musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Hospital Scare

My mobile phone rang on Monday afternoon, a call coming in from one of my friends, whom I will call “H”. Only it wasn’t “H” on the line, but a Thai woman. She asked if I was a friend of “H” and I answered in the affirmative. She told me that she was calling from Paolo Memorial Hospital in Bangkok. “Your friend had an accident,” she said. “Can you come to the hospital?”


Well, sure I could come. I asked what room he was in, but she said that he was still in the emergency room. That didn’t sound good at all. I finished doing a few things at my bookshop, including getting the contact information for both the hospital and the school where H teaches, which is in Mandalay. I hopped on the Skytrain and took that to the Saphan Kwai station, only a block from the hospital.  I asked for the woman who had called me, and after a short wait she took me to the emergency room, where they had H in something called the Resuscitation Room. At this point, I was expecting really bad news. My friend was laying there on a table, nobody else around him. I walked closer, hoping to see some signs of life, and was relieved to see a slight rise and fall of breathing from his chest. I spoke to him, but there was no answer. Both of his eyes were swollen shut, bruising around each one as if he had been in a fight or had hit his head on something.

I waited for a good five minutes until a nurse came over to ask some questions. I gave her the contact information for the school in Mandalay and she handed me a plastic bag with my friend’s passport, his cell phone, and an envelope with some documents and bank receipts. I didn’t see his watch or wallet anywhere. She couldn’t give me any further details, other than “he had an accident.” One of the receipts showed that he had gone to another Bangkok hospital on Thursday, the day he was scheduled to arrive from Mandalay. But where had he been between Thursday and Monday? Had he been robbed? Was he sleeping in the street for three days?

H has no relatives in Thailand or Myanmar. Back in the US, he only has one cousin in Alabama. The hospital’s biggest concern, other than contacting relatives, was if H had medical insurance. I knew that he did, but I didn’t have that information and he had other documents or cards with him. I suggested that the hospital contact the school and see if they had anything on file. Eventually, we got things sorted out and I signed a form that admitted H to the hospital. They took him to ICU immediately.


Eventually, part of the mystery was solved. I contacted the apartment where H usually stays and found out that he checked in on Thursday, as scheduled, and was seen on Friday, coming and going, but no other activity over the weekend. He was scheduled to check out on Monday morning, but when he didn’t come downstairs the apartment manager sent a maid to see if he was still in the room. He managed to answer the door and let the maid inside, but obviously something was wrong, so the apartment called an ambulance to take him to the hospital.

I had to work long shifts on Tuesday and Wednesday, but checked back with the hospital for updates on H’s condition. The first two days he was still unconscious, but a later report from one of the nurses said he had “woken up” and trying to speak but not making any sense. One of the teachers from Mandalay was in town on a visa run and he visited the hospital on Wednesday and called me with a similar report. The US Embassy also called me, asking if I had any information on H’s relatives, but I couldn’t tell them anything, other than suggesting that they contact the school in Mandalay.

I was able to get away from my shop on Thursday afternoon and visit the hospital again. I didn’t know what would await me when I arrived. H was still in ICU, but this time his eyes were open and he greeted me by name. I talked to him and asked him a few questions, all of which he understood. He sounded a bit groggy, but other than that, he was his usual grumpy, sarcastic self. What a relief! His memory also seemed fine, although he appeared a bit disoriented and I had to tell him which hospital he was in and what of the week it was. He told me that upon arrival at the airport in Bangkok on Thursday he had fainted and fallen, hitting his head on a chair. That prompted a visit to another area hospital where he got some stitches above his right eyebrow. But his memory of what happened the rest of the weekend is much hazier. The oddest thing is that he had his phone with him, but he never called me. And that’s not like him. Whenever he’s in Bangkok he calls me every day and we usually meet for dinner once or twice. But this time … nothing.

I visited the hospital again on Saturday, but this H looked much worse and could barely speak above a whisper. A nurse said something about an infection in his lungs and said he had been sleeping most of the day. I still haven’t gotten a clear answer as to what caused the fainting or when he’ll be able to get out of ICU and into a regular room or ward.  Had he suffered a minor stroke or some sort of head injury? Right now, I’m just pulling for him to make it through this ordeal, hoping he can return to a normal routine in relatively quick order. Sickness sucks.


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