WARNING: The following post contains some pictures that could be confronting to some readers.
Have you ever seen the T.V series, “Banged Up Abroad?”. Usually it is about stupid people trying to smuggle drugs and getting caught and thrown into prison. What ever their story, they are alone, in another country and in a bit of strife. It is pretty horrific. What follows is my very own… Banged Up Abroad story….. Insert an law and Order “DING DING” right here <.
I was so excited to leave Sri Lanka and the whole Asian sub continent behind and head back to South East Asia. I know this will sound the opposite of what a wanky traveller should say, but I was sick of being off the beaten track. I wanted to be at the tourist hot spots. I wanted proper street food and unhealthy buckets of booze. I always said I wouldn’t go to a full moon party, but maybe I just might go, or at least have the choice.
Bangkok airport was super busy when I landed. I took a bit longer to leave the airport because I desperate for some fresh food. I found a Japanese restaurant to grab some lunch at. I was proud of myself for working out the transport situation and managed to catch a bus from the airport for $2. I was stoked. As I clambered off the bus and struggled to swing the backpack onto my back, I really felt I was finally living the “backpacker dream”. Although I had made a promise to Stefan not to buy those ridiculous looking baggy hippie pants with the elephants on them and I promised my self to shower at least every second day minimum!
I settled in to my hostel, which was located a couple of streets back from Khao San road. My room was on the second story and I enjoyed the fact my bunk bed had a little curtain for privacy. I took a nap as I had been up pretty much all night in anticipation for the early flight. After the sun went down, I got my self dressed and headed out to check out the night markets and get some dinner. The streets were a buzz! I was fascinated in all the crap they were selling. I wanted some singlet tops to take down to the islands with me. I had planned to go to Koh Tan and learn how to dive. I found a spot in the middle of the busy street to have dinner. It had to be Pad Thai of course, washed down with a few beers. On the way back to the hostel I stopped for an infamous Thai foot massage. It felt like heaven. I had been in Thailand for a total of 5-6 hours and I was already so much happier than Sri Lanka. I went back to the hotel to map out my next move. It was currently Tuesday night, Friday morning I had a one night tour to the river Kwai and then back Saturday night with plans to move on, on Sunday. I found a great airfare combined ferry ticket to go to Koh Samui and a beautiful little hostel on the beach. I booked it all in. I went to sleep blissfully unaware of what was about to happen to me.
I woke up the next morning with pain in my leg. It felt weird but I did have a leg massage last night so he must have pushed harder than I realised. I hobbled a little bit whilst getting ready to go out and didn’t think much of it. Today I was catching the hop on/off river boat to go see the Thai palace and the giant reclining gold Buddha. It was really hot and humid out. Embrace the sweat, I kept telling myself. I purchased my ticket and sat down to wait for the boat. I am felling a bit headachy and just blah really. I source some cold water to drink. The boat arrives and I am off on the river, getting my first taste of Thai life! I get off at my first stop and I am feeling ill. Maybe I am coming down with something. I go to a cafe to sit in the cool for a bit and regroup. I order a large frozen orange juice for some vitamin C and a banana split because I only feel like ice-cream. I tell myself It is ok to go back if you’re not well, but my other voice says we have come this far, lets keep going and at anytime you can jump in a taxi and go back. I believe this is a good deal and continue on to the palace. When I arrived, I was turned away because my shorts, although were at my knee, they didn’t go that little bit more pass them which you needed to enter. I went back across the street to the markets and realised why people were dressed in matching stupid pants and sarongs, they too were turned away and for a few dollars bought them to cover up. I opted for a green sarong with elephants…..because everything came with elephants on them.
It was very beautiful inside. The monuments glistened in the sun and sparkled. But it was so hot so I stayed as long as I could handle, took a few happy snaps and headed back to the boat. As I was too tired to walk, I took the boat all the way to the end and back to where I started. On the boat, I noticed my left foot was really itchy and sore. I took my shoe off and rested my leg on the chair. It was red and swollen. On my walk home, I stopped off at the 7 Eleven and purchased some Gatorade to hydrate myself and some Tiger Balm for the itching. This should help fix me up. As I got to the hostel, I really had to use the hand rails on the stairs as my leg was quite sore and red now. It was giving off heat. I called my parents to let them know what was happening. I said my leg was sore and swollen, but I would go to the hospital tomorrow if he didn’t improve overnight.
I woke up in the morning and it had not improved, it had gotten worse. I am now sporting bit of a fever. To go to the bathroom, I have to walk very slowly as I can almost not bear any weight on it. I googled the nearest hospital which was only a few kilometres away. I pack my small backpack with my wallet, my phone, my passport and a small bottle of water. I ordered a taxi and headed off to the hospital. I figured it would take 3-4 hours, get an IV line to hydrate and some antibiotics and ill be on way. I could hardly walk to the taxi and was helped by a worker from the hostel. We arrive at the hospital and thank god an orderly spotted me and came over with a wheelchair. As we made our way to “check in” I noticed this hospital was very crowded and I was the only westerner. They took all my details and zoomed me away and up a lift. Wow this is good service I thought. My wheelchair was then parked in a very crowded room where people where waiting to see doctors. The pain was getting to me and I started to sob. This lovely older Thai lady next to me rummaged around in her handbag and produced a tissue for me. I was so grateful and I hoped I conveyed that in my look as I had not yet learnt “Thank You” in Thai. I tried to get someones attention, I finally do and I let them know I need to lie down as the blood drains to my leg it hurts more and more. I try to balance my backpack and my water bottle on the bed. As I move to get comfy, they fall off and I search desperately with my eyes for someone to come pick them up for me. Everyone else has someone with them to help. Not me, I’m all alone.
Finally a doctor comes by and advises me I have a skin infection in my leg. I will need IV antibiotics and to be admitted. This doesn’t phase me as one night in hospital is fine to get the proper treatment to keep on going. My bed is wheeled to the side. I advised I was dehydrated. They didn’t listen to me. They then needed to take some blood for a blood test. I hand them my arm. When it was finished they asked for payment! I had to pay in cash for my treatment and tests. Next was a urine test. I told them I couldn’t get out of bed. Next thing I know they pull a curtain around my bed and shove a catheter in and take what they need. I had to pay for that “pleasure” too. If I knew what was to follow, I would have asked them to leave it in!
Next they hooked me up to my antibiotics IV line. Finally! To be honest I was in and out of consciousness for the next few hours. I had arrived at the hospital at 10am that morning (Thursday). By about 5pm the busy room was down to a couple of people. They were closing it up for the day. They also told me that there were no beds tonight and I would have to spend the night down on level 1….. what ever that meant. Well my friends that meant I was wheeled down to a corridor to ride the night out with other patients looking like they were nearing death. There was no air-conditioning, just some ceiling fans and very bright fluorescent lights. I had no food on me, not that I wanted to eat. I was fighting a fever. The worst part was all I wanted to do is pee all the time. This meant gesturing to one of the locals who seemed to take a bit of pity on me having no one with me. I would point at me crouch and repeat “pee, pee”, and they would go and find a nurse for me, who were not easy to locate. I couldn’t move from my bed, the pain was excruciating, so they would take me to a room and shove bed pan under me. One time a male orderly took me and just handed me the bed pan. It was humiliating and painful to try to position myself over it.
Finally the morning rolled around and I was told a bed would be ready in 2 hours, this was now 8am. I kept being told to wait a little bit longer. A nurse took some of my money to get me some food. I tried to eat a banana but threw it back up in the plastic bag it came in. 1pm rolls around and I am still in the fucking corridor. I am on the phone to my parents and my travel insurance company and I am in tears. The travel insurance company advises me I am not in a good hospital, I am in a Thai government one and certainly not up to western standards. My phone is almost out of credit. I want to get out of here but I can’t just up and leave. I am hooked up to the worlds slowest IV drip and even if I wasn’t, I physically couldn’t walk. A nurse comes and advised me there will be no beds again tonight and I should leave. They stick another round of antibiotics in me, only my second dose in 24 hours. I look into my purse and realise I have no cash left, only a small amount to get back to my hostel. They ask for payment again for the medicine. I wave my credit card saying that’s all that I have. They then wheel my bed to the cashier’s window to pay by card because they are not allowed to takes patients cards. Fuck me, just get me out of here. It’s 5pm, 31 hours after I arrive, I am finally allowed to go.
I arrive back at my hostel, still in huge amounts of pain. I extend my stay for a few more nights. The staff kindly help me up the 2 flights of stairs to my dorm bed, which thankfully was a bottom bunk. I stay camped out here for 2 more days. I self medicate with antibiotics I have from home for skin infections. I keep hydrated because I can keep putting bottles of water on my room tab. The only thing I don’t have is food. I have no cash left from the hospital. What do I do? Do I trust someone to go out and get me money? There was a very lovely lady from South Korea who was so worried about me. She did go and buy me some bananas, her treat. Herself and the other ladies who worked in the hostel would help me to the bathroom when they saw me trying to drag myself along in obvious amounts of pain. I would wake up with my clothes drenched in sweat. My leg had a huge bright red rash from my foot to just below the knee and it was starting to form blisters on it. The antibiotics were not working, it was getting really bad. I made the desperate call home and explained to mum and dad how I had no money on me and I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t just call an ambulance because I didn’t know what to do with my stuff or where they would take me. I couldn’t go back to that shit hospital. For the first time in a long time, I was scared.
Dad was talking about coming up to Bangkok. Even if he got the next flight out, he wouldn’t reach me until late Monday evening maybe Tuesday morning. I knew I didn’t have that time to wait. Dad was actually about to call the Australian Consulate to get some advice on what we should do, but decided to call my brother first to let him know what was happening in case he read something on Facebook. At this point I was not really posting anything on Facebook about the situation because of how serious it was. I didn’t want to worry people who I couldn’t get information to. I was so happy my dad made that call to my brother, or I may not be here today to tell you my tale!
My brother has colleagues in Bangkok. He made one phone call and his Thai team jumped into action, it’s nice to know someone listens to him! A man named Thitisac (pronounced titi-sac) was coming to my rescue! I was relieved. I slowly managed to shove all my things into my backpack and just waited for my white knight to arrive. This lovely Thai guy and his beautiful girlfriend, Mead, came and picked me up. Everyone who worked in the hostel came to see me off as they all had looked after me at one point and so did my Korean friend. Through gritted teeth with the pain, I tried to convey my deepest gratitude towards them.
We arrived at Bangkok hospital…..Oh My God! It looked like a 5 star hotel. As we pulled up to the front, there was a big fountain, someone with a luggage trolley to take my bags and a wheelchair. What the best part was Thitisac would converse with the doctors/nurses on my behalf making the language barrier a little bit easier. By now, a blister the size of a tennis ball had formed on my ankle. It was bloody gross. They cut into it to take some samples. Within a few minuets, another blister formed just above it! They looked at my leg and said they will make a decision in a few days if I will need surgery. I burst into tears at this. It was all too overwhelming for me.
I was whisked away with my entourage in tow to my room. It was lovely and big. Had a full size fridge and microwave. IV line was put in right away for my antibiotics, which I was to have every 6 hours for the rest of my stay. After I settled in and Thitisac and Mead went home, the nurses gave me a sponge bath in bed and dressed me in a fresh hospital gown. I nearly cried again because this was the first time (Sunday night) since Wednesday that I was able to bath. I had selected the option to have my own nurse for 48 hours. The Thai system revolves heavily on family help with patients. Every small movement I made, she was there adjusting my blanket. I didn’t sleep the first night. Over the next few days I was seen by many people. I saw one surgeon daily to clean my leg. It had got itself into a real hot mess now. He had to make sure it didn’t get reinfected as the skin was peeling away from those hideous blisters.
My days were filled with 2 tv channels which repeated the same episodes over and over of shows, as well as the same ad’s (I NEVER EVER want to watch Ninja Warrior) and the food channel, which was helpful to make myself hungry before my meals would arrive. The meals weren’t that bad. The trays consisted of a main meal, a salad, a soup, a bread roll and fruit. For me breakfast was the same everyday and I looked forward to it, a bowl of cornflakes and a croissant. By about Thursday the doctors told me surgery wasn’t needed, however I would have to stay another week! Cue tears. Being venerable and alone was really starting to take it’s toll on me. We toyed with the option to maybe go home early, but I would have to go straight to hospital back in Perth. Considering my private health insurance was on hold whilst I was travelling, my family and I thought it would be best to stay were I was. Sometimes I would FaceTime dad and he would prop the phone up in the lounge room and potter around going about his day. It was company I needed.
I had one nurse who was hell bent everyday in the second week to get me to the shower. Now anytime my leg was not in a horizontal position, it would be the most agonising pain shooting through it, so I only put up with it once a day to go do a number 2, otherwise it was bed pans all the way for a wee. So one day, she wheels me on my special poop chair to the toilet. She is watching me do my business, for god sake woman, go away!! She tottered off for a bit so I tried to quickly as possible clean myself up whilst I had the small window of privacy. I managed to catch my IV needle that’s in my hand on the back of the toilet, great now I have extreme hand pain and leg pain. I yell out I’ve finished and instead of taking me to my bed, she undoes my gown, grabs the shower hose and proceeds to shower me over the toilet!! This took my humiliation to a whole other level, especially when she grunted while she did it! She also washed my hair, but she only shampooed it, and I knew it was going to be a dry frizzy mop, and for those who know me, you know I LOVE MY HAIR. More sobbing.
I received amazing support from my family and friends as well as my Facebook friends. If it wasn’t for their encouragement, I would have not gotten through this experience. It was mentally hard at times. I got the all clear from my doctor on Wednesday, so with the help of my travel insurance company, we organised the first flight out Friday morning. All of Thursday I was so excited, like a kid before Christmas. My leg had started to feel a lot better, still a bit tingly but not agonising pain. I was wheeling myself around my room getting all my stuff together. At 5 am I was placed in a special wheelchair that doubled as gurney when it got to the ambulance. I was placed in the ambulance and we headed off to the airport! I realised that this was the first time I had been out of my room in 2 weeks! I must admit, I was getting a little car sick on the way. I was bouncing around in the back. I was checked in and taken through immigration in an airport wheelchair and to the business class lounge. I was bummed I couldn’t enjoy it as I couldn’t walk around, but an attendant went and fetched me some food and a juice. I boarded first, seat 1A. I ordered a champagne, because I could. I took two sips and automatically felt ill. As soon as the crew were seated and out of sight, I put my leg rest up as my leg was hurting. When we levelled off, I put my seat into the bed position and snoozed all the way to Perth.
When I arrived, I had a wheelchair escort again. I cheekily begged the staff member to take me to duty free for some Toblerone. It was the only thing I could get my hands on to give to my brother as a token of my absolute appreciation for the help he provided.
My dad was there to pick me up and as soon as I saw him…..yep more tears!! I was so relieved to be home with my family. Luckily I am unlucky with my feet in general and have my own set of crutches from the 3 times I have broken my foot in the past. I needed them because I was walking like a baby deer. I had been bed ridden for 2 weeks and had only taken a few steps here and there. It was the weirdest feeling not being able to walk properly.
In reflection, if I hadn’t received the treatment when I did, blood poisoning was imminent, possible amputation or death. Has this experience affected me? Absolutely. Physically, I have thick red scaring all over my left leg now. It doesn’t bother me because I am here and I have my leg. I have to wear a full length compression stocking that goes to the top of my thigh most of the time. I can’t walk long distances without my leg hurting and it is still very swollen. Mentally it has been really upsetting. I was a bit scared to travel again. I am scared to do anything off the beaten path incase I need a hospital, and the sad thing is, it will happen again as it is recurring. For the first few weeks, the sight of a hospital on TV made me teary. I have limitations now, but I am going to keep travelling to the best of my ability!!