A Long Goodbye
Since late last century I have spent most winters in Thailand, enjoying the climate which seemed to rejuvenate me. At my age – I am 76 now – the naughty nightlife was no option.
I have two households, a beautiful condo on the seaside between Pattaya and Sattahip, and a much smaller one room city-apartment near the shore of the Rhine river for the summer. Both are completely equipped with everything needed for living. So I travel between the continents only with hand baggage. I imagine, some readers are in a similar situation. Now Thailand sweetens the process of aging but does not stop or reverse it. And it can hit you with surprising cruelty. This happened to me last winter. I am writing about it to give an example of what can happen to older men unexpectedly. It also demonstrates how important it is to be prepared for the unexpected.
In Europe I enjoy a compulsory health insurance, which covers the countries of the EU, but not the rest of the world. I have to pay for it – more than 600 Euros a month – even when I live in Thailand and am not covered by it.
Last fall I decided to buy private insurance for my winter in Thailand, a health insurance and an insurance for bringing me back to Europe in case I could not walk on my feet. Together they cost less than a monthly rate of my obligatory insurance.
When I arrived in Bangkok in November, for the first time I felt the climate as not enjoyable but oppressive. The temperature stayed for weeks around an uncomfortable 30 degrees. Yes, I have air conditioning, but it is disagreeable to my pulmonary system (the lungs). After a full month I still had not written a single line for my new work in progress, a novel about the Afghan War.
Then, one night in December I had a great fall, hitting the hardwood floor with my back and my head. I knew immediately something had happened. The next day I took a taxi to the Radiology Department of the Bangkok Pattaya Hospital and asked them to x-ray my whole skeleton. When finished the doctor said: "Congratulations, there is nothing wrong with you."
I was willing to believe that and returned home sanguine. Still my back hurt when I tried to sit upright.
The hour of truth came on New Year's Eve when I suddenly vomited blood. Not a little bit but lots and lots of blood.
"Now we go to hospital," said my household manager, Hong. I asked her to phone an ambulance to bring me to the Queen Sirikit Hospital which is closer to our place.
But the ambulance insisted they could only take me to the Bangkok Pattaya Hospital (BPH). I did not want to lose time arguing endlessly and agreed.
This being New Year's Eve, I was stunned how efficiently the emergency ward worked. Within minutes I was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit, where for the next 36 hours I received one blood transfusion after the other. All in all one quarter of the total blood fluid of a human being. I feel proud that through my veins now rolls Asian blood, while from the outside I still look like a Farang of Scandinavian descent.
Next I was moved to a "normal" hospital room which was very big in the style of what realtors call a "studio". From my bed I could see the sea, but far far away, not as close as at home. There also was a kind of Naugahyde sofa, where Hong could sleep when she did not want to leave me alone. In fact I needed support. I was so weakened I was not able to stand. Every time I tried my knees gave in. Good, I had an insurance against this calamity. In the beginning every second day a cashier came in with a bill and asked to put it on my credit card, in case my insurance company did not pay. After a while this stopped and they began to perform all kind of medical tests, the most impressive result being colour photos of the inside of my stomach, showing a bleeding ulcer. I learned that the doctors who cared for me had differing opinions on my future. One voted for returning me to Europe ASAP. Others regretted losing a patient with Asian blood in his veins and European currency in his back. (Actually the baht gained 15% over the Euro since November 2009).
My eldest son came over from the Rhine river and booked me in a special Lufthansa program called "From hospital bed to hospital bed". This included being put on a stretcher in my hospital room, driven by ambulance to the airplane at Suvarnabhumi, where Lufthansa had created real beds in the tail of its bird, reliable but not as comfortable as in the Business class of the Boeing 777. The trip ended by being unloaded in a bed of the University Hospital of Cologne. In the plane I was not the one and only traveller making use of these beds. A number of Thailand visitors seemed to prefer this mode of homecoming in spite of its price of 440K baht (one way). In my case the insurance company shouldered the cost. I had not to pay a single satang. The same luck I had in (not) paying the hospital bill of 600K baht.
Without insurance I would be broke. My whole nest egg is smaller than the sum of these amounts. Three month later I am still in a hospital bed. The University Hospital had not much ambition in healing what in their eyes must be an old lecher. I was transferred to a county hospital in the mountains where the doctors finally discovered that I had damaged my backbone by my great fall in December. For six weeks I had to lie flat on my back in my hospital bed without putting a foot on the earth. These six weeks are over now, and next week I will learn to walk again with the support of a corset. (And a strong stick as becomes a Stickman reader). I hope to be in my own apartment soon, but I have no hope for another winter in my Thai home. Time to say Play over. Thanks to every one who reads my rumbling words.
I am so sorry to hear about your fall in Pattaya and that the Thai doctors took their time in diagnosing the problem. With that said, it's great to hear that you are back in the very capable hands of Germany's medical professionals. I hope that they can bring you back up to tip top shape and that you are back in your beloved Pattaya sooner than you think!
I truly believe that a big part of healing is in the mind, and if you put your mind to it, you can come back to Thailand and can enjoy more time in Sin City.
I wish you all the very best for a speedy and complete recovery!