I’m lying in a hospital bed surrounded by multiple nurses speaking Thai. A blood pressure cuff encases my arm; a pulse oximeter clenches one of my fingers. A nurse is attempting to start a line in my left hand, but tells me I am shaking too much and that I need to relax. I can’t turn my head because my neck feels stiff, tender. I can’t breathe; I’m going to succumb to suffocation; my heart is going to give out; I’m going to die.
“What a weird day,” we kept saying afterwards.
“Day” was perhaps not the right term; time had ceased to exist in its proper sense and “day” seemed to be referring to multiple 24-hour segments, but in our boggled, jet-lagged states-of-minds, day seemed to be an adequate describer.
It was kind of a weird day. On the morning of November 1, we’d woken up at 4am, collected our bags, and drove to the bus stop in Concord, NH, where we grabbed the 5am bus to Boston. I’d been sick to my stomach for a month straight, naively ignoring Jimmy’s pleas to go see a doctor. A little bit stupid? Definitely. But past experiences with conventional medicine over the years have made me stubbornly opposed to seeing a doctor unless absolutely necessary.
We flew from Boston to Washington DC, and then from Washington DC to Beijing. I barely know anything about China except that they’ve banned Google and they make a lot of things.
Originally, we’d booked a hotel in Beijing for our 13 hour layover, but upon arrival, we decided against going (our 14 hour flight did not leave us feeling particularly energized). Besides, the Beijing airport had many very cozy looking recliner chairs and places to nap, and we had plenty of snacks to hold us over.
The airport in Beijing is not a fun place to spend the night. Dressed for the heat of Thailand, we were not prepared for the seemingly frigid temperatures and barely slept—often, we had to speed-walk laps around the place, just to keep warm, so sleep was pretty much out of the question. Meanwhile, I was wracked with intermittent bouts of abdominal pain and could barely eat or drink. Everyone was immensely relieved to board the toasty plane to Bangkok the next morning (and we were finally able to remove the water bottles filled with hot water from beneath our shirts – backcountry tricks!) Throughout the flight, I couldn’t sit up straight due to nausea.
By the time we arrived in Bangkok, a small, painful lump had materialized in the right side of my neck, and then on my left. I tried to eat my first Pad Thai of Thailand but could barely walk from pain. Exhausted from what felt like days of ceaseless traveling, I figured I’d go see a doctor in the morning.
But by the time we were arriving at a subway station to transfer lines, I was, to say, the least, panicking about the pain in my chest and the pain in my neck, and, in my flustered state, came to the conclusion that I was on the verge of death via pulmonary embolism (sometimes, when you’re an EMT, you can’t help yourself from considering life-threatening differential diagnostics.)
We asked a subway attendant about the hospital. Not but three minutes later I was being waved onto what appeared to be an employee shuttle to Bangkok Hospital, hyperventilating and dying. Jimmy climbed into the seat next to me, and off we went.
The Bangkok Hospital emergency room is incredibly clean, organized, and efficient; immediately upon arrival I was brought to a bed and attended to. The English-speaking Thai doctor saw me in a timely manner and I was, without further ado, taken to x-ray and also had an ultrasound. There was barely any waiting. I can’t help but feel disdain toward all the waiting involved in U.S healthcare.
Later, when I’m back from X-ray, when I can breathe, and when the pain in my neck has all but dissipated thanks to medication, my doctor returns.
I’m not on the verge of death, she assures me.
I just have gas.
She gives me instructions of what not to eat. She tells me not to lie down after eating. She prescribes several medications and tells me to call her if anything worsens. We’re free to go, whenever I’m ready.
The cost of my ER visit was 10,900 Thai Baht. That’s about $311. Imagine how much that would have cost in the U.S.
Nonetheless, that’s a big bill for a budget traveler to get hit with. At the last minute, Jimmy ingeniously remembers that we’d purchased travel insurance attached to the original flights that we bought for this trip. We had both forgotten, because several weeks ago, we had cancelled those flights for a refund to replace them with a different itinerary. However, the insurance was not part of that refund. The cashier immediately had this insurance company on the phone, and Jimmy took over, dutifully managing the crisis (the perks of not traveling solo!)
The moral of this story? Don’t travel without travel insurance.
You might have to fling yourself into the emergency room because you can’t fart—or you could fall victim to something much, much worse and need significant treatment beyond anything you could have predicted. I consciously, stupidly went on this trip without travel insurance—but I accidentally had insurance and this, I feel, has saved my trip from potential financial doom.
When we leave the hospital, we are waved onto a bus, its destination slightly obscure. It appears to be another employee shuttle, although this one is much larger than the little van we’d clamored into before. We watch Bangkok traffic whiz by, flinching at how close to collision the buses, trucks, cars and motorbikes appear to be. We’re driving on the left side of the road. The sticky, hot, polluted air engulfs the bus, wafting in through the windows. Many of the motorbikers are wearing masks. Not many of the moterbikers are wearing helmets. Sometime later, our mystery arrives at the subway station—the same one we’d departed from earlier, on our way to the hospital.
We’re headed to an Air B&B, using very detailed instructions that we printed out from our host. I feel like we’re on a scavenger hunt: We must find the right station. We must find the right roads, the right landmarks. We must find the right building. We are instructed to find the key “under the red pillow of a red chair which is in front of the house.” We walk down a busy street with no sidewalk, a jungle of powerlines chaotically strewn above our heads—but we find the red chair and the red cushion. Beneath the cushion is an envelope with my name on it. In the envelope is a key, and instructions for the next step. We don’t meet the host or anyone else.
When we find our room, the bed has no sheets. We are too tired to care. We turn on the air conditioner and I fall asleep nearly before my head hits the pillow. Welcome to Thailand!
No matter how much you want it, don’t eat the street sushi.
-Jimmy the Hoosier