it up. She had turned away and was playing on her cell phone. Two, or maybe three of the same inquiries later she finally relented and stabbed her finger at a line two-thirds up the plastic. ‘Great. Where’s the bathroom?’ Her hand waved in the direction of the door. ‘Fantastic.’
Now let me say that trying to find a bathroom in a building marked in strange and unreadable characters is not fun. Add to that high fever and the weakness/delirium that comes with it and you’ve got yourself a real adventure.
I finally ended up about 10 meters from the door to my goal flopped down on the ground trying not to pass out. There was an audience of 6 people standing and watching me, including my ward who was studiously typing stuff into her Blackberry. Not one made a move to help me. I looked at them with a hatred fueled by the lack of any sort of compassion on there part.
‘Wheelchair?’ I mimed and gestured. No one moved. I tried again with more life and verve, ‘wheelchair?’
One of the orderlies figured it out and a minute later he appeared. ‘Good,’ I muttered gesturing and miming for them to wait there while I took care of business.
Stepping out of the bathroom I sighed. The hallway was empty, no people and no wheelchair. ‘Of course,’ I grumbled to myself, ‘I just wanted to look at the wheelchair, not use it… How much intelligence did it take to figure out…’ I stopped myself. This was not a productive line of thought no matter how satisfying the line of expletives streaming through my head was. Nonetheless I continued on in that stream until I was once again at my starting point, this time spread over a row of molded plastic chairs trying not to throw up and pass out from the exertion. The wheelchair sat idly by next to the nurse’s station.
How I got back to the first nurses station (with the cute and friendly nurses) and on to a gurney I have no idea but the realization that someone was finally taking care of me was comforting. One of the staff there even took it upon themselves to talk to me, in English to boot. The happiness I felt because of that small amount of companionship in my moment of darkness can not come close to being expressed in simple words.
Another nurse came and fastened something on my wrist, a band with my name and a number. ‘Am I staying tonight?’ I asked the staff next to me. ‘Yes,’ she said with a smile, ‘I think that would be a good idea.’
A few minutes or maybe an hour later my temporary home began to move. The lights and ceiling scrolled above me. Soon I was in a large room with many beds, most empty.
I rolled myself into the more permanent bed, thanking the orderly that had moved me. The thought, ‘never forget you manners,’ caused me to chuckle.
A nurse came up with a needled filled cart. She hung a clear bag up on a stand next to my bed and swabbed down my arm. ‘This IV good for you,’ she said smiling. ‘An IV?’ I thought to myself, ‘never had one of those before.’ ‘But I’m not good with needles…’ I protested. She smiled and stuck me anyways. The cool liquid flowed into my arm bringing with it a small bit of relief.
I dozed off.
A nurse woke me up, checked my blood pressure and temperature, then walked away. I fell asleep again.
A touch on my shoulder, this time it was a nurse and a doctor. ‘Hello Michelle,’ he began. ‘Michael,’ I corrected politely. His explanation was brief and in understandable English. No, they didn’t know what it was yet. Yes, I was staying the night. No, I probably wouldn’t die. ‘I’ll be back tomorrow morning to let you know the results of the tests and tell you what you have.’
I fell asleep again.
There was no dinner for me. Apparently I had gotten there too late so I made due with some snacks bought from an older lady who wandered through the ward with a giant clear sack. I didn’t have much of an appetite anyways.
The lights were turned off and thus began the cycle. Take medicine, fall asleep, get woken up for blood pressure and temperature, fall asleep, be woken up for medicine, fall asleep, get woken up for… well, I’m sure you get the idea.
At what time I’m not sure my fever finally broke and awareness began to flood back into my skull. I breathed a sigh of relief.
The sun rose and wake up call was at 5:30am. ‘Here are clean uniform, shower over there’ the new and friendly nurse informed me. Instead I decided to turn over and sleep more. Shower, well, that would be later back at my guesthouse.
‘We don’t think it’s malaria or dengue,’ the doctor said with a smile, ‘but we would like you to stay a few more days just to be sure.’ I smiled back, ‘well, that’s good news, but could I check out today? It’s too expensive for me to pay for hospital and hotel at the same time…’ All my stuff was still at the guesthouse… ‘Well, I guess,’ he began, ‘as long as you come back in two days for another test.’ ‘Of course, of course,’ I agreed.
Still weak but with a smile on my face I strolled out the front door. My pocket was heavy with the collection of medicine I had received. ‘Now that sure was one hell of an experience,’ I chuckled to myself. Over the hump I was ready to get better and be on my way. ‘…and many miles to go before I sleep…’