Readers' Submissions

Heart Attack in Chiang Mai

  • Written by Peter K
  • October 26th, 2015
  • 8 min read




I suspect the title of my submission says it all, but perhaps all you Stickman followers would like to know exactly what transpires before, during, and after (if you're lucky enough to have survived) a heart attack in Thailand.

I was lucky. Let me repeat. I was DAMN lucky.

A couple days before, I developed some pain in my upper chest. On a scale from 1 to 10, I would say the pain was about a 3 or 4. Not really hurting, but sort of a nagging pressure that I had never felt before. At first I thought it might be heartburn, because God knows how I love hot and spicy Thai food, and I also eat a lot of Korean kim chee. So I went to my local pharmacy here in Chiang Mai and I got some heartburn medicine. I can't remember the name of it (Gastrol something or other), but it came in a green tube, and I just drank it. I figure that if I didn't have any more chest pain, then it was probably just heartburn. Well, I waited about an hour, and the pain was still there. So I went home and got on the internet. I Googled the difference between 'heartburn vs. heart attack'? Basically it said that if you're not quite sure which one you have, it's best to go to the hospital to get checked out.

So I did. I got in my car and drove to my hospital. My hospital is Chiang Mai Ram Hospital, which is supposed to be the best hospital in Chiang Mai. I've been going there on and off for over 15 years, and I've never had any complaints about their care and service.

As it turns out, that was the best decision I've ever made in my entire life.

I went up to the Medicine Desk on the first floor, put a hand over my chest, and told the half a dozen nurses who were seated there, that I had some chest pain. In 5 seconds (I am not exaggerating, nor will I exaggerate during this submission), they sat me in a wheel chair and pushed me directly to the Emergency Department. One minute later I was hooked up to an EKG machine, and the results were negative. It didn't seem to show any abnormalities. Then about a minute later they took a blood test, and I waited about 40 minutes for the results. The doctor approached me, and said something about my troponin level being high (I didn't know what that was). He said that I was at 110, and I should be at 40. And he immediately told me to go to the ICU which was on the 2nd floor.

They put me in a private room in the ICU, attached some monitors to my chest, took my blood pressure every 5 minutes, and checked my pulse. In 15 minutes a cardiologist came in to my room and sat next to me.

I have to stop the story now, cause I want to inject some of my less analytical observations and just allow my instincts to take over. And as an avid follower of Stick for the entire history of his site, I know that the readership would not enjoy reading a submission if it didn't have a semblance of narrative about Thailand's beautiful women. And I wouldn't want to disappoint any of you.

So, before I go on with my story, I would like to just whisper "HOLY COW MOTHER OF GOD!!!! HAS ANYONE SEEN SO MANY GORGEOUS NURSES IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE?!!!" They are everywhere!! I used to describe Paris as being so beautiful that no matter where you are in the city, you have a 360 degree view of sheer beauty. And in Chiang Mai Ram, I'd say you have 361 degrees. The nurses, in their little aqua blue uniforms with their short skirts, and most importantly their caring and warm smiles are just everywhere. And it's not only the nurses! My cardiologist was so drop dead gorgeous, I emailed a friend and said "The doctor was in her early 30's and stunning. If I were 25 years younger, better looking, more educated, and had a shitload more money, I would have pursued her for years until she caved in and agreed to have a snow cone at the mall with me." You get the idea.

Continuing with my story. The cardiologist began to describe our options if it turned out I had a heart attack. She spoke for about 15 minutes, and I listened. Then all of a sudden, lying there in my bed, with the cardiologist not 6 inches away, I had a heart attack. All of a sudden, I got so hot, cold sweat started pouring out of every pore in my body. My chest was heaving, and all I remember were the nurses (about 4 of them) patting my face with damp cloths to wipe the cold sweat off me. Then a minute later an anesthesiologist was injecting me with general anesthesia as they were whisking me away to the operating room on a gurney. The last thing I remember was shouting "Lao lao" (which means fast, fast in Thai).

It all happened so fast. Talk about luck. I must have been in the operating room literally 5 minutes after I had the heart attack. Probably the quickest heart attack response operation in history.

About an hour later I woke up in my bed in the ICU. The doctor was by my side, and she told me they had put a stent into a blocked artery leading to my heart. Then she took her I-Pad, and showed me the video of the entire operation. How cool is that? Most importantly she told me not to worry, and that I was going to be fine.

My father had 3 heart attacks and died from the 3rd one at the young age of 57. He drank like a fish every day, smoked cigars, and had diabetes. As early as I can remember I made the decision never to drink or smoke (and luckily I never developed diabetes), to prevent me from experiencing this very day. Still it didn't stop me from having this heart attack. So, even though I never inherited a dime from my father, I did inherit his heart.

For the next 5 days I was pampered in the ICU like royalty. The nurses bathed me in my bed, brought me a pee cup more often than I would have liked, and when I could walk, escorted me to the bathroom and waited outside the door until I finished, to walk me back to my bed. They fed me 3 times a day, and brought me fruit juice, and administered to my every need. They changed my pajamas at least 2 or 3 times a day, and changed my sheets and blankets often also. And I never, ever heard one complaint. All of these nurses had smiles on their faces.

They gave me pills. A lot of pills. And they brought me a TV and adjusted it for me so the picture was clear and the sound crystal. The cardiologist visited me every day, and talked with me for almost 30 minutes each day describing my heart injuries, and my future medications. To say that she was thorough would be an understatement. In fact the entire hospital procedure was 1st class on EVERY level.

My sister, who is a doctor, called me, and told me she wanted to fly me to Baltimore and admit me in John's Hopkins Medical Center. I said no. I couldn't imagine, famous hospital or not, that I could receive better care anywhere else in the world.

My chest pain went away after only a day after the operation, and day by day I proceeded to get stronger. I even went to physiotherapy to walk, and ride a stationary bicycle, and I was accompanied by another 24-year old beauty, who was out of breath walking besides me, before I was. On the 6th day being in the hospital, the doctor told me I could go home.

The staff prepared the bill for me, and thank God I have BUPA insurance which covers 100% of inpatient care. That means that if I stay overnight, I'm fully covered. So when I received the bill, they told me that BUPA had approved 100% of the costs. In total, including the operation, medicine, hospital room, nurse care, pills, and every other cost imaginable, the bill came out to be 424,109 baht. Or just over $12,000 US. Luckily I didn't have to pay a satang. Of course, between us, saving my life from a heart attack, putting a stent in my heart, and taking care of me in a 1st class single room in the hospital for 6 days in the USA would have cost a shitload more than that. And the nurses would have made elephants look good.

The very next day after I returned home, I had 5 extra large pizzas delivered to the ICU nurses with a thank you note for saving my life. If I had been single, I suppose I would have proposed marriage to every single one of them. Just dolls, all of them.

So, the moral of this story goes as follows: If you're getting up there in age, and are afraid to move to Thailand because you're not quite sure you'll get adequate health care, rest easy. The health care in Thailand in my experienced opinion is comparable to any in the west, if not better.

As it turns out, my 84 year old mother passed away about 6 months ago. My friends tell me she's still watching over me. Or it could just be dumb luck. Either way, I'm happy to still be alive in Chiang Mai, and still enjoying every day in this wonderful country.






Stickman's thoughts:

Congratulations on making the decision to go to the hospital when you did. Us men are notorious for not seeking medical care when we ought to. Who knows if you would have survived had you not made that decision. It's also very reassuring to hear how pleased you are with the level of care you received. I do hope that this event was a one-off and you can get back to enjoying life in Chiang Mai! * Medical care in Thailand can be a polarising topic amongst expats and it would be nice to read submissions from others who have had serious medical issues and had to seek treatment in Thailand.