Nina’s Travel Rule #13: Same Same, but Different. NEVER Take a Tour of the Medical Clinics of Southeast Asia.

The Night of The Incident

In a  novel departure from my previously historical and alcohol-sodden disaster blog, I will be speaking this week of recent and most sobering events. Not to get into embarrassing details (yes, it’s true, I somehow managed to faint 3 weeks ago on a Christmas day flight to China), but let’s just say that one should never EVER attempt to get stitches at 5am in a Chinese airport. Cause it’s sooooo never gonna happen.

So I wake up on the floor of an airplane, head covered in blood, with like, 7 Chinese stewardesses hovering over me making sweet Chinese babbling sounds.  Wtf??  Oh god, I have fainted on a plane.  I mean, who actually faints nowadays??  Shit, and now I’m gonna puke…

Piecing the last 48 hrs together is fun.  I’m on this joyous plane to China cause I’m moving to Perth, by way of Bangkok, where I’m meeting my fiance (I love you, Chris!), and have therefore been throwing myself a hell of a month-long going-away party (which will not be blogged, as most of my friends have threatened me with death if I ever dare to reveal their antics.  I, of course, was a model of perfect behavior).  The point being, there really was no honest answer to be given when Adorable Chinese Stewardess #1 asked me:

ACS1: “Are you ok?  Have you been drinking?”

Instead, I went with: “No, not at all!”

Which was corroborated by my seat-mate, who was clearly torn at this point between two thoughts: “What the Fuck Have I Sat Myself Next To” and “Oh, But I Would Like to Help Poor Idiot Fainting Girl”.  And it’s true!  I had not had a drop of liquid on that plane.  Now, I had indeed been bumped up to 1st class, and hence had been drinking myself silly from Cleveland to Houston and Houston to LAX and then, yeah, probably a bit in the 6 hr LAX layover, but like, I swear I went to sleep and missed dinner the second I got on this flight!  Humm, maybe not eating all day, flying for 15 hrs, downing that bottle of wine with a crazy man on flight 1, and refusing all offers of water wasn’t such a brilliant idea…  But it’s xmas dammit, it’s my drinking holiday!

Back to my predicament: I have now thrown up in the airplane toilet (which, it turns out, will in no way be the grossest thing I vomit into on this trip…) and, in the process of pulling my hair out of my face, realized that my head is covered in blood.  Which kinda freaks me out, cause my head does not now, never has, and never will actually hurt from this incident…  Long story shorter, I kinda flip out, Adorable Chinese Stewardesses #1 through #7 kinda flip out, an anouncement is made (and yes, it is sooo that 1-am-food-is-over-lights-are-out-everyone’s-sleeping-semi-hysterical-is-there-a-doctor-on-the-plane?? announcement).  But clearly there isn’t, because why would there be a doctor on a Christmas day overnighter to Guangzhou?  Or a first aid kit, for that matter?  Silly Nina, to even think it.  There is, however, a slightly intoxicated American nurse (on her way to Thailand to get beyond fucked up with her bf and cousins?) who can’t actually see my head wound, cause I have hair.  Which is covered in blood.  Which can’t be cleaned, cause all they’ve got on the bloody plane is bloody fucking rubbing alcohol.  Which I will NOT let them put on my wound.  Instead, Drunk American Nurse wrapps a ridiculously attractive bandage around my entire head, I inhale some ridiculously disgusting noodle-esque food products, and ACS1 removes me, my seat mate, DAN, and DAN’s bf up to first class.  Success!  I have finally discovered the trick to flying first: self-inflicted gaping bloody head wounds.

The plane lands.  DAN has rewrapped me 3 times, is unsure of whether or not I need stitches, but is very sure that I need some cleaning performed.  Seat-mate (Chinese, but lives down the street from where I used to in Houston?  Our small world continues to shrink?) has convinced me that Chinese hospitals are like, totally fine, and I should go have it cleaned and stitched during my 3 hr layover.  However, a random flash of insight has just occurred: I am in no way in possession of a Chinese visa.  Hmm…

The airport personnel of Guangzhou are not, let us say, particularly timely.  They are pleasant, and vaguely disquieted by the thought of a dirty white foreigner bleeding to death in their airport, and yet, they cannot quite pull themselves together to, say, actually DO anything to prevent this scenario.  In fact, they dicked around so fucking long looking for a doctor, a clinic, a get-out-of-the-airport-free pass (which, in their defense, they did eventually produce.  Let it never be said the Chinese won’t bend a rule to help a wounded tourist…), whatevs, that I decided Fuck It I’m Just Going To Bangkok.  Like, I’ve cancelled my phone.  The fiance probably doesn’t even have one.  He’s already in Bangkok, and the great and unfailable plan was: plane lands, take cab, meet at hotel.  It’s 5:30am in CHINA and the thought of trying to find a phone that would call his phone (yuan?  wtf is a yuan?  and why the fuck is coffee fucking 8 goddam American dollars here??) makes me nasueous.  Instead, I drink beer with DAN and her chain-smoking relatives.  They are awesome.

My half-baked new plan goes fairly well, I land in Bangkok, get to the hotel, acquire the fiance, and may possible say something along these lines:

Me: “Hi!!!!  So happy to see you!!!!  Umm…  we have to talk.  I may have done something.”

Fiance: “Umm….”

Me: “Also we have to go to the hospital.”

Fiance: “What’s on your head?”

There's health care down this soi, I swear...
Just What The Doctor Prescribed...

But clearly we did not go to the hospital, cause that sounded like a lot of hassle.  Instead we decided that a random street clinic in the Khao San Road would be the ticket.  However, and as opposed to the cheapskate jackass on tripadvisor, I would here like to give a giant shoutout to the Mission Medical Clinic, which seriously had better staff than anything I’ve seen in the good ole U S of Ack Jesus god HOW much did you say that was gonna cost??  Skipping ahead some more, cause NO ONE wants to hear about how much I whined when the doctor dude said I needed stitches (or, god forbid, the increased whimpering when the fiance compared the wound’s size to a cigarette and the Doc said it was about a millimeter from my skull…), let’s just say that the procedure was successful (4 stitches!  in my HEAD!), painless, much cleanlier than I had envisioned, and cost a grand total of about $135 (including anesthetic, antibiotics, stitches, drugs (yay!), and the nicest nurse this side of EVER).  They’re apparently certified by the International Society of Travel Medecine?  Doctor dude did his residency at Harvard?? Also, fyi, they do all sorts of STD testing 🙂  Sweet, I think, all is well, head is fixed, I’ll be drinking one o’ those famous buckets o’ liquor now, if you please.  I’m traumatized!!

Five days later…
Yes. I DID go to the trauma center 😦
After which, my head looked like this. And no, I'm not that dirty, they told me NO washing of my head 😦

Somewhere in the beautiful city of Chiang Mai, we are seaching for a hospital.  Any hospital.  I’d actually considered taking the Swedish nurse we met at the hostel up on her suggestion that I go to the pharmacy, purchase something antiseptic, and have her teach the fiance to remove stitches.  Because, of course, it is New Years’ Day, and everything even vaguely resembling a medical facility is shut.  Fuck you, Red Cross.  So we end up at the… “government hospital”, which some pharmacist has told us will be “cheap”, and wait.  And wait some more.  And then get a number.  Two non-English-speaking nurses and a number of scooter-burned patients later, I learn that my stitches are indeed NOT ready to be removed, and realize the horrid truth.  That’s right, I’m going to Laos tomorrow, the land of which most guidebooks state explicitly: “Medical facilities in Laos are extremely basic. It is recommended that travellers access medical services across the border in Thailand.”  This from the Oz embassy.  And yes, I’m going there for the tubing.  Ah well, I’ll just be sure not to put my gaping head wound in the river??

Three days later…

Luang Prabang Provincial Hospital. Much Scarier Inside...

Somewhere in the beautiful city of Luang Prabang (Seriously.  Stunningly gorgeous.  Go now.), we are searching for a hospital.  Actually, I’m searching to avoid the hospital, the thought of which fills me with a completely comprehensible terror.  We’ve left the Land of Smiles and “government hospitals” and are now in the land of Jesus Fuck That Boat Was Slow and “provincial hospitals”, which I’m fairly sure is an adorable euphamism for “remember that awesome scene in Marathon Man?”.  Instead, I would very much like a nice, private, ass-expensive, foreign-run, English-speaking clinic.  Or French.  I speak French!  That’d be LOVELY.  Preferably saturated, no, dripping! with antiseptic wipes.  It seems this is not to be. After giving up my quest, we arrive at a ramshackle, massively decaying, open-air building that closely resembles some sort of colonial train station subsequently remodelled by a Chinese architect in desperate need of glasses. The inside is worse.  They’re very nice and all, and I hear they’re ridiculously understaffed and underfunded, but dude.  There’s like, someone’s laundry hanging in the courtyard, and it ain’t clean.  Used, bloody, cotton swabs litter the floor.  And now we’re in the “operating theatre”, which I hear just recently acquried sheets??  I’d really prefer not to recall what happened next, but I will say it cost me a grand ole’ sum of $6.50.  No extra charge for watching them operate on something really disgusting happening to the leg of the dude next to me.  Vomit.

My Head After Stitch Removal. Progress!

So, now we’re off to the tubing in Vang Vieng, and I really think it’s a small miracle from God that I’m not infected yet, so I should probably not put my head in a river that’s known mainly for its ability to putrefy even non-wounded, healthy bodies, right?  Well, that and the fact that approximately 1 tourist per week dies here diving drunk into the river off swings and ropes and shit.  Umm…

For a really gross video of amazingness followed by a broken skull, at the very same bar I drank in!  click here:

Turns out the river is AWESOME, and while I still maintain that I did not put my head in, I will say that things like that seen below were happening.  Yes, that ladder leads to a swing that killed a dude the day after we were there and paralyzed another the day before.  But I’m alive, right??  I mean, I specifically didn’t rent a tube or anything, I swear!

On the plus side, I was the only human to escape with a dry bag, and I never did put my head in...
Dancin on the River. Yay 🙂

In summary, the next time one of my over-priced alma maters asks for a donation, I’ll be sending a check to Laos.

4 thoughts on “Nina’s Travel Rule #13: Same Same, but Different. NEVER Take a Tour of the Medical Clinics of Southeast Asia.

  1. hilarious – reminds me of so many visits to foriegn hospitals along the way – including Koh Chang (broken toe and kidney infection) Bangkok (shingles and K.Infection), Boliva overnight stay with drip in arm, the very same hospital in Loas (friend with concussion thanks to water cannon at song kran), Peru – persistent stomach bug and chang mai (friend with broken leg) and for me ongoing investigations for same stomach problems (songkran again) we dripped all over the hospital reception area!


    1. hahaha, amazing! I liked the 10 stitches in the toe my friend had on Koh Phi Phi, it wouldn’t stay dry, so we put a condom on it… i think this trip got to me cause I NEVER do this crap, I’m always just totally fine (random food poisoning / stomach bugs aside). Stay careful out there 🙂


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