I was really looking forward to a week in Bangkok. Technically, I had to leave Myanmar so that I could reenter the country to renew my visa. But it made a great excuse for a vacation.
I had lots of plans. I was scheduled to arrive on Saturday and planned to dine on Mexican food for dinner, then relax. On Sunday I planned to go to Chatuchak market - an enormous weekend market. On Monday, I had an appointment to go to the Embassy to get my fingerprints. I need them to get my CA teachers' certificate. After that, I planned to walk, shop, eat street food and relax.
Those were my plans. When I arrived Saturday, I walked from my apartment to a nearby Mexican food restaurant and got a fix. Not great but it was Mexican food. On Sunday, I wasn't feeling 100% and my leg was sore so I passed on the big market and chose to just walk and window shop on Sukhumvit road. After a few hours, my leg had had it and I headed back to enjoy WIFI and cable TV.
On Monday I headed to my appointment at the Embassy. My experience there deserves a post of it's own. Bottom line, it took 2 hours to discover that they no longer do fingerprints. As long as I was there, I paid $82 to have additional pages added to my passport, since I'll be needing them sooner or later.
After my experience at the embassy, I strolled up the road and picked up some street food before heading back to my hotel to chill for the rest of the day. I still just wasn't feeling 100%.
On Tuesday, a friend from Mandalay came to my hotel and we headed out for brunch and then to find the special police station where the embassy had directed me to get my fingerprints done. Happily, as much as a hassle as it was to get into the US embassy only not to have my needs met, my experience with the Thai police was just the opposite.
It did start off a little shaky when we were asked for ID to get onto the police compound. Jodi and I both whipped out our passports but the guards frowned and said no. They kept asking for our hotel card. I pulled out a business card from my hotel but that got another frown. Jodi pulled out her Myanmar drivers' license and that got a big grin. Who knew Myanmar ID would trump an American passport? I realized later it was probably because they were going to hold the ID and probably knew we wouldn't be comfortable handing over our passports. I think they were actually hoping to have us hand over a hotel key to ensure we came back.
20 minutes later I'd been fingerprinted and thought I was home free until the official asked for a copy of my passport. I didn't have one. He sent us off to get a copy with some sketchy directions. We headed in the direction he pointed to and because I'm a woman, I immediately stopped the first guy I saw to ask for help.
He was well dressed and being escorted to a car by a number of police officers - more like a boss than a perp. I really meant to get the attention of one of the officers standing by the sidelines but the "boss" asked in perfect English what I needed. I explained and in Thai, he directed an officer to make a copy of my passport. He explained that they don't normally do that but he wanted to help. As soon as he knew I was set, he got in the car and was off. I'll never know who he was but I'm very grateful.
Next, we were off to find the pharmacy where Jodi needed to get some prescriptions renewed. She wasn't sure exactly where it was and assumed we could just walk around and find it. By then, my leg was killing me and I just felt generally puny. We walked a bit and then I sat and enjoyed an iced tea while she did a bit more shopping. We decided to both head to our separate hotels and I begged off dinner. I felt bad about it but just didn't want to push it any more.
I walked several blocks back to my hotel and then just relaxed for the rest of the day.
On Wednesday, I bit the bullet. I knew my leg was getting worse, not better and I had to see a doctor before heading back to Myanmar on Friday. I figured I'd wait a few hours at the hospital, see a doctor for a nanosecond, be given some pills and be on my way. I was incorrect.
I registered at the hospital and was sent to a nurse for triage. I seemed to be the only foreigner in the area and English was not widely spoken. The first nurse looked at my leg and touched it. She immediately called over another nurse who then called a third nurse. I was asked to have a seat. A few minutes later a young woman came over and explained that she would escort me to the Emergency room because I needed to see a doctor right away.
Ten minutes later I was on my back on a gurney with a doctor examining my leg. About 30 seconds later he explained that I needed to be admitted immediately because I had an aggressive infection that could be life threatening. And, the worst thing I could do was stand or let my leg be below heart level. Ok, he had my attention. I was ready to be admitted.
My English translator escorted me to admissions where things hit a snag. I had to put down a 30% deposit for my stay. That's when I found out that my stay would be a minimum of seven days, at a rate of B10,000 per day. I had about B10,000 on me. They accepted credit cards but only MasterCard (and mine was safely in Myanmar) and Visa. I had American Express. I was sent off to find cash.
I headed back to my hotel, feeling crappy and a tiny bit freaked out. After hours of trying to figure out how to come up with thousands of dollars, when it was the middle of the night in the US, I finally got help from American Express. Who knew that if you have a medical emergency overseas and they won't accept AMEX, they'll wire cash. I was on the phone with a charming guy in Wisconsin for almost two hours and he arranged for money to be wired to a bank near my hotel. I limped over there and with cash in hand was ready to head back to the hospital.
I arrived back at Camellian Hospital arriving just after 5:00 p.m. I'd started at 9:00 a.m. At that point I wasn't worried, I just wanted to lie down and be left alone. They put me on a gurney in ER to wait for the doctor to get back from rounds. When he arrived I moved to another gurney for the trip to the ICU. The doctor was concerned that I might have a bad reaction to the IV antibiotics and wanted me to be closely monitored.
Once in ICU I faced the first real challenge. Pajamas. I was surrounded by a covey of nurses when one walked up with some pjs and the other nurses started taking off my clothes. I called a halt and using sign language, asked if the pjs were lovely Thai woman sized or big fat butt American sized. The nurses looked at me. They looked at the pjs and the nurse holding them started laughing and turned around to get a larger set. She returned with a pair so big that two sumo wrestlers could have fit in them.
They they connected me to all possible machines, informed me that my temp was 102 and my blood pressure was too high. So far, we'd acknowledged that I was fat and sick. I was looking forward to the good news.
That didn't come until the next day when they announced that I'd been there 24 hours, hadn't had a bad reaction to the antibiotics and was being moved to a step down unit. One nurse and I were especially happy that I was leaving ICU. We'd had an "encounter" at 3:00 a.m. that morning. I was dozing and she crept up behind me like Ninja warrior. When she grabbed my wrist to take wrestle me into submission (or take my pulse) it intersected with a dream I was having and as I came out of the fog I screamed and leaped as far away from her as my medical tethers would allow. That caused her to let out a yelp. For a moment we just stared at each other and tried to get our heart rates down to normal. Since I was being monitored, mine set off alarms which drew several other nurses who had a good laugh over the situation.
After a quick ride on another gurney I was installed in a lovely private room. And I had to pee. Because I'm not a fan of bedpans and that's all I had access to in ICU I'd been holding it. What I hadn't factored in is that while I was in ICU I had stress induced gout attacks in both feet. Now I had painful stumps at the bottom of my legs and the original sore leg that I came in with.
Five brave, tiny Thai nurses decided they could surround me and muscle me into the bathroom. I wanted to stagger there alone since if I fell, I was going to take somebody out. The next day when I told the priest about it he laughed and said they were short staffed so please don't crush all their nurses to death.
It wasn't the best start to my "new" vacation but for the next five days I relaxed. I read. I watched marathon seasons of The Sopranos. The nurses brought me food, gave me bed baths and brought me drugs. Who could ask for more? Well, I could and I didn't care if I had to use a chair - I finally got to shower on my own.
It wasn't the vacation I'd planned. It stretched out more than a week longer than planned. But I'm on the road to recovery and I'm very grateful for the excellent and empathetic care I received. Besides, I'm a veteran couch potato. What's better than being forced to do absolutely nothing for awhile?