Some years ago now I decided I was going to break away from my life on the conveyor belt. I quit my 9 to 5 job, sold my house and bought a one-way ticket to New Zealand via Thailand and Oz.
The only way to travel in Thailand
It was in Thailand where I had my first and only experience of hospitals and illness abroad. It was an unsettling time, which left me feeling extremely vulnerable in a country where I couldn’t speak the language.
It all happened in Kanchanaburi, which is famous for the Bridge on the River Kwai. Me and my three travelling companions had spent the morning visiting the bridge and left feeling slightly disappointed at the experience.
It was a place where so much suffering had taken places in the race to build the bridge during WW2, but the tacky market stalls right next to it rather detracted from what should have been a poignant experience.
We left sharpish and spent the rest of the day exploring the area on mopeds and playing with the local stray dogs at our hotel apartment. They were friendly but slightly bedraggled mutts, which lapped up the attention.
As the day was drawing to an end I started feeling incredibly weak and could barely walk 20 metres without feeling exhausted. Despite the searing 35-degree heat and the fact that I was wearing nearly every item of clothing in my backpack I couldn’t get warm.
Teaching the ways of the moped
Trying to sleep off rabies
I decided to sleep it off. This is a trait I blame on my father, I have an inability to accept when I am actually ill and would happily try to walk off a broken leg to avoid any fuss.
Dad used to send me and my three siblings off to school no matter how ill we were. We could have been lying comatose on the floor without a pulse and he still would have thought we were trying to pull a sicky.
I proceeded to spend the entire night shivering away in my bed. Finally enough was enough, at first light I muttered to my travel pals that I was off to reception to get a doctor. I think they chose to ignore this and kept on sleeping.
My condition was deteriorating rapidly; I was dizzy, had the urge to be sick and my kidneys felt like they had taken a beating from Mike Tyson.
I staggered to the reception. They realised immediately I was in a poor state despite my lack of Thai and their broken English, whisking me off to the local hospital in their pick up truck. I sat shivering pathetically in the passenger seat as the driver floored it…
In hospital – a tricky situation
I have vivid memories of arriving at the hospital and a Thai doctor telling me I had a bad cold and I would be fine. He changed his mind instantly when I failed in my attempt to tell him I was going to be sick and instead barged past him as I proceeded to vomit and dry heave in his sink.
I then passed out just as they put me in a wheel chair. But I was quickly stirred as they lifted me on to a metal table. The nurses giggled as they found a vein in my arm and blood spurted everywhere. I was too ill to care. Then I tasted sweet oblivion as they injected some incredible unknown drug into my sickly body.
Sometime later I woke in my hospital bed with a drip attached to my arm, feeling like death. I had no idea how long I had been out, but I discovered I was in my own private room, which would have put any English hospital to shame.
Unfortunately although the room was fantastic there was not a single nurse to be seen and I was in desperate need of wee. My limbs were weak. I could barely even lift my arms. There was a pull cord to get attention in an emergency, but I wasn’t sure that a 27-year-old man in risk of wetting the bed classified as this.
A self diagnosed rabies victim
An embarrassing ordeal
I felt ridiculous as I lay in bed psyching myself up to walk 3 metres to the en suite toilet. The trip to the lavatory had become an epic mission of English decency and politeness. No way was I going to wet the bed, or create a fuss by calling the nurse to help me empty my bladder.
Slowly I willed myself out of bed and using my drip stand as a walking stick I managed to stumble to the doorway of the toilet. I hung on to the door frame as I summoned up the energy to walk the last metre. I counted to three and made a lunge for the toilet, made it!! Ahhh relief! Happy days. Not the usual man wee technique, but a sitting wee was just fine.
The relief was short-lived. I now had to get back to my bed without any urgent motivation to help me get there. I waited a good five minutes before attempting to move.
In that time I began to think horrific thoughts “oh god, I am on my own in a Thai hospital and nobody knows where I am. I am probably going to be found dead on a toilet by a giggly Thai nurse. It’s fucking rabies! Those fucking stray dogs have given me rabies and now I am going to die on a fucking toilet!”
It’s not the end I had imagined. My family would never be able to say, “Oh, at least he died doing what he loved.” No, this would not do. If this was going to be my last few moments of life I wasn’t going to spend it in a lavatory. I forced myself to my feet, my drip keeping me steady and shuffled to a seat just outside the doorway.
I flopped into it and continued to think panicked thoughts on my impending doom as I stared at my bed. It was so close but it may as well been in another country. I sat for what seemed like an eternity before giving it one last push to reach the comfort of my bed. I was up, I was moving, I was weakening, but I was still moving and finally I was there! I was asleep. Instantly.
The medical marvel
The next thing I knew there was a smiley nurse looking over me. I wasn’t dead! In fact thanks to drugs she had just given me I was feeling incredibly happy. I had discovered there was a TV in the room; I flicked through the channels and found “Mr Bean the movie” dubbed in French.
Despite not being able to speak the language and not being a fan of the bumbling Bean I was laughing hysterically at his escapades. If only I knew what drugs were responsible.
It was now evening and the smiley nurse returned with a tasty Thai meal. I wolfed down the food and could already feel the strength returning to my body. I was feeling rather pleased with myself, I had managed to beat rabies in less than a day. I must be a medical marvel!
My travel companions arrived and although a little shocked by me being attached to a drip it was good to see them. Apparently it was my lack of moaning about my condition that led them to believe I was just a bit ill, so didn’t think anything of it when I disappeared in the morning. They only grew worried when I hadn’t returned after a few hours and discovered my whereabouts from the hotel reception.
My travelling companions on the Thai Kings birthday – it’s tradition to wear yellow
A real diagnosis
They left me to enjoy the comfort of my surroundings. I actually enjoyed the relative luxury of the room. Compared to my hostel it was a palace. I spent a nice relaxing evening in the hospital.
The next day the doctor came and checked me over and gave me the all clear, I was good and ready to go. Rather strangely two giggly nurses entered the room and the doctor informed it was shower time. I started to make my way to the en suite, my body no longer limited by weakness.
The giggly nurses followed me. I looked at them bemused, they giggled. Slowly it dawned on me, they were here to give me a shower. Politely I declined.
Washed, dressed and fully refreshed I was ready to checkout. I only had to settle the matter of the hospital bill. A bargain £60 for one night in a comfy hospital, with lovely food, friendly staff and brilliant drugs (which even make you enjoy distinctly average movies), I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone.
As my eyes scanned down the bill I noticed something. It mentioned nothing of me being a medical marvel and my miraculous recovery from rabies.
Nope, I was rather underwhelmed to discover here written in block capitals; cause of illness ‘SEVERE SUNSTROKE’. Basically if I had sat in the shade for a bit and drank some water, rather than speeding around town a moped and frolicking with dogs, I would have been completely fine.
What I did realise from the whole experience, apart from the fact that I am a bit of a drama queen, is that I had completely misjudged the facilities and standards in Thailand. With my rather ignorant preconceptions I had imagined some sort of basic third world experience. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. In future adventures abroad I shall bear this in mind in case I once again succumb to severe sunstroke…