Prior to last month, I considered myself very lucky to have not run into any serious health problems in Vietnam. I knew that my relocation would involve certain risks, as completely changing one’s environment creates not only stress on one’s mind but also stress on one’s body. Nonetheless, I flew into Saigon during April pretty confident that I would only suffer minor digestion problems. After all, I experienced no real worries during my 2004 and 2005 study abroad trips here and did not imagine that I would have to endure any hospital or clinic visit during my 2008-2009 stay.
Unfortunately, the last two months have been quite difficult, to say the least. My Miss Universe vacation in Nha Trang during July was not as enjoyable as it could have been due to a severe case of constipation. I spent most of my time either in bed or at the pharmacy trying to medicate myself by any means necessary. Once my several week long bout of discomfort ended, it was replaced by diarrhea, the true hallmark of any Westerner’s visit to Vietnam. I believe that no matter how careful one is when one comes here, one will always find a way to an upset stomach.
My digestive blues subsided but were soon replaced with another, more serious, medical problem. Last week, I noticed a small bump on the back of my upper thigh, lower buttocks region. In just three days the bump had swelled to the size of a lemon, forcing me to schedule an immediate appointment with a surgeon at the International SOS hospital on 65 Nguyen Du. I thank heavens that I am in Saigon right now, because I simply do not trust the healthcare in the lower Mekong Delta.
My appointment was less of a chat and more of the actual procedure. I walked into International SOS and one hour later was laid down on my stomach on a hospital bed, flanked by two nurses and a doctor. The large abscess had grown so rapidly and caused me so much pain that I didn’t even notice the fact that my privates were exposed to the world. As my doctor began injecting my abscess with a local anesthetic and cutting it open, two thoughts were primarily on my mind: pain and how different Vietnam really is.
The pain, although excruciating, did not bother me that much, as the anesthetic did its job quite nicely. What did grab my attention was how my Vietnamese doctor completely lacked the sort of bedside manner that I had grown accustomed to back in the United States. My surgeon was like a machine, barely talked to me, and promptly stood up and left shortly after draining my body of its poisonous blood. There was no reassurance, no guidance during my procedure on the steps my doctor was taking to heal me, and no explanation as to why I may have developed my abscess.
Bedside manner is important to me, especially in a place like Vietnam. I found that my nurses were far more caring than my doctor at International SOS, and the general tone around the hospital was not as welcoming as I imagined it should have been. Foreign and local doctors alike brushed past me with little acknowledgement and I even remember the hospital staff discussing what they would eat for lunch and dinner during my procedure. Perhaps my perception of a lack of professionalism was wrong, but for a first timer to a Vietnamese run hospital, my first impression was not very pleasant.
I must stay in Saigon for another two weeks and visit the hospital every day. My abscess was so large that my doctor stuffed my open wound with a wick, thus disallowing my cut to close and allowing it to heal from the inside out. My first post-operation visit to the hospital was terrible. I had let out so much blood that my wick was stuck to the cut and hell to remove from my body. Thankfully, the nurse who changed my bandages was so kind and helpful that we worked through the pain together. Even on three Codeine tablets a day, I am definitely still feeling the pain of an open wound.
These recent health problems have made me reconsider staying in Vietnam for the long haul. I’m simply not in a clean environment like back home. Pollution and trash are constant irritants, food preparation safety is ignored more often here than back home, and people do not wash their hands as much as they should. This external barrage of bacteria on my body far outmatches the allergenic irritants back home in Houston. So I’m stuck with another decision of whether to stay and risk further health hurdles, or to return home, where there is superior healthcare and superior bedside manner.