A Travellerspoint blog

June 2011

Medical Tourism

An Oophorectomy in a Gold Mining Town

all seasons in one day

Unfortunately I had to take a forced hiatus between travels in Asia and Europe for an operation, seeing as by my itinerary I should have been eating gelato in Northern Italy, I treated this medi-break as part of my adventures. I had jumped aboard the new medical tourism craze, people who go abroad to get some work done; their teeth capped, breasts enlarged etc. and have a nice holiday at the same time.
The location of my medicinal vacation – the home of the Central Deborah mine, a talking tram and the bitchiest Under 12 Girl’s basketball team in the late 1990s, Bendigo.

As a healthy and unadventurous child having to go to hospital was still unfamiliar as an adult. I was a lame patient. I filled out my admittance forms and had nothing of any interest to write, no mad cow, free of crazy diseases rampant in the 70s and having all my own teeth there was nothing juicy to expand upon. I was bored with my own health. I stumbled onto the fitness category and under ‘could you walk up two flights of stairs’ I considered my true ability and laughed to myself but faltered when it asked for an explanation. I considered if ‘laziness’ was a medical explanation and also if humour was permitted on medical documents. Just to double check the anaesthetist also asked if I could run up a hill and I said, “well, yes, I suppose I could… I wouldn’t enjoy it though”.

Several hours lapsed with me sitting in a waiting room in a blue and white striped gown, knee-high white compression socks and shower caps on my feet. A good look for me I thought. Being rather tall I spent most of this time trying to wrestle my hem down and my socks up. The old man next to me had his legs apart and I was glad I was next to him and not at the nurses’ station in front. I wondered how many people before me had sat on these leather seats with in their robes with no underwear and hoped they were all as considerate with their robe placement as I.

After a bit of confusion in which I informed them that I had in fact been prescribed pre-meds and hadn’t been given them and that I still needed to see a doctor for medical consent we were able to get the show on the road. I will be asking for a discount for helping them do their job. I was taken to my wheelie bed and wheeled down the hallway, not going to lie, quite fun. I cracked a few gags with the assistant who pointed out my surgeon, Dr Bowtie, who really should consider getting a bow tie made out of scrubs to make him more recognisable. Then I was promptly stabbed in the hand vein with a needle and sent off into the land of nod.

The surgeon slashed and dashed, never to be seen again nor heard from again and I woke up, quite reluctantly, from a deep drug-induced sleep only to be slapped in the face with the severe pain caused by people cutting me open, pulling my guts out, putting them all back in and sewing me up with a needle and thread. I would have kicked Dr Bowtie in the balls had I been able to find him or feel my legs.
They kept talking me round and I kept trying to go back to sleep. A few days later the doctor seemed quite surprised I had no idea what was going on as she had informed me during this time of a follow up appointment in 6 weeks. I thought ‘people don’t listen when they are unconscious’ would have been covered in Medicine 101.

Life on the ward didn’t resemble the TV dramas I was basing all my preconceptions on. No doctors looked like George Clooney for one and I don’t remember anyone on All Saints having to attend to Code Browns five times a day. It’s misleading to say the least. There was no glamour.
As I regained my senses I could hear the couple in the curtained room next to me whispering angrily. Apparently he decided that post-operation was a good time to confront his girlfriend for texting compromising pictures of herself to some other guy. The entertainment was beginning. It was just like Grey’s Anatomy. Shame the anaesthetic hangover meant I missed part two.

After about 30 hours I was given some food to eat. Placed on a tray ever so slightly out of reach was tragic selection of food items. “Careful, it’s hot” she said as she put down a plate with a cover, which was warm, but the single piece of toast inside hadn’t been warm for days. In fact rigor mortis had set in hours ago.
The brand Andersons Quality Tea was not quite honest as I prepared my Tupperware tea cup which wasn’t quite hot enough for the tea to infuse. I treated it like airplane food, ate it anyway in case I never get more. Plus it kills a good 15-20 minutes out of a long day. Anyways it would take more than abdominal surgery to turn me off my breakfast. I took great delight in pre-ordering my meals for the next day, do I want chicken surprise? or a bowl of gravy? Instant mash on the side? Jelly? or “poached” – hospital speak for “tinned” – fruit. Oh the choices. A culinary delight.

Room 9 had all the fun of hostel living. The old lady opposite who if she wasn’t snoring was shitting. I would have my book against my nose, inhaling the musty, old book smell to disguise another code brown. Everyone was bed ridden and miserable. Reading 'That’s Life' and watching 'Sunrise' hoping they were going to live to see another day. Such downers.

Although there is absolutely nothing to do, it’s not particularly restful in a hospital especially when you are woken up with a torch in your face hourly to take your vitals. Often the blood pressure monitor was broken which we would have to go through with each different nurse who needed to learn this themself. "Its broken, take it manually" I'd say as I flopped an arm out from under my covers and only opened one eye. There was a lot of time for sitting and waiting for food or medication. Getting out of bed, walking to the chair, to the bathroom, to the table by the window and back to the bed.

Things I learnt during my hours of life contemplation between naps:

  • No matter how much I will want to in the future, white tights are not a good look on me.
  • 2am by torch light is the ideal time to take out your IV.
  • A hospital gown with a few adjustments, namely a means of stopping your bare skin showing, would make a nice summer frock.
  • You would probably get better medical attention in Cuba.
  • Doctors will only see patients that are paying to be there. Yay public healthcare.
  • Hospital food really is pretty gross and at times unidentifiable.
  • I am tank when it comes to prescription medicine and literally takes an anaesthetic to put me to sleep. Am therefore considering a prescription pain-killer addiction only I have to break a Panadol in half so I dare say i'll struggle.
  • The idea of having to pay to watch TV in hospital is a disgrace. Your entertainment options are limited enough it’s just a punch in the neck to pay $9 a day for the privilege of looking at Koshie’s dumb face.
  • Beds that go up and down are awesome.
  • Putting the nurse call button on the TV channel changer is stupid. Oops sorry, just wanted to see who was on Oprah in the ads.
  • A catheter would be useful when travelling, for all those time when you cannot find a McDonalds with a toilet or are lining up for the Sistine Chapel.
  • Nurses work super hard and don't sleep. Are possibly vampires. (Need proof)
  • Doctors inspire little confidence when they says things like: “what side are we cutting today?” “do you have a copy of your scans” – me? no

they don’t give me a copy of expensive ultrasound scans to take home but I would like to think you could get your hands on it.

After way too many hours alone with my thoughts a doctor who was actually in the vicinity of my surgery (at least wore scrubs on the day) finally took the time out of their day to stop by and inform me what they had cut out of my body two and a half days prior.
I was finally discharged. Let out on good behaviour, for general bravery and awesomeness in the field of healing. My bags were packed and I waited in the window like an orphan.

My brush with the public health system. Fun was had. Skin was cut. Ovaries were taken. Human excrement was smelt. It was time to leave and recuperate in the comfort of a home, on a couch with healthy people around and DVDs on hand.
The doctor signing me out floated the idea of me staying another night past me which was quickly shot down as I pushed past him with my bag. I was going home to rapidly recover and attempt to make a scheduled flight to England in 14 days time.

Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 05:20 Archived in Australia Tagged hospital operation medical_tourism Comments (0)

In The Tubing

Being cool in Laos 101

Every now and then I like to take part in social activities, sometimes, perhaps more rarely in outdoor activities but such a hybrid social and active event occurred on my adventures while in south central Laos. Vang Vieng is a hub of activity between Luang Prabang and the capital Vientiene, a backpacker’s universe with cheap food, cheap booze and no OH&S rules.
You know a place is discovered when the Australians are there. Like the Americans do with their flag, Australians divide and conquer with an "Aussie Bar", a themed establishment selling beer and Australian food usually with a sports game in the background and some kitschy paraphernalia.

Vang Vieng had been branded and was swimming with flip-flopped, board shorted and singleted folk but why I hear you ask?
The locals here in Vang Vieng found a way to draw travelers to their little Laotian gem with the ideal Aussie concept: a river, inflatable tubes and riverside bars.

It was the thing to do. So off I went. Not being particularly cool, not textbook cool anyway, we soon realised we were out of our depth when I arrived in the board shorts I bought in year 10 that don't 'technically' fit me, Jody in her one-piece racing bathers and Alison in long pants, sleeves and a hat to protect her British skin and we climbed into the back of a tuk tuk with an excitable bunch of backpackers.
The tubes were balanced on top as we headed for the starting point of what we here would call a river float.
The regret started to flow with a heavy pace as we walked to the banks to cross a rickety bridge over to the first bar. Obviously before we could cross a shirtless Billy Goats Gruff passed us a shot of a mystery liqueur which we had to down.
Good lord.
Across the river stood a wooden, over-sized cubby house bar pumping out some lame rock tunes. The open jetty was full of shirtless guys and bikini-clad girls. There were people playing beer pong and tanning their golden bods. The guys all had varying levels of board short to underwear ratios, from simple ass crack to full buttocks. It was like some kind of horrendous MTV film clip. I looked at the rapids flowing underneath me that wouldn't drown a 3-legged cockroach and considered throwing myself in with the hope of banging my head on a protruding rock. The sheer thrilled enthusiasm coming from our fellow tuk tuk passengers was pushing us forward and closer toward the horror.

We were greeted at the entrance by some over-excited Australian guys who had perhaps come tubing one day, got drunk and forgot they had a home and a family and have never left. While I surveyed his tragic bleached hair and semi-goth/washed out hard-core rave-party-goer decorative face paint around his eyes I was branded with a fluro orange wristband which entitled me to more of the terrible whiskey that was poured down my throat on arrival.

We got a beer, got jeered at for only ordering a small, and stood on the deck while the cool people did back flips into the river, downed cups of beer and generally soaked up each other’s awesomeness. It felt a little like Spring Break and it was mortifyingly horrid. The bar was swinging and its inhabitants seemed to have arms full of wristbands, different colors from different days worn proudly like war medals. Dirty and ragged multi-colored strands which symbolized some hard-core partying and liver damage. You get the impression that tubing in Laos for these people means spending a month at this very bar. Not sure if any of them actually get into their tractor tyre.
We held our ground. Alison removed part of her swimming Burkha. I stood there with my half undone board shorts and my self dyed tie-dye singlet giving off a "you wish you knew me" vibe mostly because the faux High School environment had reverted me back to my mocking, on-the-social-outer hilariously witty ways which amused me while I powered through my Beer Lao hoping to see the shiny bottom.
As appealing as it was to skull beer to the sounds of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, we grabbed our tubes and threw ourselves into the rapids and willed it to take us far, far away until the bad r&b MTV video clip disappeared in to the distance.

Off we flowed down the beautiful Song River, the mountains of Laos looming overhead and the wooden bars lining its edges.
The bars try to entice you in with amazing offers like "Free shots for the Ladies" and "Mud Wrestling". Others rely on their slides or their catchy decor, like one wooden shit-shack with the words "good bar" scrawled in spray paint on the front.

We chose another bar downstream to try our luck again. We thought we were in with a shot seeing as it was completely empty. It had a makeshift water slide and a swing which plummets the intoxicated into the flowing river at high speeds. It was perfect.
As you make your floating approach they throw a rope out and pull you in or if you are lucky, small children will swim out and partially drown trying to drag your heavy Western ass to shore.

We hit our stride and called in at the classy gin joints along the way, knocked back a ladyboy or two (a cocktail of unidentifiable ingredients) and a bucket of vodka, red bull and other liquid sins and sat on the river and watched the cool boys do the rope swing into the freakishly shallow river, hang upside down mid-air like Nadia Comaneci. Soaking up the serenity we watched the people floating by, wondering how we too were actually going to get back on a tube and get to the end.
It is a float and the current takes you wherever she wills you to go, into a rock, kayak, bridge or simply beaches you in the shallows. It becomes a real art to get to where you intend to go, stay within meters of each other, remain reasonably uninjured and keep your two thongs on or in your possession.
All these get continually harder the more bars you visit and the more lady boys that enter the picture, as does the task of getting in and or out of an inflatable tube without it flipping or floating away.

We of course have little documentary evidence of this excursion, possibly a good thing as when we arrived at one bar Jody's camera did not. Who would ever have thought a plastic bag tied to your board shorts would not be a safe place to keep a camera while floating down a river. Lesson learnt. May it rest in peace, with all its hilarious pictures of me drinking from a bucket and crumping to Rihanna at the bottom of the Song never to been unearthed.

Having mocked the people arriving late in to town from tubing the night before and branded it the tuk tuk of shame (a tuk tuk for those who never made the distance, got drunk and forgot what they signed up for and why they were in their bathers with a huge tractor tyre - no doubt victims to the appeal of beer pong and the Chilli Peppers) we were determined to get to the end of this expedition, race against the setting sun and float the 3km back to central Vang Vieng.

Eventually the bars became fewer and far between, the people lessened, the sun got lower, the water got colder and the foreign water parasites started nibbling in search of dinner. The 6pm curfew to return our tubes for our full-deposit was leering its ugly head. My thongs became makeshift paddles as we passed the "2km to go" sign as we floated slowly down the dark and getting darker river. Vang Vieng was never going to appear around the bend, this was a hike. I couldn't help but think of all the schmuks at bar one with their dozens of wrist bands and how I bet not one of those boozy, suntanned douche bags had ever actually tubed this Nile-esque river. Only the nerds sit on a tractor tube for 3km, the others work on their tan, get sozzled and hitch a ride back to town.
We should have known.

Alas we made it, a triumphant return to town. The sheer athleticism was mind blowing. We pushed past the drunken Australians clogging the streets of this once Lao town and collapsed into a restaurant exhausted, dehydrated and still a little drunk for a touch of dinner before raging on at the Aussie Bar, and by raging on I mean going to bed. There’s no point getting cool now.

Posted by The Tipsy Gipsy 08:42 Archived in Laos Tagged laos tubing vang vieng south_east_asia Comments (0)

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