Readers' Submissions

Sick Etiquette

  • Written by BKKSteve
  • June 9th, 2007
  • 8 min read


I was standing in the arrivals area of Survarnabhumi noticing that even though I was five “rows” back I could easily see over the heads of the others watching the exit for familiar faces. My youngest would be coming through the exit anytime and I barely noticed the small Chinese woman standing next to me until she started coughing and hacking without even a hand in front of her mouth and then apologized in Chinese. I considered moving to another area but he was sure to come though the exit any moment now..

Two days later I was at a regularly scheduled appointment with my doc when the preliminary checks revealed I had a temp of 104 F. She calls me into her office worried and I told her I felt fine. She examines me, took a culture of my throat, and told me I had strep throat and most likely an unrelated virus. She sent me home with the appropriate antibiotics and cautioned me to return if “things got bad.”

By the time I got home a few hours later my head was splitting open and taking my temperature revealed a 105.5 F reading. Gobbling down the first of my meds it was all I could do to hit the bed on my way down and it wasn’t until 3 days later that the severe headaches subsided enough where I could do anything but moan and groan. My wife packed ice around me, wiped me down with cool towels, and forced me to drink water during this time but I barely remember any of it. It’s rare that I get the flu or sick at all.. perhaps 8 – 10 years between such episodes, but when I do get sick it’s usually bad.

I remember my first day in Okinawa, pedaling my bicycle from Naha to Yomitan, being surprised to see the young professional Japanese in business attire walking down the streets with the occasional one wearing a face mask, the type they use in the hospital for doctors and nurses. Later I learned it was quite common and expected for someone feeling even a little bit sick to “mask up” and it was such a normal thing for them to do that soon you didn’t pay attention. During my years in Japan I became convinced they were the most hygienic and clean people I’ve ever seen. Living in a Japanese neighborhood I saw the residents get up right at sunrise with brooms and dustpans in hand and sweep done the street in front of their homes, on my days off I started joining in much to their delight. Inside the homes were immaculate, at least every Japanese home I’ve been in and since the Japanese rarely invite anyone to their home instead preferring to entertain in bars or restaurants I felt fortunate to see any. The streets of the major cities were the cleanest I’ve ever seen period, inside the restaurants were typically very clean, and anyone who’s ever been intimate with a Japanese woman immediately knows the cleanliness extends everywhere.

Korea was much the same, though the “polish” wasn’t as brilliant. To this day I remember watching my ex with amusement as she’d clean the bathrooms and kitchen from the top down, and then squatting on the floor she’d clean it by hand before immediately heading to the shower to clean herself. There was never a spec of dirt, much less a place for viruses to grow. The streets aren’t as clean as the Japanese, but personal hygiene and home cleanliness were right up there. Much as to do with the traditional way the Koreans heated their homes. It gets cold in Korea, and energy is expensive, so for ages they’ve had some form of ‘heated floor” usually heated by tubes full of fluid circulating through a main heat source. This way it becomes quite inexpensive to heat entire high rises. You adjusted the temperature by controlling the value that let in less/more of the fluid flow. With a nice warm floor it’s not surprising that eating, visiting, watching television and most everything else is done while seated. This technology has been slowly introduced in the states for decades and is only recently becoming popular as the “most green” way to heat your home. A simple boiler generates all the hot water for your home and heats the home.

SE Asia was an eye opener when it comes to personal hygiene and the cleanliness of the home, more so when you look outside the immediate living areas. To be fair the Thai females I’ve been with have kept their bodies very clean, though their homes leave much to be desired. Moving outside the home it’s not unusual to see vacant lots filled with raw garbage, and everywhere you go in the city you can smell raw sewage and who doesn’t know how polluted the air and environment here in the LOS is?

I live in a fairly modern and upscale condo/serviced apartment complex and right next door is a vacant lot. I remember in a previous submission mentioning the problems with mice, but last week I started putting the time line together of when they started dumping raw garbage in the lot directly beneath my bedroom window which so many floors up doesn’t really smell until after a good rain when it gets good and wet and the condensation carries the thick smell up to us special delivery. It was only a few weeks after they started this that the mice appeared. Last week the thick plastic line running to our ice maker broke open flooding our kitchen and looking at the plastic I saw some pretty big teeth marks on it! Before we could get it replaced my wife saw a big giant rat stick it’s up right up through a bathroom floor drain pushing the grate right off and trying to get in, but he wasn’t fast enough to stop her mop from crashing down on the grate and it’s neck snapped and one very big dead rat! I called my landlord and told him I’d be moving if they didn’t fix this immediately, so far he’s had professional exterminators come out and they told us the rats have invaded the entire structure of the high rise through the air conditioning ducts, electrical, drains, and any way they could. They also blamed the raw garbage next door and refused to do any exterminating until the vacant lot next door was cleaned up. Whatever happens I hope it happens fast or I’ll be looking for a new place to stay.

I’ve only seen a handful of professional Thais wearing face masks, but I’m guessing they’re for pollution and not because they’re considerate about the health of others. I haven’t seen a lot of sick Thai people either. In the states you routinely see and witness people hacking and coughing in public while foolishly thinking their hand or handkerchief is sufficient. Symbolism over substance. I just don’t notice that many sick Thais, very few in my experience.

Last week a man with a highly contagious and particularly dangerous form of TB got on a plane knowing his condition (though he’s now denying it to save his ass), and intentionally exposed hundreds of people to a deadly disease. This was an educated grown man from a first world country who did this. Imagine if a Thai or Lao person had such a disease, would they even go to a doctor to know what it was? Would they actually pay money for the ‘right’ antibiotics or would they buy knock-off’s to save a few baht? A contagious disease in an organized and well equipped first world nation is scary enough, but in SE Asia it goes right off the scary scale. If the bird flu ever happens (I’m of the opinion the bird flu reaction was merely a way to collect money from the worlds “rich”, and did little to face the actual threat) third world countries will lose more people by large multiples over first world nations, which of course is what always happens in third world countries with all natural disasters. How can the same typhoon hitting the PI result in thousands dead, and then it gathers strength before hitting Okinawa and less than 2 – 3 people died? Infrastructure, education, and an orderly society.

Usually I don’t dwell on these things, but for three days I was lucky to dwell at all and these thoughts keep coming to me out of the darkness and now that my eyes can focus and my brain can function I can more clearly see what a threat contagious diseases are. Not that I couldn’t before, but being in such a condition brings it that much closer to the front of your mind. I figure I still have at least 3 – 5 days before I can get my legs under me like they were before but light is definitely at the end of my tunnel. Unfortunately my youngest son just went to bed hours early complaining of a headache and I’ll watch him all night for a fever and take him to the hospital if needed. My oldest is telling me “I never get sick” and continues going out and having a great time. I’m hoping he doesn’t get sick the day before he’s scheduled to fly out..

Until next time

Stickman's thoughts:

I got some nasty coughs and colds in my first year here but fortunately I have had few health problems since then, or at least the health problems I have had have been due to negligence. I do know a lot of Western guys here who could only be described as working germs, guys who seem to catch everything that is going around…