Thailand’s Green Cross Code
Recently I had occasion to spend some time in a public hospital in Thailand. The reason I was in a public hospital was because I had taken an overdose (see my Ramblings of a lonely man) and the insurance would not cover me. There have been many horror stories of Thai hospitals so I thought I would give you my experiences.
I was taken to the hospital, in Hua Hin, by members of the hotel staff from where I was found. They helped me through the check-in procedures which were very similar to those in the U.K. I was seen by a doctor in the emergency department and he decided I should be admitted. I was taken to a ward and put in a bed by the door, just opposite the nurse’s office. The ward had about 18 beds in it with 12 being in one section, beds facing each other, and the other 6 in a single row the other side of a waist high dividing wall. At the end of the ward was an area facing out onto a garden with a wall, with a seat running along its length, separating the ward from the garden. The garden itself was a good deal lower and could only be reached by leaving the ward and walking round through the hospital. A pleasant area to sit. When I first arrived I was not in a fit condition to notice any of this and only became aware of it later.
After I had been on the ward for about half an hour another doctor came to see me and her English was quite good. She had me put on 2 drips and had a number of blood tests done on me throughout the day. I just lay on the bed in the clothes I was wearing and flitted in and out of consciousness. From time to time I was vomiting into a bin beside the bed. At first the other patients and their families were a little embarrassed, as I would have been if I had not felt so ill, but after the first time someone generally came over to me and tried to comfort me. The lady who was looking after the young boy in the next bed to me always offered me a tissue once I had finished being sick.
The first couple of days were, and still are, a bit of a blur. I continued to just lay on the bed, a thin mattress on a metal frame, drifting in and out of sleep. People did bring me food, but I was not really interested in eating much at that stage. Whenever I needed to walk to the toilet I had to take the stand with my drips on with me. There was always someone who would come forward and help me. Towards the end of the second day I realised there was a pair of pyjamas at the end of the bed and changed out of my trousers and underclothes, which had become a little bit soiled and smelly from my bouts of vomiting. I could not change my shirt because of the attached drips. I did take the opportunity to rinse out my underclothes, but did not have the energy to wash my outer garments at that stage.
By now I had become aware that every other patient had at least one family member with them at all times, and was the families who tended to such things as helping to the toilet, changing bed sheets etc. The nurses were there to give medical attention only, at which they were very good. This, of course, put me at a great disadvantage. However I need not have worried. The next morning a lady, who came every night to take care of her boyfriend / husband but went home to do other things during the day, came over to me with breakfast and insisted in helping me to eat, which was a little difficult still having the drips attached. She then went and fetched a bowl of water, cold of course being Thailand, and proceeded to wash me. To do this she helped take my shirt off by passing the drips through the sleeves and then hanging them back on the stand. This brought various comments from other ladies in the ward, but it was all light hearted and they were obviously pulling her leg. I did manage to smile at everyone to show I appreciated the humour and sanuk. This lady did washed my feet and legs but did not, naturally, wash my private areas. She then dressed me in the pyjama jacket and left me with a lovely smile. A little while later she went to the hospital shop for her boyfriend / husband and also very kindly brought me a bottle of water, refusing to take any money for it.
Next morning the same thing happened and when she had finished washing me made the mime of cleaning teeth. I indicated I did not have such things with me and she volunteered to go to the shop for me. I told her to help herself to some money from my small pile laying on the cabinet beside the bed and she took, I think, about 40 Baht. She returned not only with toothbrush and toothpaste but also a small tub of talcum powder and another bottle of water. She even had some change for me! She then put some talcum powder on me by lifting the pyjama jacket which brought more jokes from her friends around the ward.
My time continued to be spent laying on the bed drifting in and out of sleep. Time just seemed to pass with little indication of actual time of day. The lady looking after the lad in the next bed obviously spent her time caring for him, though she did bring me my meals during the day. One of the nurses had brought me one of those tables which fit around the bed, so eating was a little easier. The food was terribly bland, though I did notice there were different coloured tupperware pots it came in so maybe they had different ones for different patients. If I found it bland goodness knows what the Thais thought of it, though of course they always had those little bags of sauces to add to theirs.
That night there was a terrific storm which blew right through the ward dislodging some of the flimsy bug curtains in the process. I did become aware, sometime during the night, my friendly lady came over and covered me up with a blanket and stroking my cheek before going back to her boyfriend / husband. This gesture was very much reassurance and not in any way a come on. Next morning she again came to me to help feed me and wash me. I was getting used to this!
That afternoon my drips were removed and I was able to move around, not that there was anywhere to go but it was good to be able to go to the toilet without carting the stand with me. I did take the chance to have a shower. Thai style, of course, but cold water never felt so good! When my friendly lady returned that night she had dressed very nicely and, for the first time since I had known her, put on make-up. She went to her boyfriend / husband’s bed and dropped off whatever it was she had brought him and then came straight over to see me. She wanted to bathe me and seemed quite disappointed when I told her I had already managed to shower during the day. Within a very short time she and her boyfriend / husband went out of the ward and when they returned they had obviously been arguing. I did hear the word Farang so he had not been happy with her coming over to see me, which was the first time she had done that in the evening. A little while later she left with another lady and one of the many children who were visiting the ward and I could not help but notice when she returned about half an hour later the make-up had been removed.
Next morning she again brought me my breakfast and some water to wash, but this time she left me to help myself. I have given a lot of thought to this episode. I have come to the conclusion she could not have possibly been making any kind of play for me, not with everyone in the word knowing her and with her boyfriend / husband in the ward. I think it was her way of saying thanks to me for being polite to her and also being the feminine way of expressing herself. We all know the reputation of Thai men of not caring or showing affection for their ladies and I think she was just genuinely happy to have been able to help me and this was her way of telling me. Sadly I fell asleep after breakfast and missed them leave for good. She had obviously known that was going to be her last night there.
Later in the day I was moved to a bed in the back section and I did worry how I was going to get on now my friend had gone. No problem, the family in the next bed took me under their wing. The guy in the next bed had his leg all done up in plaster, though I never did find out why. I asked if he had been in a car accident but he said no and, after a little thought, said "Bad leg." Neither his English or my Thai could improve on that. His mother and grandma were with him at all times, taking it in turns to sleep, and every evening around 8 o'clock anything up to 15 people would come in to visit him. I did get a few curious glances, but none of it was ever rude and there was always a smile if eye contact was made. His carers would happily bring me my food and go to the shop for me if I needed anything. We could not have any long conversations because of the language problem, but every day we did manage to share some time and thoughts together.
Eventually it was time for me to return to the U.K. The hospital insisted I was taken by ambulance to the British Embassy, for it was they who had arranged my flight home and there I had to go for my tickets. Which brings me nicely to the part the Embassy played in all this.
When I was discovered at the hotel someone phoned the British Embassy to inform them. It was the Embassy who arranged for me to be taken to the hospital and, once there, the lady who I was in contact with, I shall not mention her name in case it embarrasses her, phoned at least once every day to make sure I was O.K. and that I was getting the treatment I should be. On her days off she left a message with the duty staff to make sure one of them phoned me as well. Those brief phone calls, being able to talk English and make sure everything was being done correctly, were a Godsend. She even found another member of the Embassy staff who was going to Hua Hin for the weekend and asked her to bring me some copies of the Bangkok Post, some magazines and a couple of books in English. This all helped not only pass the time, but also brought a sense of night and day back into my life by using daylight to read and darkness to sleep.
The Foreign Office in London were not so helpful, but of course they get requests from embassies all round the world – not just Bangkok. It was their insistence on doing everything by the book which delayed my return to U.K. and also, because they either garbled or did not pass on messages, caused a few problems with my family and my bank. Luckily I was able to sort this out when I got back and no lasting damage was done. I have had reasons to continue dealing with the Foreign Office since I have been back and I must say, in fairness, once I had found the right department to help me with my problem, they have been very kind and helpful.
What were the nurses like in the hospital? Well they were very professional but would not do anything beyond the medical side, though I guess that is just the way things are done in Thailand. There was one nurse who looked like a Pattaya Dollhouse babe in a nurse’s uniform with a smile to die for, and I guess if I had not been so sick I could well have had some good fantasies about her, but in general these were just nice, ordinary ladies aged from 25 to 45 going about their work. Most of them had little English beyond "You take" when dishing out pills or "Arm please" when wanting to take a blood sample or do my blood pressure. Then again, they probably do not get too many Farangs on their ward.
In conclusion then, I found the hospital to be about the same standard as our NHS (state run for you none U.K. readers) hospitals. I am not sure that is any kind of compliment, but at least it shows the general level of medical care. The Thai people were wonderful, and I do not think I could have managed without their kindness and help. I have, over the months since I was there, wondered how English patients would react to non-English speaking people on their ward. Sadly I have to say we would probably not be as kind and understanding, though of course our nurses would do many of the things which Thai families did on the ward. I know I may well have been lucky. There are many horror stories of Thai hospitals so I guess if you have to get sick in LOS, and for some reason do not have insurance cover, then Hua Hin is as good a place as any!
The family is important when someone is laid up in hospital in Thailand. Often there are facilities for a spouse, or close family members to sleep right next to their loved one who finds them self in hospital for a few days.
I've got to say that the hospitals I have seen in Thailand have all been of a good standard, and while hope I do not end up in one, I would not have any major reservations about the care that one receives.
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