On returning to Bangkok from Burma, I wanted nothing more than Skype, iron tablets and rest. I was so weak however that the very thought of an hours journey on two trains with a huge walk in between and a backpack on my back was very unappealing. I headed for the airport hotel to discover the cheapest room was 160GBP. I may have been ill but I knew this was too much for one hotel room for one person for one night. So I walked all the way back and rolled straight into a taxi to roll me straight to the same hostel as before – the speedy wi-fi being a big draw after Burma’s ridiculous internet.
After 2 hours of Skype to keep me sane however, I needed out to get something to make me feel better so I headed downstairs and asked the man for the nearest hospital to go and see a doctor. I wanted him to take some blood, tell me what’s wrong, give me some pills and send me on my way. After much mmming and ahhing about the nearest hospital, the hotel man took me to a taxi.
When I arrived at the hospital, I pointed at words in the phrasebook (about 8 out of 10 on the symptoms list) and waited my turn. The nurse took my blood pressure and then took me to the “Emergency Room”. At this point, I’d like to mention I’ve never been to hospital. Well, 3 times. When I was born, obviously, and once to pick someone up and once to visit someone, but never for my own health, so I didn’t really have a clue what to expect.
I do have a basic knowledge of the rules of hospitals, however. At least I thought I did. Mobile phones, are they allowed in an “Emergency Room”? Food, drink? The TV was on for the nurses, is this normal? A man was having some stitches put in his foot, a proper little operation, curtains wide open, no privacy. Is this how it is in England?! Is this how Emergency Rooms are?!
After a dizzy wait, I saw the doctor, who thankfully spoke English. Once I’d explained my story, he said he wanted to take a blood sample. I had this sat in my chair and it wasn’t long before I must have turned pale because I was offered a bed. After a long cold wait in said bed, I was told that the doctor wanted to admit me for the night, x-ray me and take further tests. Not one to want to argue with a doctor, I reluctantly agreed and was put into a wheelchair and taken to be x-rayed. Another first! And second, and third. He had to do it a few times.
Finally, starving, thirsty and slightly dazed, I was taken up to a bed. “Maybe this will be a bit more private than the “Emergency Room”” I though. No. Even closer beds, no air-con, privacy curtains all wide open. Again, maybe this is all normal, I don’t know. Everyone around me looked like they were on death’s door, all non-moving, wired up to respirators with pipes up their noses and drips in their arms. It wasn’t long before a very nice lady doctor came over and I had to tell her all about my poo. She was very beautiful. I bet her poo smells of roses. If she even does poo. So it was embarrassing to have to give her graphic detail of mine. She said she didn’t know what was wrong, that it could be anything, cancer, but I’m very young so probably not, a tropical disease, like malaria, she didn’t know. But she’d said the words cancer and malaria. Not great words to hear on your own in a hospital bed in a foreign country surrounded by pipes and drips. I cried a little bit, not helped by the fact that none of the nurses seemed to understand what I wanted when I pointed at the Thai for “food” in my phrasebook.
Thankfully, some visiting relatives of a very ill looking woman across from me spoke English and were kind enough to go to the 7/11 across the road and get me some food. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone. People are nice.
At this point I got a phone call from my boyfriend, which helped in the perking me up stage I was now going through. When I finished I was moved rooms! A woman in a smaller room cornered off by glass had seen me on the phone and spoke a little English so they moved me closer to her. And this room was air conditioned, and there were no respirators or pipes or drips! In fact, I was now the only one with a drip. Which was horrible, I don’t like needles so having one stuck in my hand all night wasn’t great fun.
Despite having a needle in my hand and my translator being sat watching TV ‘til the wee hours, I slept very well. Until I was woken for pills and two more blood samples. The morning was less stressful than it could have been. When I rang the hotel the night before to ask if they could bring my stuff to the hospital, the man wasn’t very helpful.
“And how am I supposed to do that?”
“Well…I don’t know, get a taxi? I’ll pay when you get here.”
“Well we can keep your stuff here until you are finished.”
“But the doctor said it could be a week! I need my stuff!”
“Ok..well..I can’t do anything tonight. Tomorrow? Maybe 1 o’clock.?”
“Yes, that’s fine. 1 o’clock tomorrow? It’ll be here?”
I had to ring him the next day at 3 to remind him. Thankfully, he eventually delivered my stuff just in time to keep me sane.
It was a mind numbing experience being in that hospital. I left less than 12 hours ago from writing this and it feels like a distant memory. It’s kind of hazy, a bit of a blur. A dull, repetitive blur. So I won’t bore you with the details that at the time were momentous to me but now are minimal.
The important thing to know is that consequently, I’ve decided to come home. If you’re sat reading this thinking “Oh my God, how stupid” then shut up. Unless you’ve been alone on the other side of the world, starving in a foreign hospital where you can’t speak the language and you don’t know what’s wrong then your opinion on my decision doesn’t matter to me. It is lonely, miserable and not fun. I’ve already learnt from Bali that this experience is not going to be all fun and games and happy, smiley photographs, but to be ill on and off up and down for 2 weeks and then to have to spend two nights in hospital really is enough to send me home. The thought of getting ill again in Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam, where the healthcare is not quite like Thailand is just not worth the risk for me. I’ve decided to go home and rest and return in December to Hong Kong, which is when my boyfriend has his ticket to “come and meet me”, now to come out with me!
I’m not claiming this was an easy decision. I’m just claiming I don’t want any criticism for it. If there is one thing I have learnt above anything else over the past few months, it is that there is no right and wrong when it comes to travel.
If Little Bobby Joe has been travelling since he was 23 and never looked back then who’s to stop the 45 year old? If Jimmy wants to come to Thailand and go to a full moon party and get utterly out of his face because he’s just turned 18 and discovered alcohol, then good for him, I hope he has a blast. If Mary wants to go to spend six months in Belize and watch X Factor while she’s there, then so be it. If I want to come home for 6 weeks and rest in one place where I know I’ll always have a hot shower and healthy, safe food then good for me. You can sit and criticise my decision but I don’t care. There’s no right and wrong way to travel, just your way. And this is my way.
Addition 19/10/11: I’m home now, in the comfort of my room and feeling much better. A little sleep deprived but almost fully recovered from the illness and hospital. It feels good to be back.