The worst hospital experience of my life: a Vietnamese trip from hell
July 18, 2019
A holiday from our holiday
I should have known our trip to Mui Ne was all gonna go wrong when I was throwing up in the toilets of the coffee shop we stopped off at before our 5 hour bus journey. Feeling close to passing out, I genuinely didn’t think I was gonna make it onto the bus. But I managed it. 20 minutes into the 5 hour journey, I vomited again, this time into my bag of snacks and drinks – Pringles and flavoured water. Those untouched treats were instantly ruined. I then had to hold onto the carrier bag full of vomit for the next 2 hours, until we reached a rest stop at a service station. Pretty sure I could see the guy next to me sniffing the air, trying to work out why he could smell the contents of my stomach. I feigned ignorance, joining in on the odd air sniff, acting just as horrified as him.
Hours passed and we made it to Mui Ne, a coastal town 5 hours from Ho Chi Minh City. I’ve found Ho Chi Minh City to be one of the most stressful places I’ve ever been, so we needed a holiday from the holiday. We stayed in a £3 a night hostel situated directly on the beach. Waking up to sea views from my bed was nice, however the novelty soon wore off once we realised the beach was completely littered in waste washed up from the sea. From plastic bottles to old, dirty clothes, it was a stark contrast from the images of that same place you could find on Instagram. I mean, I know you can’t really complain for £3 a night, but if the hostel owners would just take a bit of time to clean up, it’d make being there so much nicer. I know it’s not their fault though, and I suppose there’s only so many times you can keep cleaning up after people who mindlessly throw their rubbish into what could be a beautiful stretch of sea.
So, we decided to head somewhere else for our second night in Mui Ne, finding a £6 a night hotel. It was nice – clean, comfortable, air-conditioned, with a really friendly owner. We decided to head out to explore on the night. That was a mistake. The combination of it not currently being peak holiday season, and the area generally just having absolutely nothing around, meant that it was just a ghost town. We walked and walked, dodged traffic and rats, and I just wanted to cry. All we wanted was to go for something to eat, but there was absolutely nothing about. We headed back to the room, collecting some Pringles and Fanta en-route, and sat there feeling deflated. We did play a few rounds of Heads Up though, so that cheered us up a bit.
The next morning, we decided we’d go for breakfast, then head to the Fairy Stream & the Red Sand Dunes. It’s what we’d travelled to Mui Ne for, as we’d heard good things about both attractions. We headed downstairs, checked out of the hotel, and I decided to have a look at the ice cream selection in the fridge of the hotel shop. I quickly got huffy because I was hot & exhausted, so deciding against ice cream, I headed out of the shop.
A trip from hell… pardon the pun
But I didn’t realise there were steps leading out of the shop. Everything sort of felt like it was going in slow motion. As I was falling through the air, I was thinking ‘catch yourself! Don’t fall all the way to the floor!’. As I hit the floor, I thought ‘oh god, please be fine, please don’t be injured’. All these thoughts happened within about a 2 second period. Who knew you could think so much in so little time? And then the pain hit me. Next thing I could hear were screams, getting louder & louder. They were mine. Turns out I can scream like a banshee. I couldn’t stop. The pain was absolutely agonising. My ankle felt like it had been repeatedly hit with a sledgehammer, then run over by a 10 tonne lorry. Twice. The lovely hotel owner ran out when he heard the commotion, and all I could do was scream “ICE!” at the poor man. He ran off to collect ice, returning with what looked like a chunk of the monstrosity which took down the Titanic. None of that frozen peas shit, this guy was on it.
I eventually let JJ get me up, which was a feat in itself. I can’t be picked up under my shoulders because they’ll dislocate, I can’t put much weight on my wrists to push myself up, I can’t balance on one leg. So just getting up from the floor was difficult. But somehow JJ managed it, carrying me from the floor, into the hotel lobby. After screaming and crying to a decibel which could only be compared to those pushing a human out of their bodies on One Born Every Minute, I agreed that actually yeah, I probably did need to go to hospital. The lovely hotel owner called us a taxi, JJ carried me into it, and off we went.
25 minutes later, we reached our destination. JJ grabbed me a wheelchair, plonked me in it, and we went into the hospital. A couple of unbothered nurses appeared, didn’t bother speaking to us, looked at my ankle, and walked back off. I was in a non-English speaking country, so I wasn’t expecting English. But just a ‘hello’ in Vietnamese would have done. Some acknowledgment of my existence. They gave JJ a form to fill in, just my basic details. At this point though, I started wiggling my toes, and told JJ I thought I was okay to leave the hospital visit. I reckoned if it was a sprain rather than a break, there wasn’t much they’d be able to do anyway. Yeah, it was a waste of time and money travelling to the hospital, but it would have been more of a waste to get treated there when I didn’t feel like I needed it.
Laughter is the best medicine? Not in this case.
I couldn’t have made the decision at a better time, because as I sat there in the wheelchair, in absolute agony, the cleaner who was mopping the floor started pointing at me. The nurses joined in, and they all proceeded to laugh at me. Properly laughing. No hiding it. Even when I made direct eye contact with them through my tears. They were openly laughing at me, to my face. I was horrified, but in too much pain to truly care as much as I do now, looking back at it. Eventually, I got across the point that I’d be leaving, using Google Translate on the nurse’s phone, and she couldn’t have looked more pissed off if someone had paid her to. She didn’t say a word, simply gave me a dirty look and walked off. Leaving us sat in an empty room, wanting to get out of their as soon as possible.
We needed to get outside so we could get a taxi, but knew they wouldn’t want me taking the wheelchair even to the taxi if I wasn’t a paying customer. So JJ carried me outside, my ankle flopping about, and I sat on a plant pot in torrential rain, whilst he went to the main road to flag down a taxi. Not an ideal day so far, is it? We spent the next couple of hours trying to find a hotel, getting taxis 100 metres up the road because I could barely move without excruciating agony coursing through me, and being stared at by lots of locals, as I screamed with the pain getting worse and worse. We found that the next best alternative was to get back to Ho Chi Minh City, to the main International Hospital there. So we booked the next available bus tickets we could find. A 5 hour journey on a sleeper bus, which wasn’t due till midnight – 8 hours away. But it was our only option at this point.
JJ got us a room, carried me in, which was total agony, and I lay on the bed crying and crying. I was screaming for pain relief, and was hoping to somehow pass out from the pain if I couldn’t get any. At least then I wouldn’t feel it anymore. JJ found a pharmacy on Google Maps, so walked a kilometre to get to it, only to find it was nothing more than a roadside street stall, and to be refused pain relief when he asked for it. He walked to another one, and again, they said no when he tried to explain that he needed pain relief. When he came back, all I’d done in the time he’d been gone is scream and cry. At one point, he had to carry me to the toilet, and the pain was indescribable. My ankle was completely flopping about. It was distressing for him too, seeing me in so much pain and not being able to do anything to stop it. It sounds dramatic, I know that now, but at the time, I was telling him I’d rather be dead than be in the pain I was in.
He decided to go to the hotel reception and ask if they knew of anywhere he could get pain relief, and they directed him to a pharmacy a taxi ride away. He eventually came back, and like my knight in shining armour, presented me with not just Ibuprofen, but Tramadol too. I felt like Christmas had come early. I’d never taken Tramadol, but I knew it was a strong opiate, so I hoped it would do the trick. I quickly took 2 tablets, then waited. About 20 minutes later, I realised that for the first time in about 8 hours, the pain wasn’t there. Of course, if I moved it it would be. But at rest, the pain had finally subsided. And then came the high. I felt like I was floating through the clouds. Chatting absolute shit (even more than usual), and actually comfortable enough to sleep for an hour before we had to leave to get the bus. 10pm arrived and JJ woke me up. I was super sleepy and flying high, and it was time for JJ to get me to the bus station. It was still horribly painful, but nowhere near as bad as without the pain relief. I even saw a lizard on the bedroom wall, which only days earlier had terrified me, but I was too high to care.
We got to the bus station about an hour early (absolutely no chance we were gonna miss our only way of getting to a hospital), and eventually it arrived. Shuffling up the steps of the bus on my bum, I was still in pain, and definitely woke most of the passengers on the sleeper train up from my screams. My bad. But JJ helped me hop along the bus, holding my body weight up, and I eventually got onto the bed. Popped another Tramadol and I was out like a light.
Vietnam public hospitals – taking the care out of healthcare
5 hours later, we reached Ho Chi Minh City. It was 5am, the sun was up, and revellers were still partying on the streets. All we wanted was to get to the hospital. I managed to hobble off the bus, and we got a taxi to Cho Ray Hospital. Terrible mistake.
We got there, JJ grabbed a wheelchair, and I finally felt a sense of relief as we entered the hospital. But that relief was short-lived. The nurse on reception was absorbed into whatever was happening on her phone, and didn’t tear her eyes away from the screen even when we arrived. Without looking up, she simply waved her hand, gesturing for me to get onto the hospital bed. I got on and immediately knew I couldn’t stay there. The bed was covered in a fresh layer of dirt, which looked like it had come off the bottom of the last patient’s shoes. The pillow had fresh blood on it. I wanted to cry. Fresh blood and dirt on a hospital bed? Disgusting. I looked around and all the beds were the same, disheveled and visibly dirty.
JJ was asked to fill in a form with my details, then I was made to get off the bed, onto another one, and wheeled (whilst being knocked into a wall 3 times) into a waiting area full of beds, more packed than a rush hour train on a Monday morning. Surrounded by local people who didn’t look all too impressed by me being a Westerner (death to all Americans and those who resemble them), and my crop top (from what I’d observed, Vietnamese people don’t tend to wear revealing clothes, and I hadn’t changed since I put my outfit on 24 hours earlier ready for the sand dunes), I felt extremely unwelcome. Sandwiched between 2 patients who looked like they’d just been dug up from six feet under, I felt like I was getting ill just being there.
Still, not one member of staff had actually spoken to us. I cried and asked JJ to look up the nearest private hospital. If we’d done that in the first place, it would have saved us a lot of distress. But life’s all about learning, isn’t it? Google informed us that the private hospital was a 10/15 minute taxi journey away, so we went for it. I explained to the nurse via Google Translate that I’d be leaving, and got into a wheelchair to make my way out. As I did so, I was hit with pain, and screamed. In response to this, a hospital security guard looked at me and let out a huge laugh. At my expense. Because seeing someone in agony is just hilarious, isn’t it?
We were fuming, and just wanted to get out of there. What felt like our 700th taxi journey of the past 24 hours later, we arrived at Columbia Asia private hospital. It was like another world. The people working there smiled, it was quiet, clean, and I didn’t feel like an unwanted alien who’d been dropped from another planet. The doctor was so kind, she spoke perfect English and I explained all about my EDS to her, and how I’d gotten myself into this predicament. She genuinely cared, as did all of the lovely nurses, and my eyes filled up with tears, but this time round, they were tears of relief. One x-ray, one blanket, and lots of care later, I was out of there with a boot on my leg, keeping my severely sprained ankle in place.
My hospital bill came to £80 which was actually less than the excess on my insurance – it costs me £100 to make a claim – so I won’t be claiming. I didn’t mind paying that at all though – it’s a small price to pay for care and comfort. But this experience has made me unbelievably grateful for the health service we have at home. I’ve been to hospital plenty of times in the UK, and although I’ve always appreciated the NHS, this really made it hit home just how valuable the service is.
I was injured here and had some horrible experiences in the public hospitals, and that was just from being sat in the waiting areas. But I was lucky enough to be able to afford to leave those hospitals and go private. Something many locals here aren’t fortunate enough to be able to do. It shouldn’t take money to be treated like a human being, especially when you’re at your most vulnerable. I’ll never take for granted what I have back home.