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The Hospital With No Water



It has often been said that when you tangle with the Thai medical profession you gamble with your life, and Sawasdee2000 once wrote one of his excellent pieces on how his life was endangered by such an experience. I recently almost became a victim myself, and it is likely that only the decision that I made to change from one hospital to another saved my life.

Everything was fine to begin with. I had my usual Saturday night out, and on the Sunday morning I flew from Bangkok to Khon Kaen to visit my country estate. It was something I was quite looking forward to, although only for a couple of days as the place is far from comfortable while my father-in-law lives there and I only visit a couple of times a year.

Within an hour of arriving in Khon Kaen I began to feel quite ill – hot and listless. My wife had met me at the airport and by the time we completed a 2-hour bus ride to the house I was feeling quite rough and slept. Then began a week-long nightmare. My body began throwing up at both ends, several times a day. I was sleeping 12 straight hours and for 18 hours a day, never having the energy to keep awake for more than 90 minutes at a time. I was completely drained, losing at least 90 percent of my energy level. My wife even had to wash me.

On the Monday lunchtime we went to a nearby hospital. The doctor there clearly had no interest in dealing with a foreigner. He refused to address me, only talking to my wife. He didn’t examine me, refused to acknowledge my existence, just prescribed an injection and four pills for a bad stomach. Either he was racist and resented a ‘rich foreigner’ using a country hospital for ‘poor Thais’, or he was incompetent. I believe the former, but neither is good.

On Tuesday evening, 30 hours later and with my condition unchanged for the better, we went to a clinic operated by the hospital and saw a different doctor. He was quite friendly, asked me questions, gave me an ultra scan and declared my stomach (and kidneys and liver) fine, and told me I had bronchitis. He prescribed an injection and loads of pills and told me to throw the other doctor’s pills away.

Now, if I had been my normal self I think I’d have queried having bronchitis, as I had none of the symptoms – something I later Googled to make sure. Feeling no improvement I returned to see him the next evening for another injection and more pills. By now I was vomiting at both ends at least seven or eight times a day. I just got used to it as part of the routine. I ended up, by the way, eating and drinking nothing for five days.

The next day, when I realised I had been mis-diagnosed, we went to a – the – private hospital in Kalasin, the largest town in the area, where after several tests I was told that I had severe food poisoning and if left untreated for much longer it could have been fatal. How a hospital doctor can diagnose severe food poisoning as bronchitis beggars belief and suggests he must have bought his qualifications on the internet or Khao San Road. I worked out that I must have been poisoned by some chicken puffs eaten in a lounge at the airport, food that is warmed up and left there.

I was given yet more injections and a blood test was taken, and I was hooked up to a saline drip for the next two days. Boy, does that restrict your movement, but I was now receiving some kind of nutrient and at least my vomiting stopped. The doctor, daughter of the owner of the hospital, apparently, was very good and treated me on and off for several hours, and I was also surrounded by a gaggle of cute and giggling nurses, par for the course I suppose. I had to pose for photos with them.

Sounds okay, but this is Thailand. The hospital is old, over 50 years according to my wife. It doesn’t have lifts, which is a bit of a handicap when it has several floors and you have trolleys to deliver patients to the rooms on. I found myself wheeled onto a ramp attached to the outside of the building, and the attendants were clearly struggling to make it to the top of the slope without my slipping back down in freefall. I really thought I was in danger of careening off the ramp – hardly great for the blood pressure.

Having been monitored during the night by a ladyboy – this is Thailand, after all – I awoke on the first morning feeling a little bit better – energy levels up to 50 percent for short periods. And then I found the hospital had no water. It is hard to imagine a hospital, which surely relies on cleanliness above all else, without the means to even wash your hands. WTF? What is below Third World? Apparently, the pump burned out during the night and, this being Thailand, there was no back-up, no contingency plan. Nothing. Had to wait while they went and bought a new pump.

Having protested loudly about the lack of something as vital as water in a hospital, resulting in an army of workers rushing to clean my bathroom with water carried from the ground floor, I then went berserk when I tried to use the emergency call button when my saline drip stopped flowing, only to find that didn’t work either. The director, who I demanded to see, was off in Bangkok for a meeting, and no-one spoke English there. Why is it that the only people in Issan who speak English are prostitutes? One enterprising nurse brought a laptop to me with Google Translate, but I called my wife instead (who had gone to a funeral – not a good week). Eventually the one doctor on duty who spoke English came and explained about the pump and no, there wasn’t anyone in charge at the hospital to whom I could speak.

They fixed the emergency call button, but when I tried to use it later it didn’t work again. I wonder what the hospital response will be when a patient dies in that room because they needed help and couldn’t call for it. Nothing, I’m sure, because no-one would know the reason. If you end up in hospital in Thailand, check the emergency call button. Other equipment that didn’t work was the weighing machine, which showed my weight increasing by six kilos in a day and a half. The weighing machine also had a long trailing piece of string covered in dust and fluff attached to it. I kicked the staff and their equipment out of my room and they’d never understand why, would they.

That day I was driven back to Bangkok, to safety, by family, having narrowly escaped the Thai medical profession with my life. I still need several days at least to rid my body of the poison, but at least I can do that in the comfort of home. I do know that often medical care in Thailand is very good, but that isn’t really relevant. It is the times when it doesn’t work that kills you, and you don’t get a second chance. I would be seriously scared of becoming ill in Thailand again.


Stickman's thoughts:

This is really scary. It just goes to show why so many long-term expats will repeat the mantra that if you fall in Thailand, if at all possible, get to Bangkok or at the very least, to one of the big provincial hospitals.