Warning: contents of this blog may disturb and upset those with fear of needles, blood, hospitals and surgery. Explicit, graphic language and medical terms used. Discretion required.
For the bulk of us, anything that requires a personal visit to the hospital for a medical reason is to be avoided at all cost, and if it does happen, it is not an overly enjoyable or fun experience. I get that, and I have had up to ten different hospital visits in my lifetime, not including birth.
Put me in a foreign country with a medical need and I am avoiding that hospital visit, even if it means trawling through websites to self diagnose, sending photos of said “problem” (which it will remain titled for the faint of heart) to mother back home in Australia, convincing myself that as the “problem” grows in size and pain, that somehow it’s going to get better of its own accord. ANYTHING to avoid going to a hospital in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
This attitude and conviction only lasted 6 days. By the 7th day I was not sleeping, standing, sitting, walking, doing anything with any degree of comfort and ease. The “problem” had to be seen.
With advice from my travel insurer (a lesson for any traveller – GET travel insurance), I was advised where to go, what to do, what records to ask for and how I could get every Thai Baht back for anything that I was going to spend on removing the “problem.”
Fortunately for me my bestie (Wilksy) was in Chiang Mai, Thailand having her first real vacation in years. Unfortunately for her, what was meant to be a relaxing holiday filled with amazing cuisine, tourist attractions, introductions to my new life and friendships here, became a holiday of hospital visits and patient care (for me).
Chiang Mai Ram hospital was to become our daily stomping ground. After disclosing in detail said “problem” to a number of Thaiglish-speaking nurses, all wearing cute little nursing hats and baby blue uniforms, I was systematically processed through a range of tests. The most distressing of results pre-Doctor, was the confirmation that my ill-fitting clothing was in fact due to the 7kgs I had gained since getting to Thailand, not that my clothes had shrunk from frequent laundering. Who wants to go to hospital to find that out??? Come on!!!
Wilksy and I were ushered eventually into the Doctor’s room where the “problem” was examined. With the Doctor’s commentary mostly in Thai I was able to pick up on the “mmmmm” and “it’s big” and a “does that hurt” poke. Before I was back dressed and seated behind the dividing wall where Wilksy was safely blocked from view of the “problem,” the Doctor was explaining in Thaiglish that I would have to be operated on that afternoon under general anaesthetic. Tears flooded my eye balls as Wilksy immediately shifted into mother mode; notepad out, pen poised, legs crossed, and with the look of an official medical practitioner, she asked “why would that be necessary?” The Doctor saw my welling tears and muttered something about “why crying” and Wilksy remarked indignantly “well surgery isn’t fun now is it?” That mere fact was lost on him.
Okay so the “problem” had grown in shape and size from that of a 20cent piece to a 10cm chocolate bar – the pain would be too great under a local, so knocking me out was the only option.
The bowl of cereal I enjoyed that morning had to be digested before I could have surgery. We had a few hours to kill, so with enormous discomfort and pain I showed Wilksy my favourite coffee spot – Ristr8tto, jewellery store – Pink Pvssy, and sanga bar – Smoothie Blues. At least the girl could get some coffee, shopping and food into her before she had to endure a hospital waiting room.
Four hours later, back at the hospital, following an X-ray of my chest, vials of blood sucked from my arm, a needle inserted in my hand and stuck down with sticky tape, I was placed in my pretty gown, ushered up to the surgery floor to finalise a few more forms, Wilksy by my side every step of the way. The moment of harsh realisation that I was truly in a foreign non-English speaking developing country, and this really was happening, was when I tried to explain to the nurse before going into surgery that I had my period. She simply could not understand me, no matter what words I used to describe my period – “I’m menstruating, it’s that time of the month, I’m bleeding, I’m wearing a tampon, my pussy is sick (an expression some Thai women use), I’ve got my rags.” This was when I broke down and whimpered – what was I doing getting an operation here?
Unlike my other hospital experiences, I walked into theatre and hopped up on the hard skinny operating table myself. Where was my nice comfy wheeling bed with soft white linen covering me? There was some hustle and bustle going on, the anaesthetist looked capable and kind. It was when they started attaching stirrups to the operating table that I was just praying to be knocked out. In my usual well-rehearsed speech prior to going off into la-la land, I thanked everyone in the theatre for taking part in the afternoon’s proceedings, for taking good care of me in advance, and wishing them all very….. Zzzzzzzzz!!!
The worst part of surgery is waking up – disoriented, often with an oxygen mask covering one’s mouth and nose, things attached to you, monitors beeping at you, blood pressure arm-bands squeezing you, waiting to feel some sort of pain from what ever has just been done to you under the knife, and looking at the eyes and white masks of the nursing staff caring for you in recovery. This time the added disorientation was hearing the Thai language spoken – I really felt lost and alone and scared and a long, long way from home. Sob Sob.
The next two hours were long; watching the ticking of the second hand on the clock like it was white paint drying on a wall. Watching other patients being wheeled in and out wondering what their situation was. Getting obsessed by the beating of people’s different monitors and trying to find some kind of peaceful melody in the relentless beeps, ticks and pumps that would help me snooze some more. Hearing other patients in pain, including an alcoholic American who had 6 teeth removed who was coughing and spurting blood and yelling aggressively at the nurses. Where is my Wilksy? I want to go home!!!
Thankfully a change in shifts brought me my angel nurse who stroked my arm, talked to me gently, assisted me back onto the bed after my first failed attempt to get up, and even smuggled some chocolate milk and cookies into the recovery ward to help prevent the dizzy factor that had me back in bed for another 45 minutes.
Once upright and able to stand without falling over, it was into a wheelchair and through a few check points before I got to see my patient friend Wilksy. My favorite check point was being asked how I was getting home. When I responded, “by a tuk-tuk,” the option was quickly shut down and an ambulance ride (free of charge) was offered. Kop Khun Kha!!!
Under 12 hours after arriving at the hospital, tests, surgery, a wheelchair ride, 27,000 Thai Baht later, a zip lock plastic bag full of drugs, and we were off and away in the comfort of an ambulance.
Arriving back to my Chiang Mai home, Wilksy stepped into patient care mode, assisting me with anything and everything; feeding me random items found in the cupboard, encouraging me and even going above and beyond the duty of any friend!! I mean what is one supposed to do when one’s surgical dressing falls off? Call mother in Australia on Facetime and show her what’s happened hoping that she can reach her hands through the iPad to reposition the dressing gently back in place? (I tried that). OR ask your best friend to look at a part of your body that honestly no one other than a qualified medical practitioner should be subjected to view, at least in a post-surgical-open-wound-kind-of-state? Needless to say Wilksy has gentle hands and hopefully the ability to shut her eyes at night now without seeing my slashed up bloody “problem.” This night signified the start of a new friendship acronym BFFIEAB (Best Friends Forever In Eternity And Beyond).
All things going according to plan, I was meant to only visit the hospital once the following day, for a morning check-up with the Doctor and a change of dressing. But that would be too easy…
11pm that evening, about 22 hours after surgery, I was haemorrhaging from my “problem”. I was leaking blood EVERYWHERE. My bedroom and bathroom started looking like the site of a horror slasher movie, with blood smeared over the white tiles, puddles of blood leading into the bathroom where I’d either walked or crawled, blood-stained clothing, and blood drying on my skin like dripping globules of paint down a wall.
With my panicky heavy-breathing state and slurring speech, Wilksy (along with my Mother at 2am in Australia connected to me on Viber) managed to navigate through my Thailand Nokia phone to figure out whom to call. No thanks to an ambulance that arrived first with two drivers, who laughed at Wilksy and appeared either intoxicated or totally incompetent, we managed to get to Chiang Mai Ram hospital. Aussies to the rescue – thanks to the homeowner of the house I live in and her next-door neighbour – a nurse.
Bleeding over a number of chairs in the Emergency room may have helped speed up the process of being seen by a Doctor. I do what I can. Good fortune had us out of there after only a couple of hours. Wilksy’s enormous overnight bag was thankfully unnecessary. In my pale, fatigued, emotionally exhausted state, the examination by more sets of eyes, further poking and prodding, a local anaesthetic administered by a number of injections, a small couple of stitches (due to an exposed burst blood vessel) and more dressing, all happened with relatively little recognition. Shortly after 2am we were back home, (Wilksy having managed to get us a tuk-tuk and cuddling me all the way to keep me comfortable and feeling safe), and I was back in bed so looking forward to yet another hospital visit the following morning, making it a total of four visits three days in a row…
It is now a few weeks later and I have my final check-up with my Doctor in a couple of days, a kind and apologetic man, who took full responsibility for the haemorrhaging having seen the bleed when he re-dressed the wound the day after surgery. Wilksy is back in Australia seeking support for all that she saw and had to do on her turbulent holiday in Chiang Mai. I can now sit, walk and stand in comfort.
Above all, I lived to tell the tale…
… of an abscess on my ass!
NOTE: At time of blog upload, Marissa has been tested positive for Dengue Fever and is again frequenting Chiang Mai Ram hospital for regular blood tests.