Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bangkok, Interrupted

And it was all going so well.

Yet, here I am, flat on my back with a plastic tube in each arm, wearing ill-fitting green pyjamas, listening to my neighbour flick through trash cable TV shows, feeling very sorry for myself.

Oh, how I tutted as embassy staff expressed shock that I was eating at street markets. (Even as I photographed each meal for future forensic evidence.)

So, what happened to the last four days?

Well, Wednesday and Thursday were passed very pleasurably, with much wandering of markets and shopping malls, an embassy function and the obligatory visit to Pat Pong. (More of that another time.)

Then early Friday morning, I woke in a high fever, sure I would be found broiled in my own sweat when the maid came to change the sheets. I have possibly never felt so rubbish.

My first thought, of course, was to blame my new keep fit campaign. For the last three days I had run 4, 4.5 and finally 5 kilometres in the tropical hotel gym. Sparks were coming out of that treadmill, I was sweating so much. On the Thursday, having run 5 km, I may have forgotten to drink any water afterwards. But I did drink a pint of Heineken, several glasses of white wine and four beers at a Pat Pong nightclub. On reflection, not the best way to replace those lost fluids.

Blessed with rather generous travel insurance, come Friday morning I decided to stumble over to the Bumrungrad Hospital (whose name, in part, summons up what might ail a large part of their tourist clientele). The place was empty and it was all terribly efficient. Within minutes, I'd been tapped for blood, wheeled away for x-rays and finally sent packing with a return appointment, some paracetamol and antibiotics.

Saturday night, when I seemed to be getting worse, I staggered back.

There was more of a crowd this time around - a woman next to me crying out in German, some murmuring in Thai and a British couple loudly accusing each other of not doing enough to help their sick child - but I was quickly, and rather worryingly, admitted.

The first diagnosis was my favourite. This was supplied by the ER doctor: sinusitis and unrelated stomach pain. As my sinuses were one of the few parts of me not hurting at that moment, I thought it a courageous call. Sadly, a head x-ray (really, do people get their heads x-rayed?) proved him wrong.

I think one of the nurses may have signed my arm.

I was wheeled away to my bed, which is actually no less comfortable than my hotel mattress, with the added bonus of moving up and down at the touch of the button. Also, people bring me food, which suits me rather well.

Every couple of hours I'm brought: a bowl of tasteless soup that reminds me of (and probably has the same nutritional value as) bathwater; a glass of something sweet and red that is so revolting it must be good for me and a glass of something tangerine that is either salty orange juice or sour carrot juice. All in all, a quite unique menu.

My second diagnosis came courtesy of the ward doctor: acute appendicitis. I must have looked rather startled, when she began explaining she would start prepping me for surgery as she immediately began to back-pedal. I assured her I didn't have appendicitis. In fact, as far as I was aware, the appendix was on the other side of my trunk.

My third diagnosis, hastily supplied on the back of the last, was dengue fever. This carried a little more weight and, minus the telltale rash, my symptoms were a good fit. That saw me through until morning, as I realised what a blessing and a curse complimentary WiFi is. Good: contact with outside world. Bad: googling outside world for prognosis.

My fourth diagnosis, at around 8am, was "typical tropical fever". Which was vague enough to be no comfort whatsoever. Honestly, try googling that. Even WrongDiagnosis won't give you anything.

My third doctor decided Dengue Fever wasn't likely and sent me for an MRI of my barbed-wire-knotted intestines. I've never had an MRI before. It was at once rather meditative and space-age, as I practised stillness while impossibly fast things encircled me.

(Although I was rather distracted by the label, directly below the laser, that read: LAZER! DO NOT LOOK AT IT! To me, this was much the same as writing WARNING! READING THIS MAY BLIND YOU!)

The contrast injection was less pleasant. My mouth filled with lead and my whole body simmered. When they wheeled me out I worried I was seeing double, but it was, thankfully, merely a strange and discomfitting choice of wallpaper. (Two identical lines, one slightly fainter than the other and a few millimetres to the right.)

Since then, I've been visited by the infectious diseases expert - a relaxed American-accented bloke who always stood sideways to me and very deliberately didn't shake my hand - and a chuckling Gastro, who told me 'no worry, this we can fix!'

Which, you know, is kind of what you want to hear in a hospital.

On the downside, it'll be tomorrow before we discover whether any of the antibiotics they've been pumping me full of are chasing the right bacteria. And at least two days before they let me return to my hotel room. Which means I'll miss at least the first three days of my placement at the Nation, which was the whole point in my coming here. More worryingly, the Gastro suggested a week of self-medicating (and not my usual, preferred variety) might be needed before I'm back on my feet. Gah.

Anyway, tomorrow, if you're lucky, I'll tell you about Pat Pong. But you've probably heard those stories before. Hospitalisation, now, that's original!

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