I wasn’t in prison, but instead the salubrious setting of Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, where I’d been medevac’d to. The view of the city’s skyscrapers out of the window, coupled with a severe leg injury, did nothing to give me the feeling of a free man.
My last free memory was trying to get up to say sorry to the driver of the taxi that had just hit me at 70kmph. I felt fine, but I couldn’t feel my foot to put weight on it. A friend rushed over to lay my head back down, but I saw the bone out of the wound and the funny angle of my foot — my leg was smashed. There was blood coming from my head, which wasn’t protected by a helmet. I knew I was ‘going down’ for some time.
A Medical Hub
People travel from all over Asia, even as far as the Middle East, to receive medical treatment in Bumrungrad in four different classes of accommodation — up to an exclusive private suite costing in excess of VND15 million a night, and that’s just for the room. In the perks is a full worldwide menu catering for all dietary requirements and, wait for it, a McDonald’s and Starbucks serving the best of America in the hotel-style lobby downstairs.
Doesn’t sound that bad, does it? But for me it was all too much. I wanted to escape. I tried but I kept getting caught at the door.
A thought occurred to me. Many tourists visiting Thailand could have sampled the delectable street food of the nation’s capital, discovered themselves in the temples of Chiang Mai, partied in Koh Pha Ngan and sunbathed on the beaches of Phuket in the time that I was kept (mostly) in my room. My company was a gentleman on the other side of the dividing curtain: a snorer by night (and sometimes by day) with a nebuliser that resounded Darth Vader at regular intervals during waking hours. At least I didn’t have to worry about dropping the soap; I wasn’t allowed to use the shower.
I was transferred from the French Hospital in Hanoi, and I wasn’t the only one in hospital who’d been picked up from countries whose medical provisions were deemed worse than ‘western standard’. I wouldn’t have said the medical treatment in Vietnam was that bad, especially in a hospital regarded by many as one of the best in the country, but my travel insurance company insisted a private medi-jet transfer to Bangkok was standard procedure for anyone with my injuries, especially with the language barrier preventing key information being passed to my insurer’s medical team. Considering I’d just had brain surgery, they might have had a point.
The medical muster point of Bumrungrad was a surreal location. Doormen opened doors of expensive cars and organised wheelchairs for their occupants. Porters pushed stretchers with men wearing traditional Arabic thawbs. The backpacker with crutches, who presumably slipped while enjoying a night out on the Khao San Road, now queued for the visa extension service. And then Thais, in hospital gowns, lined up for a McFlurry or Big Mac.
Starbucks Coffee at the Bumrungrad International Hospital
It resembled a holiday resort, only without the swimming pool and nightclub. There were high-end shops, posh restaurants, a concierge and a currency exchange. There was even a restricted area for the penthouse-type rooms on the top floor. I just couldn’t bring myself to join in the fun — the Shawshank Redemption it wasn’t, but I felt restricted by the nurses and doctors’ orders and disturbances, limited by the escorted trips in my wheelchair and devoid of any of the culture one would expect to find in a foreign country. At least I would have gotten culture in the notorious ‘Bangkok Hilton’.
I think back to the accident. Lying on the floor, my bike in worse shape than I, looking sorry some distance away. Cursing myself for not wearing a helmet, which I’d never normally do. Seeing the look of horror on the driver’s face.
It was a miracle that I found myself in a hospital where every need is taken care of, in a room with an incredible view, a mini-fridge and a widescreen TV. But my shackles came in the form of my external fixator — the scaffolding that extended from my leg to keep the broken bone in place. I was starting to wish I hadn’t gone out that night, three weeks before in Hanoi.
I was eventually repatriated back to the UK — escorted by a friendly, expert nurse from the UK, in business class — to serve the rest of my ‘time’ in two different hospitals back home. Arrival was a complete shock. I was left in a ward with 10 people, treated by nurses who didn’t always have time to smile, doctors that seldom visited and had nothing but a wall to stare at out of the window. It was starting to feel like real prison. Some patients had been there for months, which for the slowness of time in a hospital, must have felt like years.
Instead of a McDonald’s, this hospital had an arguably healthier Burger King — but beyond that, it was like travelling back in time to experience the utilitarian National Health Service of the 1950s. Even so, arriving home to completely free healthcare, which ranks among the best in the world, was a godsend.
Not everybody can afford the luxuries of Bumrungrad International, and while I may not have regained my freedom completely, the thought of being left in a foreign country without travel insurance and a chest full of hard currency terrifies me as much as being detained in a Thai prison.
To read and see more of Marc’s stay in hospital and his subsequent recovery, check his blog at theframedman.tumblr.com
So, Just What Exactly Happened to Me?
Cycling home on Nhgi Tam in Tay Ho, when I thought I heard a friend call out from the side of the road and decided to attempt a U-turn without properly shoulder checking, leaving the speeding taxi driver with no chance of stopping.
Open tibia and fibula fracture and extradural hematoma — which was only picked up after three days in hospital as I never lost consciousness or displayed signs of head or brain injury.
Ilizarov frame prescribed for the leg, to enable regrowth of the 5cm of bone that was removed. A skin flap to cover the open wound. No damage sustained from the hematoma.
Time for complete recovery: Up to two years to literally be ‘up and running’. Full recovery is likely but not guaranteed.
Wear a helmet and don’t attempt any heroics on the roads of Vietnam. Private jets, business class flights and a free stay in one of the world’s best hospitals are not worth the trouble. Oh, and invest in top-level insurance.