*Cover photo: view from my hospital window in Yangon, Myanmar
“It isn’t a matter of if I will get in a motorbike accident, it’s a matter of when,” I said ominously to Danny and Nik after my maiden 4+ hour motorbike journey to Ninh Binh in Vietnam. If the following was a fictional short story instead of what actually happened, I’d give myself an “F” for sophomoric levels of foreshadowing.
A few pre-fall notes from my travel journal:
- December 20, 2016: “Rode a motorbike for the first time from Hanoi to Ninh Binh – HOLY F***, that was terrifying.”
- December 22, 2016: I tempt fate on Instagram: “What do we say to the god of death?”
- January 12, 2017: “Many people in Indonesia are afraid of flying. On the way from the airport I tried to argue to my driver that you are much more likely to die on a motorbike than on a plane, but he wasn’t having it.”
For that first ride in Hanoi I insisted on the dorky, globular full shield helmet, long sleeves, and an unrelenting death grip on the bike. While I initially planned to motorbike sparingly, I continued to add more and more remote destinations to my conquest list that had no other (cheap) transit options. Towards the end of my time in Indonesia, I was visiting stunning waterfalls and secret beaches on a motorbike almost every day in flip flops and a sundress. My healthy fear of motorbikes gradually faded as I became Sarah, seasoned super traveler, impervious to danger. Pride cometh before the fall, and man did I fall hard.
My last day in Indonesia I rented a motorbike to join some locals in a tour of Kuta Lombok’s beaches. Another girl from my hostel asked if she could ride with me and we set out for the day. It may have been that it just rained, or the additional weight of another person, but very soon into the ride we took a tumble going around a downhill bend. The fall started a three week (and counting) saga involving three hospitals in three countries not known for their hospitals. What's the point of fancy shmancy unemployed person international health insurance if you're not going to use it? Without further ado, here’s my hospital review of SE Asia.
3 weeks, 3 countries, 3 hospitals, and a well-deserved beer
1. LOMBOK, INDONESIA
Hospital bill: $120 for wound cleaning, stitches, Grade: B
What happened: After the fall we were cut up pretty bad. I could still walk around fine and I was pretty sure I hadn’t broken anything, but looking down at my knee there was clearly a hole. Stitches were mandatory, and I had ripped most of the skin off my right leg from my toes to my knee. My travel buddy also had a deep knee cut, but was luckily spared the road rash. Some guys came over and took us (on motorbikes) to the one medical clinic in town.
The medical clinic was one room and a couple of guys hanging out in tank tops. Since we both needed stitches, they went to fetch the doctor in Lombok. For the most part the treatment seemed sanitary and well done given how full of road my leg was. I got 9 stitches: 5 in the knee, three in the ankle, and one under the pinky toe. I had local anesthetic for (most of) them.
One very visceral memory was one of the guys saying, “this is Chinese Iodine, this will hurt. It is ok to scream.” I knew the two people holding my leg down was a bad sign. It did hurt and I unleashed such a torrent of expletives that we all couldn’t help but laugh a little. Pretty sure I said some not so nice things about the makers of Chinese iodine, and of course, ironically, Chinese medicine would hold my fate over the next few days.
Fun fact: Instead of a Neosporin equivalent I was given Bovine placenta to dress the wound.
2. HONG KONG
Hospital bill: $5000 for X-rays, surgical leg debridement, anesthesia, hospital stay, Grade: B+
What happened: Danny, Nik, and I had been separated for the past few weeks and we were set to reunite in Hong Kong the day after my accident. It turns out this separation had been disastrous for all of us.
Danny via Facebook on January 17th:
Lesson learned, never leave the squad. I had a flight out to Hong Kong the next morning, which I was determined to make. I was in a pretty sorry state limping through the Lombok airport at 5 am with blood soaked bandages. I honestly can’t believe they let me on the plane. I remember thinking, “If this doesn’t get infected, I don’t know what would.” I started to get chills and a fever on the plane ride over. Bad sign.
My mom was able to arrange for me to see a good Hong Kong doctor the very next day. He did not look pleased with me. I will add that while he turned out to be an excellent doctor, bedside manner was not his forte. He cleaned and dressed my wound and said matter of factly that my foot was very infected and that I should have surgery to open everything up, clean it out, and re-stitch the foot. And just like that I was admitted to the hospital.
On the intake form the hospital asked for my religion. Whether it was because I wasn't sure how "n/a" would go over, or I was making some last ditch appeal to God before I had to have surgery in a foreign country, I wrote "Christian." After a few hours of hanging out in my bed in a dark fear spiral, certain that my leg would have to be removed during surgery, a NUN STOPS BY MY BED, habit and all. This does not assuage my fears.
It was, however, reassuring that the nurses and doctors were constantly asking me to confirm my name and injury. Until I was wheeled in to surgery and saw "leg debridement" written in large letters across the whiteboard. I had never heard the word "debridement" before and my aforementioned paranoia and years of Grey's Anatomy training made me certain that I would wake up without a foot. I came to groggy and drugged from anesthesia, sent a few loopy texts, and had the best night of sleep I'd had in days. I rented a wheelchair and Nik and Danny wheeled me straight from the hospital to the ferry station. We were headed to Macau, the Vegas of China, to drink and gamble the pain away.
After terrifying my parents my Mom decided to fly out to Hong Kong to keep my company and help with the dressing changes after the boys left. 1 week later I was out of the wheelchair and walking well enough that I decided to meet up with Nik and Danny in Myanmar. Things were looking up, and I was certain that my SE Asia hospital days were behind me.
Fun fact: My hospital bed had one of those swivel-y T.V.'s that had an around the clock anime channel.
3. YANGON, MYANMAR
Hospital bill: $240 for IV, ultrasound, hospital stay, Grade: GET ME OUTTA HERE.
I landed in Yangon and immediately went to the bus station to catch a 10 hour bus ride to Bagan, the religious center of Myanmar. This turned out to be one of my favorite stops of the trip. Think palm desert with over 4000 temples from the 13th century that you can climb and explore. After a full day of temple run with my trusty cane, my calf was pretty sore. After video Facetime-ing my parents to help me clean the wound, I mentioned that my leg was very swollen and sore from the day. They were immediately concerned about a blood clot in my leg, especially considering that I had taken a long bus ride in an upright position the night before. They kept referring to DVT, a diagnosis that unfortunately wasn't covered in ten seasons of Grey's Anatomy. A quick Google search revealed: "DVT is a blood clot that forms in the deep veins of the leg. Complications include pulmonary embolism (which can be fatal), phlebitis and leg ulcers."
OH SWEET. The symptoms are, pretty much everything I've been feeling: soreness and tenderness in the leg, pain on extending the foot, and swelling of the lower leg, ankle and foot. The risk factors were recent injuries and long distance travel. I once again thought, if I don't have this, who does? So I had to get to a hospital to get a venous ultrasound to rule out the blood clot. I was unfortunately a 10-hour bus ride away from the nearest hospital. I was able to get a flight back to Yangon the next day, and after another 36 hours of imagining a blood clot slowly travel to my lungs and/or brain, I was admitted to my third hospital in three weeks.
I've heard people say don't go to a hospital in Myanmar, and I would tend to agree, though I made the best of it. A few high and lowlights:
1. I got to try snake. About half of the hospital menu contained snake, which had me dreaming of a hospital basement snake farm. It was actually really good, a cross between fish and chicken.
2. First world problems but there was no wifi and I had no cell phone data. After 12 hours with nothing to do, I almost ripped my leg off just to have something to break down the door to get out of there.
3. Great view out my hospital window (see cover photo). I had a big two room suite, though I did notice the sheets weren't the cleanest.
4. It took over 24 hours to get my test results so they had to proceed with the DVT treatment in case I had it. Oh what's the treatment? FOUR DAILY SHOTS TO THE UPPER ABDOMEN. Are you kidding me?
5. They cleaned the IV line the same way I clean keg lines on my keezer, by running some cleaning fluid through it into a bucket in front of me. 90% of the time my beers turn out just fine, so I was my crossing fingers for a similar IV infection rate.
6. It was really tough to get out of there. Even after they ruled out the blood clot, they wanted to keep my for two more days to get a few rounds of IV antibiotics since they thought my foot was reinfected. My parents wanted me to leave after I sent them the keg cleaning IV method above, but it's tough to leave when the nurse won't take the IV out of your arm.
Eventually I got out of there and back to the hostel in Yangon. I think I've made it pretty clear I was drinking this whole time, but that first beer back in Yangon when I didn't fear imminent death was pretty sweet. I had a Myanmar Black Shield Stout, brewed by Myanmar Brewery and Distillery. It was not bad for a commercial beer, and the 8% brew mixed with the antibiotics made for a great "out of the woods" cocktail.
Fun fact: Every country has their own way of taking your temp: in Myanmar it was armpit thermometer, in Indonesia it was the ear machine, and in China it was a radar gun to the head, quite jarring when someone approaches you point blank in the airport.
Update: I’ve made it to Australia and can safely say I will not be visiting any more hospitals (for this injury at least).
- Sarah, 2.8.17