Surviving a motorbike accident – part two
The Vietnamese hospital experience
After being thrown from a motorbike in rural Vietnam, and being kindly helped out by friendly local people and some nuns at the local medical clinic, I finally went back to my hostel to rest. Prior to going out for dinner with a traveller friend Gerry, I cancelled my easy rider tour and booked a place on the train from Da Nang to Hue the next day.
One thing that I look upon as a positive is my ability to not grumble too much, and to not let things get me down. Part of this, I think is my determined, and quite frankly my stubborn nature. The way I looked upon my accident was this: ‘ok, I have a lot of cuts and bruises on my leg, and it is sore, but I am in Vietnam, I may never be here again, and I still want to explore.’
This outlook was revised, very quickly.
When I travel, I never really unpack things out of my rucksack, I mainly take out what I need, and everything else gets left. This is for two reasons. 1) I misplace things easily, so by keeping the majority of things in my rucksack, I know where it is. 2) I can often move on quite quickly from places; sometimes as quickly as every two days, so by being always packed, so to speak, it lessens the stress of rushing in the morning, as you are trying to catch a 6am bus.
The morning after the accident
My alarm went off at 7am, I was very sore and worse on movement, but my bus to Da Nang was booked for 8am. I peeled off the dressing, and half of my skin, so it seemed. I attempted a shower, with varying degrees of success, not wanting to get water anywhere near my cuts, meant that in reality only half of myself had a shower, and I used a wet flannel to wash around the rest.
Normally I am quite fast at getting ready and out the door. By this point in my trip, I had 3 months in which to teach me to be packed up and out the door in 15 minutes. However, today I was very slow. I used iodine to clean the cuts on my knee, elbow and side. I re-dressed everywhere, apart from the wound on my side, as despite picking up new supplies from the pharmacy, I had ran out. So instead, I covered it with tissue, and taped it on. I thought that I’d be in Hue in 4 or 5 hours, and I’d get clean supplies.
Being an Occupational Therapist, and knowing a fair bit about health and what not to do with wounds – I should have known better. Using a non sterile tissue on an open wound is a big no-no, and probably led to the next part of my story.
After feeding my face on banana pancakes, I slowly made my way onto the bus, to be met by a number of other concerned tourists, some whom rolled their eyes at it (possibly as it happens a lot in Asia).
I got to Da Nang train station, where I had rode past on my bike, less than 24 hours earlier; excited about exploring it later. The train ride was uncomfortable and felt like it took forever, and was nowhere near as beautiful as I had hoped (possibly because I felt a little miserable, and I was squashed in beside a dirty window).
After arriving in Hue, I was in no fit state to walk the 10 minutes to the centre of town, so I negotiated with a cyclo driver to take me to a hostel. Climbing into the cyclo, was an experience and a half, but it was cheaper than a taxi car, so I went with it.
As I got peddled along the road, several locals
smiled laughed at me and mined the actions of a motorbike. I confirmed that yes, the reason for the bruises and bandages on my leg, was because I fell off a motorbike.
After arriving at my hostel (Tigon hostel), I was met by some incredibly helpful staff, who carried my rucksack upstairs, and made sure I got a bottom bunk, to make it easier on me.
About 5 minutes into being in the dorm room, I met a guy called Dave, from London, who was also sporting a lovely white bandage on his knee. Motorbike? We both said in unison upon meeting each other!
It turned out that Dave had an accident somewhere in between Nha Trang and Hoi An, and ended up staying, as an inpatient at Da Nang hospital as his leg got infected, and he had to have stitches. He asked whether I had been to hospital, I said no, and he advised that I go to one, as the roads in Vietnam are filthy.
After our conversation, I hobbled across the road to the pharmacy for another game of charades, in which to purchase some supplies to clean my leg
I later uncovered my wounds in the bathroom of the hostel, and even under poor lighting I knew it didn’t look too well. It was red, hot, and leaking yellow pus everywhere.
Decision made. I needed to find the hospital – I possibly should have went to the larger hospital in Da Nang (they actually charge less, and are a better hospital, after the hospitals in Hanoi). However, I wasn’t in the position to travel a few hours south to Da Nang again.
So off I went, and found myself a cyclo driver, who for some unknown reason thought I wanted to go out partying that night, and kept trying to stop at random bars, despite me pointing to my bandaged knee, and saying ‘hospital’. After a 15 minute peddle on the cyclo, I was dropped off at the emergency department.
Various locals sat on the side of the road at the door, some with sick children in their arms – I wondered whether this was the queue to be seen, but I wandered in, and got starred at, a lot! One of the doctors greeted me and said “what country are you from?” I told him I was from the UK, and he automatically dismissed me, telling me that I needed to go to the International Hospital, but didn’t tell me where it was.
I wandered outside again, and the same cyclo driver was there, eager to take me back to my hostel and get more money, but I told him I was looking for a different area of the hospital. I wandered around for a good 10 minutes, until I came across it.
A large brightly lit building stood on its own, across from the main buildings; I approached it and realised it said ICU. I stood looking around for another sign, directing me to another entrance, when I local pointed to the door. I asked him if it was the international hospital, but all he could do was point and say “Doctor”. So I went in.
I was met by a nurse at the reception area, and was instructed to take off my flip flops, and brought through to the main clinic area.
This was indeed an ICU, extremely sick people lay; many of them intubated, and hooked up to various IV drips. I must have been in the wrong place.
I was then approached by a very small, Vietnamese Doctor called Thu, who barely acknowledged my presence but said “yes, what do you want”. I explained my situation to him, and he said “ok, very busy …” but directed me into a side room. Initially I thought I was being led to a consultation room, but instead it was the surgical instruments, cleaning room.
He looked briefly at the wound on my knee, but I directed him to the wound on my thigh. Without a thought, he ripped off my tissue holding everything in place, and said “oh … very infected, not good … you must stay at my hospital, you need medicines.”
I protested and said “can you not just clean it, and I can go”. He argued that I needed to stay overnight, maybe even 3 nights (at the cost of $100 plus per night) and to have IV antibiotics. Although I have insurance, it didn’t actually cover me to ride motorbikes, plus it had a $200 excess on it, so I felt it was not worth the claim, no matter what it ended up costing.
In the end, Thu agreed to treat me, and instructed me to come back every day to have my dressings changed. He also gave me his cell phone number, to call him if my conditioned worsened.
Seriously?! I only came off the bike, one day ago – apart from feeling sore, I thought I’d be hunky dory if it was cleaned properly.
I was directed to a bed area, next to a lady that looked as if she had just come out of surgery. I was asked to write my name, date of birth and occupation (strange I thought) on a piece of paper. I was then moved to another bed, and waited.
Thu then came back, with his trolley of torture. I was instructed to take my shorts off, and he started with cleaning the wound on my knee.
He may as well have poured acid directly on my leg. It was incredibly painful, but my guess was that whatever it was, would help kill any nasties off.
In between cleaning my wounds, Thu talked with me about where I was from, and where I was travelling to. He told me that I needed to stay in Hue for at least two weeks, and come back everyday. In 10 days, I was due to fly to Bangkok, so I had no intention of staying there. I told him that I would be fine, and that I would go to a hospital in Hanoi if I needed to.
He then said “oh, but my hospital is better, I do you a good price.” What the heck? Are you actually bargaining for my health. (Only in Asia).
Another of Thu’s questions included asking if I was single. I told him yes, as I thought that was something he needed to ask for his paperwork. I then heard a voice from the other side of the curtain, who said “Thu, are you flirting with your patients again?”. That is when I met Michael, who wandered into my bed area, and said hello. He had come off a motorbike about a week earlier, and was in a much worse state than I was. He was actually drunk, in charge of a bike, but was claiming it on his insurance as ‘being hit by a car’.
I later bumped into him a day later, when he was being discharged. His hospital bill for a 5 day stay was $900!
After being sorted out, I was given a prescription for antibiotics (it was written in Vietnamese, so I had no idea what they were giving me). I was directed to an area where I could pay, and told to cross the road out of the hospital to the pharmacy to pick up my medicines.
About 1 hour and $35 later, I left the hospital, picking up my antibiotics, which again was a challenge as the instructions on the box were written an in Vietnamese, but with lot of mining and broken English with the pharmacist, I got from her that I should be taking 5 in the morning and 5 in the evening. I later checked this out with my medical student friend, and it seemed legit.
Day two at the hospital
The previous day at the hospital, I was instructed to come back in the afternoon for a bandage change. I arrived on time, and was taken to the outpatients clinic to meet a new doctor (by Dr Thu). I was left in his care for about 30 minutes, whilst he cleaned and re dressed my wounds. His English was poor, but his lovely nurse was able to speak better English to me. I screwed up my face several times, but tried to hold it together, as he poured more acid like liquid on me.
After this bit of torture, I was told I had to pay $40, despite paying $35 for the same thing, the night before. Ripped off, in a hospital. Shocking.
After that, I decided I was not going to return, but again stocked up on more supplies from the pharmacy to keep it clean myself.
I rested for 5 days in Hue, and continued to take my antibiotics.
Much later, as I moved North, to the small town of Ninh Binh, I met a local in the hostel I was staying at, who went to the pharmacist and brought back, what I can only describe as something, as paprika, which was apparently a wound healing agent. It dried my cuts right up, and it soon form a scab.
To this day, 2 months on – I still have a nasty scar on my leg. Memories of a story, I will likely re tell in years to come.
So what was the cost of a Motorbike accident in Vietnam?
Two hospital visits = US$75
Medication = US$16
Various bandages and dressings = US$15
$106 – could have been worse.
I lived to tell the tale. Lesson learnt.